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A Vital Sign
Our bodies are trying to tell us something. Are we listening?
The human body tells us a lot.
It tells us when something is lacking. Thirst notifies us of dehydration. A growling stomach is a tell-tale sign of hunger. An enlarged thyroid may signal a lack of iodine.
The body also communicates when something is wrong. Fevers let us know when our bodies are under attack by foreign invaders. Physical pain alerts us to fractured bones, lesions, or external threats. Unexpected gastro-intestinal issues or poor sleep may mean we are under too much stress. For some, the body can even evince psychological wounds, or trauma, by way of inexplicable, erratic behavior.
The body tells us when things are good. Satiation signals a filling meal. Goosebumps can be a euphoric response to beautiful music. Calm comes at the safe and welcome touch of another.
The body communicates so much to us, and yet most remain out of touch with their bodies. We may not be carefully attuned to them, we may not be good at interpreting them, or we may be bad at both. Efforts to develop greater awareness of our bodies are met with constant distraction and resistance. Technological and medical advancements have had the unintended consequence of obscuring the body’s natural limits and abilities, along with its vulnerability and dependency. Likewise, the proliferation of screens and media obscure the body by scrambling its signals with an overload of information and images. It is no wonder that many struggle to discern the body’s signs.
Nevertheless, regardless of our attunement to our bodies, our ability to interpret its signs—and the challenges our contemporary world poses to both—the fact remains: our bodies communicate real needs, problems, and joys. The question is: could it be that today’s widespread amnesia of the body has caused us to miss its other vital signs?
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In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that the invisible God has revealed Himself to all people through His creation:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
(Rom 1:19-20, ESV)
When reading this passage, modern readers are prone to interpret creation—“the things that have been made”—as nature: the physical world outside of us. This is understandable. When we think of created things which most powerfully point to God, we tend to recall the infinitude of stars in the night sky, the grandeur of mountains like Everest, or the expanse, depth, and power of the ocean. All of these certainly bear witness to the power of the Creator. Their qualities may even make them more apparent witnesses to God’s glory than other parts of the physical world.
Yet, for all of nature’s witness to God’s glory, we should not confuse the external, physical world as the sum total of the biblical meaning of creation. Biblically speaking, creation refers to more than the external, physical world. Rather, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). God also made all that fills both: the heavenly bodies, the sea and the dry land, as well as the plants, fish, birds, beasts. And God made man.
The creation presented in the opening chapters of Genesis—and in the rest of scripture—cannot be reduced to the physical, visible, external world. The “things that have been made” include all things that have been given existence: tangible and intangible, visible and invisible, external and internal, nonhuman and human.
Paul’s statement that “what can be known about God is plain… in the things that have been made” is thus beautifully summarized by Calvin: “There is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of God’s glory.”
No spot in the universe fails to communicate the glory of God—not even the human body.
Like all created things, God is revealed and perceived in our bodies. Anatomists, doctors, and artists may better discern the body’s structure, beauty, and functions; but all acknowledge, as Calvin writes, that “the human body shows itself to be a composition so ingenious that its Artificer is rightly judged a wonder-worker.”
Unlike other created things, our bodies are accessible, ever-present witnesses to God. Most of us will never climb Mount Everest, go deep sea diving, or look through powerful telescopes into the infinite expanses of outer space; but our bodies are always with us. All of us, regardless of our access to the outdoors or outer space, experience and live with our bodies day in and day out. Thus, the body provides a more ready witness to God than other aspects of the creation.
The accessibility and constancy of the body’s witness does not mean that we are always aware of or attentive to it. In fact, the testimony of the body is often hidden through obscurity or sensory overload. Advances in medicine, nutrition, and sanitation have made our bodies less susceptible to disease, malnutrition, and infection. So much so that the average human lifespan has doubled in the past 200 hundred years.Further removed from the threat of disease and death than our ancestors, we have the luxury to forget about our bodies.
Likewise, the influx of media, more screen time, and the ceaseless flow of information have distracted us and diminished our attentiveness to anything and everything, including our bodies. As Jacques Ellul lamented, the overwhelming sensationalism of media has drowned out the modern person’s “individual experiences about [such mundane matters as] the excellence of a plum or a razor blade.”Whether obscured by modern society or drowned in media, the body is obscured today.
But our inattention does not make it mute. The body’s constant presence makes it a stubbornly persistent witness—so much so that it refuses to be silenced. Like pangs of thirst, the body’s witness to its Creator may be ignored, but only for a time. As with those who fail to satisfy their thirst, by will or by fate, those who fail to heed the body’s testimony—or any creaturely testimony to its Creator—will descend into delusion, and ultimately, death.
The God who reveals Himself in “the things that have been made” thus reveals Himself in the divinely created, God-given human body. But what else does it mean to confess that the body is created, besides the fact that God reveals Himself to humanity through it? How does the body reveal its Creator? What exactly does the body reveal about its Creator? And how do people respond when they “clearly perceive” the Creator in creation? We’ll consider these questions in our next post.
Jared Eckert is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and the founder of Perishable Goods.
Jean Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 52. (Book I, Chapter V, Section 1 (I.V.1))
Ibid, Institutes, I.V.2
Ephraim Radner, A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of Human Life (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p. 22.
Jacques Ellul, Presence in the Modern World: A New Translation, trans. Ted Lewis (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016), p. 135, Scribd.
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