Is your body your friend or foe?
Is my body my friend? Or is my body my foe? It’s a question we must ask and answer with Scripture. The question comes in from an anonymous woman. “Hello, Pastor John, I’m a Christian female in my twenties. Ever since puberty I have hated my body. I constantly feel uncomfortable in my own skin and obsess about what other people might be thinking about it.
“In the last eight years of my life, I’m not sure I’ve gone a full minute without having intrusive, destructive, and negative thoughts about my physical appearance. Sometimes I wonder if I have a mental illness, and I know the value of having this checked out by a local doctor (and I have). But I would love biblical help from you. Scripture says that I was fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God doesn’t look at outward appearance but looks at the heart. I believe these things are true, but what about my view of myself? What would you say to me?”
I hope we all understand and agree that I know very, very little about this situation and cannot presume to speak into it with the kind of wisdom that would come from knowing not only Scripture, but also the person and the situation.
“If you believe what God says, you love the fact that he said it. It becomes part of what satisfies your soul.”
Let’s all agree that what I say is not a simplistic remedy for what sounds like a deep and lasting problem, but rather a biblical perspective that might, along with other factors, be used by God to bring freedom.
That would be my prayer. I want to respond to three statements that you made and just give a biblical angle that may help or maybe you haven’t thought about.
1. A Right Kind of Hatred
You said, “Ever since puberty, I have hated my body.” I wonder if it might be worth considering that there is a good hatred of the body and a bad hatred of the body. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline [pummel] my body” — literally, “I give my body a black eye” — “and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” You don’t beat up on your friend. You beat up on your enemies.
Now, of course, the body in one sense is a friend. There’s no life on earth without it. It does make some pleasures possible. It will be raised on the last day and made beautiful and glorious for every single child of God. But there’s another sense in which the body is not a friend. It has become the base of operations for much enemy activity, and it has become complicit in that attack of the evil one on us.
Paul knows it, and he hates that aspect of the body. He will not let the body rule him or destroy him. He says in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He means the body that he is in that tempts him to do things that will lead to death.
Paul has an ambivalent view of the body. He doesn’t want to throw it away in suicide or mutilate it in some unhealthy way. He prefers resurrection. He doesn’t want it to vanish. He knows God gave us a body for a reason. Yet, while he’s here on the earth, the enemy has made Paul’s body complicit in his destruction. He hates it in that sense, so he opposes it and will not let the body destroy him.
My question is, Have you ever asked, “Instead of saying, ‘I should stop hating my body,’ maybe I should say, ‘I should start hating my body in the right way; I should start hating my body because it tempts me to sin’”?
Now, this is not because it has any particular shape or disfiguration or has a certain complexion or whatever, but rather, you hate the body because it is what is making you sin against God. In that sense, shift all of your hatred. This would be a very significant liberation.
Do you cherish your body as the vehicle of God-given earthly life that will one day be made a glorious body in the resurrection, when you will shine like the sun? Maybe it will help if you, instead of trying to completely rid yourself of body hate, shift the battle onto hating the way you should rather than not hating it at all. That’s my first response to the first statement.
2. What It Means to Believe
Here’s the second statement that you made. You said, “I believe these things are true — that God has made me fearfully and wonderfully and looks upon the heart. I believe these things are true, but what about my view of myself? What would you say to me?”
“Set your mind on things that are above, not on your body.”
The question I want to ask is, What do you mean by “I believe these things”? These are things God has said about you. You say that God has a perspective that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You say that God looks upon your heart.
Then you say that you have a perspective, and it is different from God’s perspective. But you say you believe God’s perspective. Then you ask me, “What about my perspective?” My response is: What do you mean you believe God’s perspective? Have you ever thought that believing God and believing in the New Testament is more than intellectual ascent to the truth of something?
Believing in the New Testament means receiving, embracing, loving. For example, in John 1:12, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Believing Christ is receiving Christ. Welcoming Christ is embracing Christ as true and beautiful and satisfying.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul refers to unbelievers as those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved.” This means that believing the truth includes loving the truth. The devils believe and tremble (James 2:19).
If you believe what God says, you love the fact that he said it. You embrace it. It becomes part of what satisfies your soul. God’s perspective is precious if it’s believed. It’s precious. We embrace it. We kiss it.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Believing Jesus means believing that who he is and what he says are thirst quenching and soul satisfying. Ask yourself, “What do I mean when I say, ‘I believe God’s perspective about me is true’?” Do you really believe?
3. True Freedom
Lastly, you say, “I constantly feel uncomfortable.” In fact, you said, “There’s not been a minute for eight years where I don’t constantly feel uncomfortable in my own skin and obsess about what other people might be thinking about it.”
Let’s think about obsessing. Sometimes when we are obsessing about something, we make the mistake of thinking we can stop obsessing about it by focusing directly on the problem of obsession. That never works, does it? In the very focusing on the problem of obsession, we continue to obsess.
The absolutely crucial need is to set our minds on things different and greater than ourselves. When Paul said, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2–3), that includes your body. Set your mind on things that are above, not on your body.
“The battle with obsession will not be won by desperately trying not to see yourself.”
Have you perhaps considered that the room you live in is too small? I mean the world you have made for yourself, the world of obsessing. The walls in this little room, this world that you live in, are all made out of mirrors. You live in a little room, the world you’ve made, and all the walls in this little world, this room, are mirrors.
The battle with obsession will not be won by desperately trying not to see yourself in this room or trying to like what you see in this room. The problem is that the room is too small. What needs to happen is that the whole room needs to be blown up. Not that you be blown up — the littleness needs blown up. The confined, cramped, smallness of the world you live in needs to be blown up. All the walls need to be blown out by the majesty and greatness and unimaginable expansiveness of God.
Many of the problems that we try to deal with are absolutely unsolvable because the solution lies not in adjusting things in the little room where we live, but in blowing out all the walls of the room where we live so that we suddenly find ourselves staggered by the grandeur of God and his creation.
This staggering experience turns out to be an expansive universe of the world where we can live, not just for a minute, but a week or a month or a year. Suddenly, we realize we haven’t thought about ourselves at all, good or bad. That’s freedom. That’s glorious freedom.
Freedom is not finally liking the body that you see in the mirror of the little room of your world. Freedom is having the walls blown away and being so staggered by the world and its grandeur and the greatness of the God who made it that the last thing you would worry about or think about is yourself. You would be drawn outside yourself in a stunning, glorious, freeing way.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. This article first appeared on desiringgod.org.
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