When you consider Jesus, what do you think about his body? Does Jesus’s pre-resurrection body matter to his story? Well…does your body matter to your story? While we are told that Jesus was fully God and fully human, our reading of Jesus is often anemic in detail of the lived human experience. We’ve essentially removed his body and its particularities from the gospel altogether.
This contortion created some of the worst news: bodies don’t matter.
As someone who has lived on many points of the mental health spectrum—from stuck at desperately sick to back and forth in practices of well-being—I experience mental health with my body. The suffocation of anxiety, the heavy dullness of depression, the pain of an eating disorder, and the full-body tightness of OCD are my body experiencing my mental reality. And though our bodies have an instinctive ability to sync with our souls, we are often told how bad our bodies are.
Verses are weaponized to teach that our flesh needs to be abused into submission(i.e. Rom 8:5-11, Matt 10:38, Gal 5:24, 1 Cor 15:50) severing the body from the pang in the soul that signals something isn’t right. Our bodies have been theologically converted into one-time use plastics, a discardable creation that’s end is to clutter up the earth with unknown stories and dry bones. Bodies are turned from loving, handmade creations into computerized earth-ships for the soul, transporting us until we reach our final destination: eternity.
But I remember a verse that says at the resurrection we are promised not mansions, but bodies (Phil 3:21). I remember being told our bodies are temples, a location where we can expect to commune with God(1 Cor 3:16). I remember reading somewhere that our high priest deeply knows us because of what he experienced in his own body (Heb 4:15). Experiences like anxiety, abandonment, and life-snatching physical abuse. Like anguish and like grief. Like being unknown, unwelcomed, and misrepresented. While Jesus is said to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” (Heb 4:15) we’re often given by purveyors of disembodied theology a Jesus who is actually disgusted by them—and us—tapping his foot until we can just get over our “body issue.”
However, when God wanted to be seen, touched, and dwell among us, God chose a human body. Specifically, a body whose particularities of people, story, culture, and status put God at the brutal mercies of a hierarchical society. The incarnate God experienced physical, emotional, and mental disruption and pain. And we don’t even have details of what Jesus endured as a child, a teen, or a young adult. We only know he moved through it all without sin, even as he fully welcomed the whole of human experience.
We are more than dried clay vessels carrying souls. Just like Jesus, our souls find expression in and through our bodies. The essence of each of us is found not in a container, but in a handmade, breath-filled, water-based creation, animated by Imago Dei with intentional particularities. Some of the most destructive exacerbations to mental health challenges come from the theology that a body is disposable and the soul is separate from, not synonymous with, each cell and each breath.
Jesus, fully human in his body, knows an imperfect family dynamic and being a refugee in an occupied place. He knows the relief of being believed and the gaslighting of being called a devil. He knows the chest-heaving sobs of weeping and diaphragm-working belly laughter. Jesus knows unsureness, anxiety, and the abandonment of the one he was most connected to. In this knowing, Jesus gives no rebuke to the changing and often hard-to-live-with status of mental health.
Remember that while we read about events in the span of verses and chapters, the stories were lived over hours and days. For how long did Jesus experience breath-shortening anxiety or panic attacks? Did Mary ever have to soothe an adolescent Jesus from night-terrors, obsessive thinking, or a heartbreaking fear that he didn’t belong?
Because Jesus’ physical body was the home of the fullness of God, how did Jesus’s brain operate? Did it process with neurodivergence? Would Jesus tense or wilt at the isolation of not being understood because of the way his brain worked?
How many times did Jesus question being a good creation due to all the dehumanizing messages society sent him before he was able to sit in the temple, read Isaiah 61, and without hesitation say, “I Am”?
Was that requested drink of water from the well just a scene prop, or a necessity for a dry throat and stomach knots due to heightened nerves?
Did Jesus’ body weigh heavy and inhospitable with depression during Passion week as he knowingly approached his murder? Could he even taste the bread and wine at Passover before he went to Gethsemane, or did every sensation get processed through mind-tunneling fear and numbness?
When his cousin John was beheaded, what was the texture of Jesus’ grief? And did he carry it with him for the rest of his earthly life?
Is this not the untold story of the body of Jesus? Jesus, like us, is more complex, nuanced, and needy than being reduced to the one who ‘lived, died, and rose again’. Jesus’ body is where God meets us face to face, and our own lived experience is known. Because of Jesus’ bodily reality, we see that the stories alive in our bodies deserve to be honored. Yes, even through a diversity of mental health realities, even existing in particularity of place, social location, culture, and people, your body is good and a place God desires to dwell.
You are a good creation.
Jesus chooses to join and honor you in your mental, emotional, and physical pain. Since he chooses to know you well enough to “sympathize with [y]our weaknesses,” you don’t have to wait to be fully known in eternity; you are fully known in the whole of your human experience right now.
You are a good-bodied creation. Just like Jesus.
This piece is the result of participating in a workshop facilitated by Tamice Namae Spencer. Workshop: A Body You Have Prepared. Attended on January 12th, 2022.
Nya Abernathy is a public educator and founder of The Dignity Effect, a social-emotional educational platform for peace-seeking learners. Her overarching goal is to guide people with grace, accountability, and hope into relational well-being that is anchored in dignity.
This entry is part of our blog series on Mental Health. As BIPOC communities, we carry so much personal, communal, generational, and second hand trauma as we seek our collective flourishing and choose to work together so that our communities can thrive. We carry a heavy burden Jesus never intended for us to carry alone. Let’s learn from one another so that we can live a lifestyle of justice that includes our wholeness. Chasing Justice will be guiding our community through the topics surrounding mental health with the following weekly resources:
- Monday Instagram Lives with BIPOC Mental Health professionals.
- Free Justice Masterclass on Mental Health on Feb. 24th.
- Instagram posts for sharing with friends.
- Guest blogs by BIPOC authors who will guide us in their mental health journeys.
The views and opinions expressed on the Chasing Justice Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chasing Justice. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.