What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.
First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.
Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.
How Does One Ascribe Value?What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.
Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.
Human Beings as Body and SoulAs human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings. God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.
The Value of the Human BodyGiven these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.
All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them. Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/world/africa/082299sierra-leone.html
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.