What did you see when you looked in the mirror this morning? Was the reflection too tall or too broad? Was your hair too frizzy and thick or too flat and thin? Were there unwanted dimples or unwanted pimples in all the wrong places? How long is your list of imperfections? Imperfect according to what standard? Where did you see perfection? Who told you what the gold standard was? Most importantly, who told you that there is something wrong with your body? One of my most popular blog posts is one I wrote over a year ago with a list of Bible verses to armour your mirror. Every month I look at my blog statistics and see the evidence of the ache of many readers who can’t look in the mirror without needing encouragement.
For you formed my inwards parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it full well.Psalm 139:13
Dear friend, what if I told you that God never knitted you together to look pretty? Nowhere in scripture do we read that we were created to have ample breasts, narrow waists, and a well-defined booty. We don’t read in 2 Fleshalonians to dye our hair blond and style it with long, perfect Hollywood waves. Many scholars believe Jesus was not a very handsome man. (“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2)
The Creator of the universe is a creative God who sees beauty in a rose as well as a cactus. He gave wings to both parrots and doves. He made puppies cute and bunnies fluffy. What a boring, uninspired world would this be if all humans looked the same and Instagram was real life? If we were all perfectly polished, with sculpted muscles this would be a bland lacklustre crown of God’s creation.
I recently listened to a podcast episode from My Everyday Chaos entitled Body Image Done Differently featuring Katy Adelman. I was inspired by this conversation to ask myself: what is the purpose of these amazing bodies God gave us? What does scripture teach us about how and why God made us the way we are?
We were made in the image of God
God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.Genesis 1:27
John Piper explains in great detail that man is the crown of God’s creation which demonstrates that physically and spiritually man resembles the character of God so that God could give man dominion to rule over all the earth. The author of Genesis does not focus on what this image looks like but rather on the intent of this image. The ancient Jews were not allowed to make images or replications of God in any way (even through art) because he had already made such images – humans.
What was God’s outline for our rule or dominion over all creation? Jesus taught us through his examples that his definition of authority is completely counter-intuitive to what the world thinks of as ruling. He gave us the greatest command:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’Matthew 22:37-38
Through his ministry and ultimate sacrifice, he showed us that the body we are given was made to demonstrate this love – to God above all, but also to ourselves and to everyone we encounter.
God sees the real you
These days there is a fix for any undesirable flaw. Hair can be cut, lengthened removed or manipulated in any which way. You can airbrush the makeup on your face and even filter out the remaining flaws before you post your selfie. You can be perfectly plastic if you have enough patience and hide anything you do not want others to see.
But God sees the real you. When your hair is undone, and you have puffy bags under your eyes, he still thinks you are the crown of his creation.
You are the God who sees me.Genesis 16:13
In the Old Testament, when God commanded Samuel to travel to Jesse’s household to find the future king of Israel amongst his sons, Samuel evaluated the candidates with his human understanding. But God had a different candidate in mind and reprimanded the prophet.
Don’t judge by appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.1 Samuel 16:7
Why is it so hard to allow others to look beyond the exterior veneer? Why do we make such a big deal about beauty and aesthetics – going on crazy diets and spending exorbitant amounts of money trying to look “perfect”? What are we hiding? What are we afraid of? Perhaps we believe deep down that if people saw how flawed we were, we would be measured as not worthy of love. Perhaps we think if we do not conform to the standards of outward beauty we measure ourselves against, we will not be enough. No matter how hard we work to look good we are never satisfied, and we wash it all off tonight to start again in the morning.
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.John 10:10
The adversary loves it when we are so focused on our outward appearance because then we are distracted from what matters. In our attempts to reach perfect proportions, we sometimes go to extremes and treat our God-given bodies worse than we would ever treat another person. Imagine how different the world would be if we all spent as much time on our relationship with God as we do to get ready in the morning.
I would like to challenge both of us – you and me – to change our perspective of our bodies to what the Holy Spirit teaches us through Scripture.
1. Your body is a living sacrifice.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:1-2
You can use the engineering miracle of a body to serve the God of the universe by serving others. Testify with your mouth; praise with your voice; embrace with your arms; kneel on your knees before our great Father. Walk a mile with a friend and really listen to their hearts. Allow your eyes to take in the wonder of God’s creation and let your mind remember the miracles he has performed – long ago but every day in multiple ways.
2. Use your body to taste and see.
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him.Psalm 34:8
I know the psalmist’s intention with this verse on a more figurative level – but have you tried to taste and see God’s goodness? God gave us infinite flavour possibilities and blessed the earth with more tastes and textures than we can enjoy in our lifetime. When last did you take a bite, let it stay in your mouth for a while and just appreciate all the wonderful flavours you can perceive? We take this for granted until it is lost – just ask someone who has had the COVID-19 virus. To lose your sense of taste and smell is one of the most depressing symptoms and almost deems every meal a waste when all you can taste is salt and the texture of a tomato. What kind of food would you enjoy if you made a conscious effort to savour every bite in appreciation of God’s goodness? Firstly, you would be satisfied sooner because you deliberately taste your food, but you would also make sure that the food you consumed would be nutritious and good for the miracle of a body God had given you. If we sincerely appreciate this marvellous creation, we would be unable to fill it with processed junk and call it a meal.
As an optometrist, the technicalities of how we see is fascinating to me. One of my favourite moments of my job is the look on a patient’s face when they suddenly see better with treatment because they didn’t realize how bad their vision was before they came in for their examination. Similarly, we often need to be reminded to take a good look. It is so easy for us to rush through life without taking a moment to see the goodness of God. That is why I love spending time in nature. When we are surrounded by majestic mountains and crystal blue waters filled with a kaleidoscope of different creatures, we cannot help but be overcome with wonder at our creative God.
3. Your body is a temple
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The Holy Spirit is the person of God living in us. He guides us and inspires us, filling us with truth to allow us to be sanctified to spend eternity with Jesus. How much trouble do we go to for a guest in our home who stays a few hours or days, but we neglect the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in us all the time? Our bodies should be able to move swiftly, think clearly and function optimally to fulfil the purpose of the Spirit within us. This has nothing to do with what we look like on the outside but everything to do with what we consume and how we move our bodies to be as healthy as possible. I realize there are many people with broken bodies with limitations. This is not an excuse. You just have to spend a few minutes watching Joni Eareckson Tada so you can witness how even a quadriplegic can use her limited abilities to be a witness to the Spirit’s work in her life. If she can testify of the love of God and his power in her life, then you and I have no excuse.
4. Your body is being changed
Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.2 Corinthians 4:10
I have never had nails hammered through my palms or suffocated on a cross, but I have endured excruciating unwavering pain. Physical pain is another reminder of the suffering that is inevitable in this broken world. Sometimes no amount of ibuprofen can take that pain away, and that reminds us of how enduring this suffering makes us more and more like Jesus, as we suffer as he did.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.2 Corinthians 4:19
This world is not our final destination. As followers of Jesus Christ, we look forward to spending eternity with him in a renewed world without sin, pain, and brokenness. The fallibility of our bodies reminds us that they will not last forever but that we look forward to a resurrected body that cannot decay.
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.2 Corinthians 4:18
In one of the favourite golden oldie hymns in our church, we sing
No night there – lyrics John R. Clements
“God shall wipe away all tears,
there’s no death, no pain nor fears;
and they count not time by years,
for there is no night there.”
We look forward to a world where all our tears will be of joy and our bodies will not age and decay with disease or injury.
In this process of maturing as loving rulers who are being prepared to reign as kings and priests with Jesus forever, we grow more and more into his likeness. The more we resemble the character of Jesus, the more our bodies grow into the image of God the way he intended before sin came into this world: Perfect and blameless.
So all of us who have had the veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.2 Corinthians 3:18
With all of this in mind, how do we change the way we take care of our bodies?
- We marvel at this design God uses to love others and serve him.
- We move our bodies in healthy ways in appreciation for all God has given us and in preparation for everything he has planned for us to do to honour and glorify his name.
- We taste the delicious food of his creation and savour every bite allowing it to nourish our bodies.
- We avoid ingesting junk with little nurturing properties because that is not how we treat the temple of the Holy Spirit.
- When we must endure pain and suffering, we pray for healing, but we use it as a reminder that this world is temporary and to fill us with hope and expectation for a new creation free from aches and ageing.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Ephesians 2:10
I don’t know about you, but I have some repenting to do about the way I have viewed and abused this marvellous body my Creator has blessed me with in the past. I must transform my thinking towards thanksgiving and wonder at what he has knitted together in the reflection I see staring back at me from the mirror, and that he will use my body for purposes planned long ago.
If you would like to download these verses in a printable format click on the link below:
This beautiful song, Details by Sarah Reeves, reminds us of how God’s design is in every detail of our lives.