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Wholeness is Holy and Healthy
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Unfortunately referring to our bodies as a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit within you’ and ‘you were bought with a price’ tended to evoke more guilt than inspiration in FIRL. The passage has tended to be used to reinforce the don’ts of living—don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t overeat, don’t fornicate etc. And since nearly all of us have ‘indulged’ at some point in our lives, it was hard not to hear judgment in the passage. Don’t pollute the temple God has given you—at a price no less—reminds us more of our shortcomings rather that calling us forward into grace.
The passage too easily provides a way to identify “good” Christians. Instead of, you will know them by their love, it becomes, you will know them by their abstinence, chasteness or BMI. When we think ‘glorifying our God in our bodies’ is a list of admirable traits, it is all too easy for our faith to evoke both guilt and self-righteousness.
Believing that real Christians are pure is a seductive way to think, but such thinking is more secular than Christian. Secularly, we want to know where we stand. When we talk about healthy minds, bodies and spirits, we inevitably look for ways to measure our relative health. But our need to establish our place has nothing to do with God. It just exposes our inability to trust God’s promises. It would be a relief to have what is right and wrong so clearly laid out. But such binary thinking actually allows us to abdicate our responsibilities as Christians. Real life is lived in shades of gray. Even as each of us has sought to trust God and to love neighbor, every one of us has compromised, everyone of us has fallen short of ‘who we ought to be’. In real life, our competing interests leave us well short of ‘temple’ status. Rather than pure and unpolluted temples, we come before God confused, guilty and distrustful.
Over and over, we are promised that God loves us as we are, yet over and over we act as if there are parts of us that are unacceptable to God. For Christians, our physical health is not measured by our strength, cholesterol, exercise or eating habits. Christian minds are not measured by how positive we are nor how anxious, depressed or fearful we are. And Christian faith is not measured by our attendance at church, our piety or our giving. Every one of those traits are important to a full life but none of them change our status before God—nor are they reliable indicators of our belonging to a healthy community. They are just as likely to be idolatrous as they are devotional.
Christian faith requires that we trust that we are wholly God’s. When God promises to love us as we are, he means it. Most of us are afraid to trust such grace. We know we have bad habits. Many of us have drunk too much, eaten too much, had sex with the wrong person or at the wrong time or for the wrong reason. Our job is to trust him with the embarrassing glob of humanity that each of us is.
God saves by meeting us where we are but we must be willing to claim who we are. Our health is not about getting better; it is about being present. (It is absolutely possible for a Christian to have cancer and still be healthy.) That measure is a far better indicator of our health than any secular definition. The process requires we acknowledge we are lost before we can find a direction. It requires the humility to know we are creatures and the confidence that we are always under God’s care. This is quite an inversion of what we usually mean when we seek spiritual, mental and physical health.
Last week in FIRL, one man had been troubled with how to respond to a homeless man asking for money. None of us had an answer but I told him I was glad he was troubled. That is what he needed to take to God. Figuring out what we should do in any particular situation requires we bring ourselves as wholly as possible—and then trust God. Another woman was struggling with a grandchild who had made a whole series of bad life decisions. The whole family was upset. The FIRL member was hesitant to become more involved and found herself detaching. Again the process required bringing where she actually was to God—not what she should be or wished she could be.
It is very difficult to be whole before God when we are angry, resentful, depressed or confused. Our spiritual health is not based in our ability to know the way but in our willingness to trust God with the outcomes. Sometimes we are anxious and immobilized by depression but it is worse when we feel like we should beyond such feelings or that we should be managing them better. Sometimes the only way out is through the bottom. Likewise, our physical health. Most of us know what we ‘should’ do to take care of our bodies. But most of us don’t. Knowledge is not sufficient.
Christian health requires we bring our inability to God. None of us like being helpless but sometimes our hardest work and our best intentions are not sufficient. Belonging to a healthy community on Christian terms does not mean we know the answer, or even the direction, it means we trust God with who we are and wait.
All of that said, I believe the passage was meant to be more inspirational than judgmental. Each of us individually and corporately is holy. We have a responsibility for our choices and we have a responsibility to follow Christ—whether or not we have made good or bad choices. Remembering that we are his is the only way we can follow him. As long as we are human we will make bad choices but thankfully that is not the measure of relationship.
God is with us. It takes a lifetime of practice to let that promise seep into our being and to live into his love. Let it be so.
Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.