A few weeks ago, my English class were looking at a poem which talked in one of the stanzas about the soul (in the form of a bird) being free of the body, indicating that the body is imperfect, impure and holding back the soul. I said that this is a classic image of some Greek philosophies – the idea that the soul is essentially good and the body is essentially bad. My teacher replied that it’s an element of Biblical teaching too. I replied, quite simply, that it wasn’t. Spluttering slightly, his response was ‘I beg to differ!’.
I don’t blame people for thinking that the idea that the body is bad and soul is good is a genuine Biblical idea. It goes hand in hand with the mistaken idea that our eternal destination is a spiritual Heaven with God. This idea of an eternal, spiritual Heaven is a classic adaptation of Greek philosophy in Christian teaching. The book of Revelation makes it abundantly clear that the eternal destination for Christians is here, on Earth (albeit a renewed Earth). Yes, we will have new, glorious bodies (Philippians 3:21), but we will still have bodies. Think about it logically for a moment; if spiritual existence is the best state for us, why would God have created us with bodies? Surely, the fact that we have bodies now suggests that God intends humans to have bodies. Before Adam and Eve fell they were essentially perfect, yet they had bodies. Biblically, that says to me that bodies are not, by their very nature, dirty.
Now, it could be argued that there is a Biblical case for the body being bad. Verses like some in Romans 7 talk about the sinful desires of the flesh and seem to make it clear that sin is in the flesh. That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that the body is bad by it’s very nature, that means that the bodies of fallen humans are sinful. I don’t think that’s very controversial. What I’m saying is that bodies can be made good, but only by God.
I want to make it clear that the belief that we will spend eternity as spirits is not Biblical. Our bodies are not essentially bad. The Bible calls them temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). And at the end of days, God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth – a new Heaven on Earth, that we can dwell in with him. Look at the resurrection of Jesus, he was resurrected with a new body. He didn’t become a ghost (Luke 24:39), he had hands and feet and a body! So to non-Christians I say this, the belief that Heaven is only ever going to be spiritual is a Greek idea masquerading as a Christian idea; the Bible teaches eternity in Heaven on Earth. To Christians I say this: with that in mind, maybe we should start honouring our bodies, because they are an essential part of God’s gift of life to us.