Whoever first said, “the eyes are the windows to the soul” was more right than he or she knew, at least physiologically speaking. Our eyes are intricate machines, designed to serve a deceptively simple purpose. With layers of delicate tissue, finely tuned muscles, and thousands of light and color receptors, our eyes gather data from our environment and strategically direct it to our brains for processing. The coiner of the aforementioned quote meant to describe what we perceive emotionally when we look at or into the eyes of another person. The irony is that our perceptions are themselves only the result of the complex translation of what our own eyes have sent to our mind. We’re windows facing other windows; the real work of understanding and responding is happening elsewhere. When it comes to problems with eyesight, some issues are “window” problems – myopia, cataracts, and color blindness are all consequences of our eyes not directing data to our brains accurately. But more often than not, true blindness isn’t the result of problems with what our eyes take in, but with the inability of our minds to respond.
When it comes to questions of how Christians should see the human body, whether our own, our neighbor’s, or a stranger’s on a screen, traditional answers have focused far more on what to do with our eyes than with our minds. Avert the eyes from the magazines in the grocery checkout lines or overly sexual scene at the movies. Bounce the eyes away from the underdressed girl at the mall or the beach. Turn away from the billboards. Turn off the screen. Keep your finger on the window shades of your eyes and close them anytime a dark or deceptive picture comes into view. But as anyone who’s been on the Internet, or in a store, or driving down a freeway, or currently possesses a pulse will tell you, the days of that strategy being a winning one are long gone. It’s not longer a matter of when we, or our children, will be confronted with sinfully seductive, commodifying, exploitative, or obscene images of the human body. It’s a matter of when. Having an understanding of body image that is grounded in the gospel instead of the world is not so much about keeping our eyes closed but in having our darkened minds enlightened so we can see the One whom our bodies are made to reflect.
We need to see Jesus.
Jesus was with God in the beginning as He wrought light and life and life-giving power with His words and His breath and the bone of the man He had made.
Jesus emptied Himself of His glory to live amongst His creation as His creation, his first earthly dwelling place not the manger in a stable, but the womb of a young Jewish peasant.
Jesus ate lunch with tax gatherers and drank water with Samaritan adulteresses, but fed on nothing but His Father’s will and His words in the wilderness to undo what had been done in the garden.
Jesus had eyes that shed tears, hands that healed lepers, arms that hugged children, knees that knelt on dirt floors, and a back that stooped to wash his disciples’ feet.
Jesus’ body hung on a cross, naked and broken, so that our bodies might be covered by His righteousness and made whole.
Jesus gave up his perishable body to death and burial in a tomb, and was raised with an imperishable one, his resurrected body proclaiming the death of death and the promise of resurrected bodies for all those who are found in Him.
For those who have identified with Jesus’s bodily life, death and resurrection, the Spirit of the One who dwelt first in the womb of a woman now dwells in us through faith, making us His living, working temples, as we wait for the day when our spiritual faith will become physical sight, and we exchange our own mortal bodies for eternal ones. Given His eyes and His mind, we will once again see our bodies and our neighbor’s as containers and displayers of glory – not our own, but Christ’s. We will see that the glory of our bodies is not ours to exploit, but God’s to be declared. We will feed and clothe and live and move in them as though they are in Christ’s body, because they are.
Just as no two bodies are the same, so no two bodies will have been broken by the fall or redeemed by the gospel in the same way. The woman whose physical beauty was her salvation will see her better Savior and cling to Him more than she clings to her appearance. The woman who saw her body as shameful will see the goodness spoken over it by her God and see it as worthy of honor and respect. The woman who has tried and failed to bear in her own body the shame of sins committed against it will see the One who bore that shame in His own body on the cross for her, and see herself made whole and clean and clothed with His righteousness. The woman who has feared the myriad small deaths to produce life that is childbearing will see Christ’s life death in them, and her heart will be softened. The woman whose willing heart has been betrayed by a physically broken body in infertility will cling to the truth of her body’s goodness being grounded in the work God did to make it and call it good, rather than the work it may never do, and her heart will be strengthened.
As with physical sight, spiritual sight regarding our bodies is both a simple and infinitely deep thing. It is as simple as seeing Jesus. And it is as infinitely deep and marvelous as contemplating who He is and what He has done to save us, both body and soul.
By Rachael Starke