From the perfectly-sculpted and scantily-clad women smiling at us from the glossy covers of magazines to the consistent drone of news stories about America's obesity epidemic, we live in a swirl of confusion about our bodies. Should we aim to be sexy, thin, and "perfect"? Or is trying to get fit a "worldly" goal, incompatible with the spiritual life of a God-focused Christian?
Does it even really matter in the eternal scheme of things if we're overweight or if our eating habits and lack of exercise are leading to health problems? Rather than feeling bad every time we look in the mirror, shouldn't we just quiet the body-image demons that whisper constant lies about us not being good enough? Shouldn't we just be content in God's love?
If you take a close look, you'll see God-honoring truth woven throughout the questions above—but you'll also find some very unbiblical ideas creeping in. Why? Because the way we think about our bodies (and diet, eating, and exercise), can get really complicated. This isn't just some purely philosophical or theological discussion after all. We each have bodies. We each have our own issues with body image, fitness habits (or lack thereof), and self-worth. And our past experiences with success, failure, guilt, insecurity, or hope are inevitably part of the way we each value and care for our own bodies.
So back to those cover-girls and obesity headlines. These polar opposite trends of body-obsession and body-neglect are really nothing more than an age-old pendulum swing in new, postmodern clothes. There's idolatry of the physical body on one side (hedonism) and neglect and undervaluing of our God-given physicality on the other (Gnosticism). For some, the weight-loss goal, the ab-definition, the fastest marathon time, or body-fat percentage easily becomes an all-consuming obsession.1