An entertainment personality, fresh from various surgeries (augmentations, alterations, etc.), recently opined in an interview, “But in the end, this is just a shell.” It was a very revealing cultural moment. The body is “just a shell” but worthy of tens of thousands of dollars to alter its appearance. It has been observed that modern man lives his life as a hedonist and dies like a Platonist.
The hedonist believes that life is defined by pleasure (particularly physical pleasure). The Platonist believes that the body and the material world are but passing moments – only the non-physical is real and of value. Among modern Christians this same cultural attitude is too frequently common. We gage the value and desirability of many things (sometimes including worship) on the basis of the pleasure we receive. For some, “edifying” and “enjoyable,” are too often the same thing.
There has long been a bifurcation within some forms of Christianity between “spiritual” and “physical.” The use of physical actions, incense, etc. (any form of ritual), is immediately dubbed “empty ritual” by some. It’s as though the word “ritual” only comes with the modifier “empty.” Faith is considered something that has no physical content.
There have been other bifurcations in history – where the body was seen as the enemy of the spiritual life and in which extreme forms of asceticism were encouraged for reasons that bordered on Manicheeism (a heresy that taught that matter was evil).
The body is not “just the shell.” Properly understood, the human person is both body and soul – neither are the fullness of the person alone. It is in this sense that the Church teaches the necessity of the resurrection of the body. That at death the soul is departs from the body is the understanding of the Church. But it also understands that though the soul “is in the hands of God” it enjoys an anticipation of the life to come – rather than the fullness of the life to come. The fullness awaits our fullness – the resurrection of the body.
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:22-23).
In the meantime – if our hope includes the redemption of our body – how can our daily life as Christians ignore the spiritual reality of the body? Fasting and other bodily acts of devotion to God are normal for a Christian living in the body. The body does not pray alone, but neither does the soul.
In the same manner, it matters what we do with the body. It is not a shell whose function is to become as attractive as possible to other shells. Body and soul are united: what is done with one effects the other. Thus the “beauty” of the soul, as it is adorned with virtue and kindness, has an effect on the body. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the soul that radiates from the body, but I have seen it numerous times.
In the same manner, the crass treatment of the body in which it is made to serve vices rather than virtues, works not beauty in the soul – but its opposite. I have seen this many times – and in my own mirror.
The body is not a shell. It is created to bear the fullness of the image of Christ. I have heard some (at funerals) look at a body and say, “That is not him.” It is “him” in the same manner that the soul is “him.” The person is body and soul. For this very reason the Orthodox faith is careful in its teaching regarding the honor that is due to the body even in death. Though it rests in hope – it rests awaiting a hope that we cannot begin to imagine. If God will so honor it – how can we not?
My body is not a shell.