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By now, nearly everyone has seen the recent Vanity Fair cover adorned by newly transitioned Bruce Jenner with the caption, “Call Me Caitlyn.” As expected, the revealing of Jenner’s new self has been met with everything from condemnation to praise. Jenner’s public transition, as well as the current focus on LGBTQ rights in our nation, has renewed conversations concerning how the church can best minister to those who struggle with gender, sexuality, and personhood. While we must avoid pat answers and simple solutions, one thing is certain: Our approach must be founded on the robust theology taught in the Scriptures. 

Is My Body Really Me?

While there are many reasons why a person may choose to transition, the idea the body is not the essential self is often present in those who transition. This way of thinking can be seen in Jenner’s first tweet as Caitlyn, which read, “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.” According to Jenner, the anatomically male person the world had come to know was simply not him.

A subtle strain of this Gnostic concept that the body is nonessential has also crept into the thinking of some Christians. Many well-meaning Christians believe we are merely spiritual beings who take up residence in a body for a short time before we make our transition to heaven to be with the Lord. While this may sound spiritual, reasonable, and even biblical, this is not the picture of humanity the Scriptures paint. The Bible presents humanity as anchored in an earthy, embodied existence that does not look for another worldly destination. After creating man from the dust, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). God animated the very dust of the ground to create man. Man’s being was unified, not divided. Today, human beings still exist as a psychosomatic unity.

A Unified Being

Understanding that our body and soul are deeply intertwined and each essential to the other is consistent with our daily experiences. For example, when we become depressed, we may begin to feel tired, sluggish, or not want to get out of bed. The distress of our soul bleeds over into our physical being. This same unity is the reason we get butterflies in our stomach when we see a special someone. Our body and soul have been knit together by God in a way never intended to be broken. 

Unity Broken

Yet, this unity has been broken. Through the Fall, death was introduced into the good world God created. Today, we have become accustomed to seeing body and soul torn apart by the sting of death. This is the new normal, but in the beginning it was not so. God’s original intention was for humanity to live eternally in his presence in an embodied state. The great intruder, death, destroys the unity of body and soul. Dr. Michael Williams writes in Far as the Curse is Found, “Death is not the release of the good soul from an evil body…Death breaks the divinely designed unity of creaturely life and smashes man’s relationship with his proper environs. Death does violence to God’s creation, tearing asunder the human person as surely and violently as an eighteenth-century execution by guillotine” (277).

In the midst of the destruction of the unity of our person, God graciously receives the soul of believers, so to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:8). Yet, this disembodied state is not man’s intended mode of existence, but a grace for those who have died in Christ, until they are reunited with their resurrected bodies at the Second Coming of The Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

The same Fall that invited death into God’s good creation, also invited in the suffering and pain from which we all seek to escape. Escaping suffering is why Buddhists seek to eliminate desire. Escaping suffering is why Gnostics labeled the material world evil and wanted liberation from it. Escaping suffering is why Jenner has sought to end a lifetime of internal turmoil by transitioning to a woman.

Escape or Redemption?

While the idea of escape from suffering in the body, and in this broken world has strong appeal, the Scriptures never promise us escape, but rather, redemption. The Scriptures promise that Christ came, not to redeem the “spiritual” us, but to redeem all of us, body and soul; and to redeem and restore every inch of his good creation. The Good News we have to share with Jenner and with others who struggle with their gender, personhood, and sexuality, is the Good News of an embodied Redeemer who chooses to redeem us from the broken and painful existence we now experience in our bodies because of sin. Because our God identified with us by becoming human, we can now find our identity in him.

The Christianity of the Bible is an earthy, tangible religion, rooted in the historical and physical coming of the Second Person of the Trinity, who remains today as both God and man at the right hand of the Father. The great hope of the Christian faith is not a disembodied existence, floating about the clouds of glory. The Christian hope is the resurrection to eternal life, in redeemed bodies, situated in a redeemed cosmos, in the presence of our embodied Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Disclaimer: RAAN is an organization committed to providing a variety of Reformed voices a platform to share their content. While our contributors subscribe to the basic tenets of Reformed thought, they offer a diverse number of opinions on various topics. As such, our staff members may not share our contributors’ opinions and publishing this content shouldn’t be viewed in such a way.

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