Seventh-day Adventists reject the idea the body and mind are separate entities (dualism), a common idea in the cultures of early Christians. Plato taught dualism and was so influential that the idea informed Christians reading of scripture. It didn’t help when Genesis 2:7 was mistranslated into Greek, saying living soul, rather than living being. The mistranslation seemed to reconciled dualism with what Christians read in the Bible. Dualism suggested the soul/mind is part of the divine cosmos and temporarily makes its home in a physical body. The body was regarded as limiting and compared to a prison. Plato warned bodily emotions and appetite would destroy us.
This philosophy motivated the practice of mortification of the flesh. Whipping oneself, fasting, and sleeping without a blanket in a cold, stone room, were all attempts to punish, tame, or defeat the body, which was considered sinful. Verses like 1 Corinthians 9:27 were used to support these practices. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Paul had been explaining why it’s okay for him and Barnabas to be financially supported by believers and yet, he doesn’t require payment because he loves to preach the gospel for free! He compares what he gives and how he gives it to athletes who train for a race. Sometimes it costs him, but he knows discomfort is worth the incredible, eternal outcome. He encourages the Corinthians to hold the goal in their minds too. As an aside, he points out the irony that he could do all this and still be lost himself. The metaphor of preparation for a race is the opposite of disregard for your body or beating it into submission. A runner’s purpose is to strengthen the body and tune into their senses to avoid injury.
Again, Paul writes in Romans 8:13, For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. In Romans, the word flesh is described as sinful flesh or sin in the flesh (see verse three). While it’s not repeated each time, this explains what flesh symbolizes in this chapter. Literal flesh was the human form before they engaged in sin. Jesus intentionally pointed out his flesh and bones body after his resurrection, which was not sinful. So while literal flesh is neutral, the term flesh in this passage, represents our inclination to sin. Paul challenges people to be guided by the Holy Spirit as they move through the world. This makes sense since the Holy Spirit shows us when we’re in a wrong state (not-loving/sinful) as well as a new way to be, but the Spirit is not our divine mind warring with our sinful flesh. This text isn’t telling us to control our appetites and emotions with reason, but we can see how Christians heard echoes of Plato’s warning in the text.
We will exist in touchable bodies when we’re made perfect.
There’s no redesign planned.
Christians adopted this philosophy and passed it down until it now, when it reverberates through current society. We reward and admire people disregarding their bodies. We are suspicious of our body’s need for food, sleep, hydration, sex, comfort and even elimination. Have you felt annoyed by hunger pangs, because you didn’t want to stop to eat? Have you begrudged the time it takes to wind down and sleep? Have you been in such a busy workflow, you couldn’t squeeze in a bathroom break? This comes from a deep, centuries-old fear our bodies will sabotage us. Fear holds the door open for eating disorders (our appetite can’t be trusted), lack of direction (we can’t trust our desires), unhealthy rest patterns (we have value only if we’re productive), neglecting medical care (it’s stoic to ignore pain), choosing not to do something because you won’t look sexy (I’m only valuable if I’m attractive). The net result is we stop dreaming, stop trying, stop eating, stop getting help. On some level, we stop living.
But a negative view of the body is not Biblical. God designed our bodies and gifted us with them. Does God give bad gifts? Do we really believe God built into us a self-destruct mechanism? When God looked into Eve’s eyes after breathing life into her, He said she was good. Not her mind was good, but all of her.
Maybe Jesus knew we’d mistrust our bodies because He intentionally pointed out His flesh and bones self after He resurrected. We will exist in touchable bodies when we’re made perfect. There’s no redesign planned. What God called good at creation is still good. Culture inspires hate for bodies, if they aren’t pretty enough, strong enough, healthy enough, skinny enough, tall enough. These standards circle us like bullies, ridiculing us even as we hold God’s glory. Sometimes we’ve joined in, agreeing our bodies are all wrong, until we curled in on ourselves, taking the fetal position, no longer moving or blessing or being.
But our bodies are made to move and bless and eat and sleep and have sex and laugh and cry and drink. Do you begrudge your body these things? What if while we’re trying to shut down our body’s needs and functions, God is simultaneously trying to hold us up, keep us alive, keep our hearts pumping.
This may seem like a crazy, foreign, difficult shift. It may fly in the face of all you’ve held true. But when God created you, He said, “She’s good,” and maybe we need to open ourselves up to agreeing with His assessment.