The effects of COVID-19 can hardly be overstated in terms of the economic and public health discussion. Yet one of the fascinating things to observe as a pastor is how people have responded to this fresh encounter with their own mortality. Our susceptibility to death (indeed, the inevitability of death) is one aspect of what it means to be one of God’s finite creatures. We will all eventually die and go to be with him, unless Christ returns first. But that is an unsettling idea, our own mortality. We’d rather think about anything else but that. But I’d like to challenge you to consider how thinking about the glory and the weakness of our mortal bodies can lead us into deeper and fuller worship of God for his mercy and kindness to us.
God has made you both a body and soul, and it is right and good to give full-hearted attention to your body and your soul together. We are spiritual and physical creatures. Both of those aspects of our humanity are essential, and one is not more important than the other, but both are together part of a full definition of being a human being according to God’s design.
When God created Adam and Eve, he did not create them as ethereal, floaty ghosts. Of course not! He created them as physical persons, with flesh and blood, subject to the laws of nature. So, our physicality is not a product of the Fall, but our perspective toward our physicality often is.
We tend to treat our bodies either as a workhorse to get us around to do our tasks or as an oversized cat to be pampered and to be made as comfortable as possible. Either way, we view our bodies as somehow distinct from our true selves. This is mistake.
There’s a popular quote that goes around, and it’s usually attributed to C.S. Lewis. It goes something like this, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” I bet you’ve heard that statement. Well, it’s not right, and it’s not from C.S. Lewis. Lewis never wrote or said that (at least according to all the records and writings of his that we have), and it’s a good thing because it communicates a faulty anthropology.
The statement conveys that our bodies are merely temporary shells for our souls, and once the soul is finished with it, the body can be discarded with no real loss. Instead, we are called to give attention to our bodily health and Scripture assumes we will.
In Ephesians 5:28-30, when Paul wants to encourage husbands to treat their wives well, he assumes a certain care about one’s own body, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
Paul’s assuming that men care about the welfare of their own bodies, and that because the marriage covenant makes a man and woman one flesh, he’ll care about his wife with the same attention as he cares for his own body. Her good is his good. So, your body and soul together comprise who you are.
One of the reasons I’m compelled to say this now is because there are some who are critical of churches who have suspended gathering due to the treat of this virus. Churches have no problem talking about spiritual health, but I want you to see that it is not an unfaithful thing to consider our bodily health as well. We need to remember, especially in this time of a global pandemic, that we are embodied creatures. We were made to feel and experience the world — with its pleasures and its tragedies. Obviously, the church is going to be about the wellness of the soul. But we find ourselves in a once-in-a-lifetime scenario in which we have to think and make decisions about the bodily wellness of our whole congregation, and I hope you see that Scripture cares about this issue.
Praise the Lord that he offers grace and wisdom for his people in these distressing times.
Garrett Walden is a pastor at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, and he's a 6th grade teacher at Auburn Classical Academy. He's an Auburn University alum living in Opelika with his wife and three kids.