Sunday, October 14, 2012

Struggling With the Ideal

Recently during a conversation with two dear believers the subject of dieting and exercise came up; specifically about how the body should look. Well, I'll ask you, how should the body look? How healthy should we be? How much focus should we put on these things? Undoubtedly, some Christians (and non-Christians) see the body as a temple; a living temple. Commonly, they use scripture as a proof text: 1 Corinthians 6:19 (NIV1984),
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;" and thus ingesting nothing unhealthy. Yet, some are fully intent on denying the body any nutrition except for that which can be gleaned from the substrate of a double-cheeseburger--either ignorantly or leaning on the grace factor. Maybe their proof text is something like 1 Corinthians 10:27 (NIV1984), "If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience." Some would want to argue that the "you" in chapter six is plural and is, therefore speaking of the body of the whole church; or that the chapter 10 verse is taken out of context. These discrepancies, be they true or not, do nothing to answer the question of, how ought we treat our bodies? Should we dive headlong into a wedding cake because we have freedom in Christ or should we suppress our desires that send us wantonly into the arms of the foodstuffs of the state fair?

Ultimately, many of our questions as a Christian bring us to an apex. On one side of that apex we have grace and on the other we have holiness. Daily we have before us a fine line to walk; antinomianism on the right and legalism on the left. For those who specifically struggle with how to treat the body this can lead to some very heavy spiritual and psychological stress. There are two areas where the Christian tends to err in this area. On the one hand you can say that the body was made by God and therefore we have a obligation to maintain it--becoming a steward of our own bodies. On the other hand you could say that the body was originally made by God but today's bodies are products of an equation involving time, DNA, and the fall--they are fallen, mutated, and decomposing--so we ought to eat like we're dying (or at least our bodies are). Either of these arguments fall victim of the dreaded Is-Ought fallacy. The Is-Ought fallacy grasps the individual who believes that because something is a certain way, that is the way it ought to be. For an example you will remember the old canard,  If man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings. The fallacy seems obvious here, but when it is used to talk about the teleological status of the body.... well, not so much. 

Of these two the one that seems to be the most troubling for believers in Christ is the concept of the body being perfectly created by a perfect creator--the problem of holiness. That is, since we are obliged, or we ought, to keep the body in its most pristine then it is sin to let it fall from perfection because to do anything other than what we ought is, by definition, sin. The only way we can maintain this idea in our minds is to have an idea of what is the good and perfect concept of the body--the ideal. As Christians we mostly err on the side of holiness. Often, though, we over-correct our trajectory from sin on the one side all the way to sin on the other side. So, while trying to be holy we end up falling under an extra-biblical,  man-made law; trying to reach the ideal we end up being legalistic.  However, the ideal in our eyes is rarely the ideal that is seen in His eyes (the is-ought fallacy). 

The opposite of this is erroneous concept is just as dangerous, yet not as common. The believer is far less likely to struggle with antinomian ("against law") beliefs, but is equally susceptible. When the Christian is finally through, ultimately fed up with the fruitlessness and overwhelming depression of legalism they tend to fall fast and hard towards our friend grace. Now, though grace is a beautiful and major tenet of the Christian faith it is easily abused. Seeing the body as essentially fallen and without hope until the resurrection coupled with the grace of God we are almost compelled to view the ideal state of the body as whatever gets us around; a completely utilitarian view.

In nearly every path of the Christian walk we will be confronted with this dilemma--the struggle with the ideal. This is ultimately a false dilemma. The Christian religion is filled with seemingly contradictory doctrines: just sinners (simul justus et peccator), a man named Jesus who is God incarnate (very God of very God), a God who "is Love" and decrees punishment in Hell. The humble man will look into these matters and find that these things are not contradictory but complimentary; not illogical but incomprehensible. The gifted theologian Don Carson, in his book Exegetical Fallacies, lists a fallacy he titled "false disjunctions: a false appeal to the law of the excluded middle." A false disjunction is "a false either/or requirement when complimentarity might be acceptable". We as Christians are called to walk the line between holiness and grace. There is no either/or disjunction here; it is a balance. 

The question is, How do we find that balance. I do not pretend to know for sure and it is not my intention to answer that question here. Perhaps you know. I do know one thing for sure: if the answer is to be found anywhere it is in scripture. So, let us struggle with the ideal by looking for answers in the God's word and in those especially gifted to teach it. I was recently listening to a conference of such gifted teachers when, during the Q&A, the question, "Why don't Christians care when they are sinning?", was asked, Alistair Begg responded:

The  reason is that the believer does not understand the notion of union with Christ.
And when we don't understand what it means to be united with Christ, then all we will be left with is either legalism on the one hand or lawlessness on the other hand. It is since then you have been raised with Christ you seek those things that are above; and it is because of who you are in Christ; because your nature has been changed; your status has been changed; because you have been raised to the heavenly places that these things are not impossible but they are now incongruent.
And I think part of the problem is people do not know who they are in Christ.