Coop's Column - God Wearing Skin

Christians believe the transcendent, holy, and eternal God, who is pure Spirit, took on weak, decaying flesh.

God’s Word declares: “And the Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) In response, Christians boldly confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.” The Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th century Reformed confession, clarifies this early Christian claim:

[T]he eternal Son of God
who is and remains
true and eternal God,
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature
so that he might become David’s true descendant,
like his brothers in every way,
except for sin.

Christians believe the transcendent, holy, and eternal God, who is pure Spirit, took on weak, decaying flesh. God began to wear skin, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it—he took on skin to become our Savior. Astonishing claim, indeed—scandalous foolishness to many.

Affirming that God’s Son became human, followers of Jesus boldly declare that :

1. One’s skin—his or her entire body—is precious to God.

That’s Gospel news for an age like ours where “the modern scientific reduction of the body to biological matter overlaid by Victoria Secret ads,” as Taylor puts it, has left throngs of people pitiably ashamed of their bodies and not worth being loved.

2. One’s body can be the arena daily to practice God’s call to be holy.

“The practice of wearing is so obvious that almost no one engages it as spiritual practice;” says Taylor, “yet here is the place to begin—with tears, aches, moans, gooseflesh, heat.” Jesus used his body to bring his Father great delight. So, too, can we. Thus, to learn how to wear one’s skin well is holy work. For by our bodies we can bring greater delight—or sadness—to God the Giver. With them we can bring blessing or hurt to fellow human beings.

3. God calls us to express solidarity with others by our bodies.

Everyone has skin. It serves as tissue connecting us together. Again, Taylor:

When the temperature outside is zero I am cold and the person next to me is cold as well—wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all other embodied souls. In Christian teaching followers of Jesus are called to honor the bodies of our neighbors as we honor our own…. [I]t is not possible to trust God loves all of me, including my body, without also trusting that God loves all bodies everywhere—the bodies of hungry children and indentured women along with the bodies of sleek athletes and cigar-smoking tycoons. While we might not have one other thing in common, we all [wear] skin. We all have breath and beating hearts. Most of us weep, although not for the same reasons. Few of our bodies work the way we want them to.”

4. Bodies have a future.

His task on earth completed, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Jesus’ ascension both provides a guarantee and also creates a longing within believers’ hearts. The guarantee:

We [as Jesus’ followers] have our own flesh in heaven—
a guarantee that Christ our head
will take us, his members,
to himself in heaven.

The longing: Since they know that they, too, shall soon “be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:18), saints stand on tiptoe, awaiting with sturdy hope the grand reunion with their Lord. They cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

Skin is glorious. Jesus wore it on earth. He wears it now in heaven. So, too, shall we when we join him there forever.

We Christians live in a society that tends toward polar opposite estimates of the human body. Each is false, and each fraught with sad, perilous consequences for living humanly and well. On the one hand, strong voices nowadays bid us to idolize (our) human bodies, to spend lavish sums of time and money on them, to expect from them the miracles they can’t deliver. Other voices depreciate the value of (our) human bodies, and urge us to view them as nothing but pieces of tissue and chunks of protoplasm of no great worth.

With society’s opposite siren calls relentlessly dinning themselves into our minds and hearts, how important for us Christians to gather regularly to hear our Lord’s word about (the status and value of) our bodies. God declares two central truths:

  1. He created our bodies, called them good, and gave them to us. Thus, skin—our fleshly existence—is neither divine nor demonic. It is what it is: God’s sheer good gift to each of us.
  2. Jesus Christ himself became flesh to save us, body and soul. God wore skin to make us his very own.

Through these twin central affirmations God invites us to see our enfleshed persons the way he sees them: as “good.”

Indeed, as “very good.”

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

Augustine of Hippo, 4th century, from Sermons 191.1

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