“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
Just before Christmas three years ago Sarah and I had the pleasure of being with our families over the holidays for the first time in–I honestly don’t remember–a decade or so? We were so excited to enjoy a snowy Christmas with family in Montana.
Several days before Christmas I took my (then) 7-year-old twin daughters out for some last minute Christmas shopping. Arriving at the local mall, we strolled down the mall, looking at the different shops, holding each of my daughters’ hands, one on each side.
We turned a corner, and before realizing it, to our right was a Victoria’s Secret shop. Displayed in the front windows were larger-than-life-size pictures of models dressed (or undressed?) in lingerie.
“That’s not something worth looking at,” I said. “Come on, let’s keep going.”
After a brief (if pregnant) silence, one of my daughters piped up: “Dad, why would a woman dress in her underwear for everyone to see?”
“Ummm….” I said. I had to think about it.
“Well, you know that God made everything, and everything that he made is really, really good, right? For example, our bodies–they are pretty amazing, aren’t they? Not only did God make them so that they can do all kinds of amazing things, but he also made them to be beautiful to look at. For example, I think your mom is beautiful–every bit of her. Does that make sense?”
“Sure, I guess so,” she replied.
“Yeah, mom is so pretty,” the other added.
“So…everything God made is really good, because God made it and because he says it’s good. A thing is as special as He decides it is. And, like I said, our bodies are especially good and beautiful. But what if we decided that things weren’t made by God, or that what he says doesn’t really matter? Then how special would our bodies be? How would we go about figuring out how much they’re worth?”
“I don’t know–I have no idea.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem: no one would really know. We wouldn’t know if we were special anymore. And part of who ‘we’ are is our bodies. When we’re not sure how much our bodies are worth, we begin to wonder what others think they’re worth. So we try to do things that will make others think our bodies are special.”
“Like wear underwear like that?” asked one.
“Yeah, I guess so. There are other ways to do it, too. But here’s the thing: when we do that, something really strange happens: at first, we feel more special, at least for a little while, but then afterwards we feel less special–less special than before we had done anything. That’s what the Bible says [Rom. 1.24: “…the degrading/dishonoring of our bodies…”], and I’ve seen it happen with people.”
“It’s really sad. Without God, people don’t know how much they’re worth. Because we’re made by God, we all feel like we should be special, even if we don’t know God or think he’s real. But even when we feel like we should be special, we doubt it, and we begin to treat both ourselves and others like none of us really matters. What’s it feel like when others treat you like you don’t matter?”
“Yeah, and how do we feel after we have treated others like they don’t matter?”
“I usually feel pretty bad,” said one of them.
“Yeah, almost everyone feels bad after treating others like they don’t matter. We start to feel unworthy, guilty. But not everybody feels that way, though.”
“Why not everybody?”
“Well, I’m not sure all the reasons, but here are a few. When we keep on treating people like they don’t matter, sadly we get used to it, and we don’t care as much; it becomes normal. Or another reason is that, when we see other people treating someone like they don’t matter, it’s easier for us to do the same, too. So the women whose pictures we saw in the storefront: if some people think those women are special only because they’re bodies are beautiful, then it’s easy for others to think that as well: they, too, will think, ‘Those women are only special because they have beautiful bodies.’ And what’s also really sad is that those women can actually start to think that’s true as well.”
The girls paused to think, the wheels turning in their heads. Then one asked, “But what about when those women get old and they don’t look like that anymore? People won’t think they’re special anymore, will they?”
“No, sweetheart, they won’t. And, sadly, those women may actually agree.”
“I hope not,” the other responded. “I hope they can become grandmas and have grandchildren who will treat them like they are really special–like how God thinks of them.”
“Yeah, I hope so, too. You know,” I said, “there’s a name for treating people according to what God says they are worth.”
“Really?” said, looking surprised, “What is it?”
(I’ve always been amazed at how much children can understand. If you know their world, you can have some very sophisticated conversations.)
Our worth as humans does in fact turn on whether or not we were created. And the unworthiness we so often feel comes from treating others like they have little worth–or, at least, less worth (it’s relative). And so we humans live, ever questioning our own worth and “managing” our unworthiness.
Jesus’ incarnation speaks directly to both our worth and our unworthiness: “…till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” The Word became flesh. Pleased as man with men to dwell / Jesus our Emmanuel.
God is with us. God is among us. God is us.
As I used to tell the junior high kids I mentored, Jesus is God in a bod.
But Jesus as God-with-us is precisely God-for-us: “You will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Becoming incarnate, he befriended the carnal–even the most carnal, so that he might remove our unworthiness.
The cross always ennobles and insults. Paul twice tells the believers in sex-saturated Corinth, “You were bought at a price.” This statement dignifies even as it dismantles and devastates. We had to be purchased, redeemed, rescued. Why? Because of our unworthiness. And yet we were purchased, redeemed, rescued. Why? Because of our worth.
But not only did Jesus become human; he remains human. The bodily resurrection and return of Jesus speak of one who is still a human, who still has a body: “…since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him,” writes Paul, sounding very much like the author of Hebrews, who speaks of Jesus’ “indestructible life” as follows:
“…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Take that in: he always lives to intercede for you and for me. Though all the world accuse us, though our own hearts accuse us and cry out for our condemnation, Jesus our high priest draws near with an indignant love and retorts, “Over my dead body.”
But while both the incarnation, bodily resurrection and reign of Jesus dignify our bodies, the latter recognizes the brokenness of our bodies: if we recognize–and grieve–that our bodies are not as they should be–if they lack the proper wonder and beauty (what Scripture calls “glory”), Jesus’ resurrection says that God agrees with us: he doesn’t like what’s wrong with our bodies even more than we do (though he may disagree with us about what is wrong); he doesn’t merely dislike how they function (or dysfunction), he dislikes aspects of how they look (see 1 Cor. 15.43).
And he fully intends to do something about it: they will be raised imperishable, glorious, empowered, Spirit-filled forever.
Until then, at times groaning, we wait eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies. Convinced of how the Incarnation addresses both human worth and human unworthiness, we offer our bodies here and now, today, as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.