Against the Flesh: Part 1

One of my pet peeves is when people talk about fighting against their flesh, beating their flesh into submission, or some other allusion to the flesh/spirit (sometimes also earthly/heavenly) dichotomy present in a number of New Testament passages–mostly in Paul’s letters.

It bothers me because people often use these passages to support an unhealthy–or at least unbalanced–body theology, one in which the body is something wholly other, something to be forced into submission, blamed for failures, lamented, battled, beaten, and regarded as dirty, filthy, and something to get rid of and be finally, blessedly free from after death.

I am not my body, people seem to acknowledge.  I am my mind, my personality, and my spirit.  I am pursuing God, but my body pursues evil.  I am good, but my body is bad.  I am purified, but my body keeps contaminating me. “What I don’t want to do, I do, and what I do want to do, I don’t do”; and it’s all my body’s fault.  Stupid human flesh holding me back from the glorious, Spirit-filled Christian life.

I get a little upset.

That is not the truth about who we are as children of God.  These are lies we believe, perpetuated by a consistent misreading of scripture.  Just as we can’t read Romans 3:23 without Romans 3:24, or Colossians 3:22 without Galatians 3:28, or Ephesians 5:22 without Ephesians 5:21 — so we can’t read Galatians 5:16-18 without Ephesians 6:12.

The Bible is meant to be read collectively as the revelation of the story of God for the people of God.  We need a holistic hermeneutic by which to read the entirety of scripture. Otherwise we get caught up in a verse here and a verse there and end up so far away from the point the author was trying to make, or the truth the Holy Spirit intends to reveal.

Scripture is easily twisted to fit our preconceptions and presumptions.  We are so used to reading scripture through the lens of our own understanding and experience that we are often unable to recognize when a beautiful spiritual truth — intended to free us and bring us into the fullness of life and completion of joy promised to us — has been distorted into a horrible lie — intended to steal, kill, and destroy us.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the scriptures below through the lens of holistic body theology.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but representative of the New Testament’s negative treatment of “the flesh.”

To be continued…

 

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on April 23, 2012, in Body Image, Identity, Image of God, Physicality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great topic, Laura! It’s important to differentiate between the flesh and the body. The flesh may be seen as weak and prone to sin, the home of our baser urges and passions. But the body is a gift from God. The heart, the lungs, the brain. The skin, nose, ears; none of that is dirty or sinful. God delights in every tooth and every hair has been counted. Yeesh. I wouldn’t want that job in heaven. “Lead Hair Counter.” Rather be “Nose Curve Designer.”

    • Laura Cavanaugh

      Nose curve designer. You make me laugh, William. =) Thanks for the encouraging comment and being such a faithful reader!

  2. I like how you are going to redeem the bad body image messages we get from bad scripture readings but to really begin to heal this we also need a conversation about how we got here (one I wouldn’t mind writing about :)).

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