Editor’s note: This article is the final part of a four part series on body image. This article shares three lessons that help move us from the shame that leads to negative body image to the hope God offers for all people.
Lesson One: Responsibility
The Bible has a high view of the human body. It is a good gift made by God (Genesis 1), it is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells, belonging to God, for we were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6), and the church is referred to as “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12). The Bible makes it clear, especially in 1 Corinthians 6, that our body is not our own. We can’t do whatever we want with it.
Now, the Bible doesn’t specifically command that we should eat a certain way. Nor does it say we ought to look a certain way. But the principle is there: our body is given to us, and yet it belongs to God. Therefore, it is to be cared for and stewarded with responsibility. In fact, everything God has given us in creation is ours to steward. But often we’re neglectful and irresponsible with the good things God gives.
I, for one, was irresponsible with God’s gift when I didn’t feed my body. I had become so infatuated with a look that was unnatural for my body type that I repressed good things! I repressed food, I repressed rest, I even repressed relationships that would get in the way of my body goals.
This ultimately led to misery. What God commands leads to joy, but I instead ignored His commands which resulted in joylessness. But I was also irresponsible when I ate whatever I wanted. I often justified my behavior by telling myself, “I deserve this extra plate of food.”
Gluttony is the lust for and abuse of food. Gluttony is seldom preached on for some reason, but it’s a sin. And it, like all sin, robs us of joy and dishonors God. Lust for food is just as bad as lust for a sexy body. I went from barely eating out of fear of food and desire for beauty, to not caring about the portions I consumed for the love of food and desire for comfort. But neither was a responsible action to the stewardship I’d been given. Neither lead to joy. If I am not my own, and if my body is a gift, then I can’t just do with it as I please.
But the next 2 lessons gave me the power to fight these battles of irresponsibility.
Lesson Two: Thankfulness
I remember listening to a podcast with Kathy Keller as the speaker. I can’t even remember what the teaching was about, but at one point she brought up Psalm 116. In the psalm, the psalmist asks himself, “what should I offer God for all the good God’s done for me?” (paraphrased). One of his conclusions is that he will offer God thanksgiving (verse 17). Simply, thankfulness for God’s goodness. And though this was not at all her main point, Kathy shared with her listeners an area of her life where she practices thankfulness to God.
Kathy shared how God restored her health after being sick with cancer. One of the ways she thanks Him for that is by not consuming all the peanut butter crackers in her cupboards whenever she feels like it. She wasn’t saying that she deprives herself of all tasty treats, but that, because God gave her health, it would be a very ungrateful response of her to then treat her health as something of no concern and of no responsibility.
That struck me. I then realized that because God had given me a healthy body, I ought to thank Him. Because God restored to me the security of having value again, I ought to thank Him. And I could thank Him not just with my mouth, but also with how I lived.
It became a lot easier to say “no” to gluttonous desires, when I realized they would be not only irresponsible but truly unthankful responses to my Lord and Savior.
And that leads me to the 3rd lesson. It was the first lesson taught, and it is the main one that guides me on this journey.
Lesson Three: Worship
I had many people worrying over me when I was 16. But it wasn’t their worries or a church leader telling me I was wrong that finally shook me out of my empty strivings. It was God showing me that I “worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.”
On a women’s retreat I attended while in high school, I finally gave up the obsessions and anxieties I had with my body. The theme of the weekend was “Return to Your First Love” taken from Revelation 2:4. It was those teachings that confronted me.
No one talked about body-image that weekend. No one mentioned eating disorders or how we ought to care for our bodies. But God showed me how I was wrong about all of that simply by showing me where it all was coming from. I loved myself more than Him. I was more concerned over being loved by others than being loved by Him. My happiness didn’t come from being loved by God. My happiness came from looking good, from feeling hungry, and from hearing people say how strong and beautiful I looked. I worshiped what was created instead of my Creator. I loved myself more than my Savior.
That weekend, I told my mom that I was struggling with this. I repented to God for loving myself more than Him and for harming my body. I confessed to Him that I needed help. Help to see Him and not myself as my God. Help to look to Him in His word, and not at myself in the mirror constantly. And help to treat my body with joy and not with contempt.
He showed me my state of joylessness and idolatry, and He helped me see that being loved by Him firstly and loving Him secondly far outweighed the love I had for myself. And in fact, once I began loving Him first and foremost, I was able to love myself rightly. I began to love my body not as a god, but as a gift from my God. And that changed everything.
Where does this bring us? Here’s a few things to remember.
Love for food is a good thing.
Love for your body is a good thing.
They are both gifts from God.
But they are not gods.
Whether its lust for food or lust for beauty, God says no to both. Instead, He calls us to bring our ultimate affections and desires to Him. The One who satisfies every need, the One who is true Beauty. To learn that there’s joy in following Him, to learn that we are to glorify Him with a thankful life, and to learn of His Fatherly love for us in Christ Jesus were His teachings to me. And it’s what He still teaches me today. I’m thankful God will never stop teaching me how to glorify Him, even with the body He’s given me.
“So whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do,
do to the glory of God.”