Sunday, May 18, 2008

Of Commas and Complaints

Yesterday in class we discussed the invalidity of using "word studies" in theology, because words can have wide semantic ranges, and a word's meaning is determined by its context(s). How one author uses a word or phrase may differ across time. There's no denying that languages change, though they once did so much more slowly than in today's age of text messaging and e-mail. Sometimes my students actually say "IDK" when trying to communicate, "I don't know." Naturally, I meet them with a blank, perplexed look. When I reprimanded another student for accosting a female student in the hallway, he replied angrily, "Man, why you gotta run up on me like that? You know I was jus' tryin' to baaanng." Translation: "Why are you concerned about what I'm doing to her? I was trying to flirtatiously hump her so that she'd be my girl and I could get a little action." Yes, the English language is in flux. But this fluidity leads to communication problems.

A few years ago I read an entertaining book about the development and misuse of punctuation marks. It made me more aware of just how much the English language has changed in its spelling and structure. But being the son of a long-time Business Grammar teacher, I've been raised as somewhat of a "grammar Nazi." (I was also a county spelling bee champ back in the day.) So I lament inexpressive, miniscule vocabularies, typos, and mechanical errors.

My latest gripe is about the seemingly overnight disappearance of the comma in a direct address. I've been noticing this everywhere recently. A direct address is when you are speaking to a person by name. The standard procedure has long been to set off his name on all sides with a comma.

"Hi, Olivia!"

"Happy Mother's Day, Susan!"

"My, Olivia, you sure look attractive in summery dresses!"

"Go to work, Aaron."

"Lord, have mercy upon us."

If you do not use commas, problems like this can result:

"My Olivia you sure look attractive in summery dresses!" -- Was the use of "my" meant as an interjection expressing my delight, or did I mean to say that Olivia belongs to me?

"Happy Mother's Day Susan!" -- What am I actually wishing? Is the holiday called "Mother's Day Susan"? (Think: Merry Christmas!)

"Go to work Aaron." -- I'm trying to command Aaron to go to his job; I am not trying to tell someone else "to work [use or exercise] Aaron." Removing the comma changes "work" from being a noun to a transitive verb.

Okay, I'm being a mite whiny, and this content doesn't really fit the rest of my blog. But speaking about God involves speaking and communicating clearly (Col. 4:4). Language matters: the Lord has given us language so that we can know him, communicate him to one another, and speak about him. So for the sake of God's glory, please take the time to use real words, add commas where they belong, and stop diluting our language.

Next up: properly using commas in series and the fallacy of "gender-neutral" language. Just kidding!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One in Flesh and Spirit

In the previous post I attempted to show that a biblical view of the human being is wholeness or unity of body and spirit (or soul). (If you haven’t read it already, this post will make little sense without first reading the prior one.) Little did I know, though, that this would influence things like developing a crush on someone.

A few years ago I began to like a girl for who she was in Christ: I loved the way she prayed and how tender and caring she was. At the same time, I began to find myself physically attracted to her as well. As I got to see the inner beauty of “a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4), her outer beauty also grew. That’s odd, I thought to myself, how come I didn’t find her all that physically attractive before? The only explanation I have is the unity of her “inner” and “outer” selves; her personality could not be divorced from her body; she was (is) a whole person. She didn’t change; I was just getting to see more of who she was. In fact, I came to believe that even though she didn’t have a “perfect” body, I wouldn’t have wanted her any other way. God made all of her (Ps. 139), and that includes who she is bodily. If somehow her body changed, she would have changed too; it just wouldn’t be her. (We intuitively know this, because we live our lives and develop our personalities in our bodies. Getting a cleft palette fixed can drastically improve a child’s self-image and confidence; in the same way, getting cut from the basketball team because of height can deeply sadden a child. Not being on the team in turn affects his social network, and his personality is shaped in a different direction than it otherwise might have been if he were taller.)

* * *

This has profound implications for marriage, where a man and a woman become “one flesh” before the Lord (Gen. 2:24). God calls us to embrace every aspect of the other as his unique, specially crafted gift of love to us—and, one day, to me. To grow tired of your spouse when she gains weight or grows old or has had a mastectomy, or when she falters in her faith or when her personality changes is what Malachi calls “dealing treacherously” or “breaking faith” (Mal. 2:13-16).

The LORD is acting as witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. (2:14-15 NIV)

If the NRSV’s rendering of verse 15 is preferrable, this shows even more fully that when we bind ourselves to a wife (or husband) in marriage, we receive all of her. “Did not one God make her [your wife]? Both flesh and spirit [that is, ‘her’] are his.” The “partner . . . of your marriage covenant” is “both flesh and spirit.” I cannot love and serve my wife “personally” without loving her “bodily,” and I cannot love her bodily without loving her personally. Anything else is the infidelity God hates (2:16). (Of course, such “love” rules out emotions that rise and fall based on our whims.)

This also means receiving all of her as a blessing from God. It is God who joins together a husband and wife (Matt. 19:4-6; cf. Gen. 2:24, where the passive voice implies God as actor). Whatever “imperfections” I see in my wife’s body—as if any of our bodies are still unspoiled by the Fall—I must realize are those belonging to the one person whom God has personally formed and graciously given to me in his love as my one life partner. If I find her lacking, it’s not she who is at fault, but rather my sin-skewed perception and desires.

Third, this intra- and interpersonal oneness of body and spirit demands giving all of myself to my wife. I cannot retain any part of myself as autonomous, independent from her. Speaking in the context of marital sex, Scripture says that “the wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife” (1 Cor. 7:4). I also like Eugene Petersons’ vivid paraphrase of 7:3-4: “The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights.’ Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out” (The Message). (I love how God commands married couples to have sex—often!—as our marital duty.)

* * *

Of course, I’m still single. But this biblical anthropology orders more than just married life; it speaks tomes to single sexuality as well. Isn’t the temptation of pornography to participate in bodily sex without the sacrificial commitment to a complete, actual person? Women become bodies to use, breasts and butts and legs as sources of uncommitted pleasure. It’s easy to lust after a woman’s body and neglect her face, because by neglecting that, we neglect who she is, her person. We cut out the relationship. Pornography also deceives us into thinking that bodies will always stay young and flawless; that we’re to be disappointed with a woman if her breasts don’t fill at least size-C bra cups; that our manhood depends on how muscular and well-endowed we are. Just as he first did in Eden, Satan will always tempt us to doubt the goodness of God’s design and to find satisfaction elsewhere. We need to always be on our guard and rejoice in the blessings our Creator and Ruler promises to those who fear and love him (Psalms 16, 37, 28).

Where Soul Meets Body [1]

In his first letter to the fledgling church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul blesses them with this prayer: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). This made me think: What does it mean to be purified and set apart for God’s pleasure in “spirit, soul, and body”? Are these three separate entities? No! Paul prays, “May God himself . . . sanctify you . . . . [that is,] your whole spirit, soul and body.” (The fancy word is a hendiadys; one word or phrase interprets and explains the other.) The whole “you,” set apart and kept for Christ (Jude 1), is nothing less than a unity of body and soul/spirit. (It’s questionable whether “soul” and “spirit” are different entities in Scripture.) Now put that thought on hold.

Pick up biblical anthropology and the hope of the gospel: God has hand-crafted every detail of our beings, that is, our physical bodies (Ps. 139:13-16). His breath (or spirit; Heb. ruach) animates and invigorates our bodies, and we have each been made with unique bodies to house and employ our spirits (Gen. 2:7; Job 27:3; 32:8; 33:4). This has great importance for the gospel of our resurrection. We erroneously think that when we die and enjoy a greater fullness of the Lord’s presence, we have already experienced our resurrection. This is not true! The scriptural testimony is that only when our bodies are raised to newness of life will we become complete again. As believers in Christ are right now, our bodies are dead in sin, yet our spirits are alive. But our hope for which the whole universe longs is “the redemption of our bodies.” It is only when the Spirit of Christ gives glorifying life to our mortal bodies and reunites us with our reborn spirits that we will see the fullness of our hope (Rom. 8:9-11, 18-25; cf. Pss. 16:10; 49:12-15; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; 15:35-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 3:20-21). We won’t be fully ourselves again until we’re glorified, Christlike spirits living in glorified, Christlike bodies—bodies that bear recognizable marks of our earthly selves. (Cf. John 20:20, 24-28, where the disciples recognize Jesus because of the scars he yet bears. Jesus’ glorified body is distinctly his body.)

Putting these two together means that you and I never exist merely “spiritually;” we are who we are also by virtue of our bodies and our circumstances in the world. There is always a body-spirit interplay at work. Physical, bodily happenings in our daily lives (success or failure in completing a task, loss of a loved one, a kiss, a caress, personal sickness, hunger) influence our emotions, wills, desires, and fears, i.e., our “spirits.” It’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon that one’s attitude affects his health and also that his health affects his attitude. What happens to our “outer selves” affects our “inner selves.” This is why fasting from food and kneeling in prayer can affect our disposition before the Lord. It also explains how faith is produced through the Word and sacraments: we hear God’s word with our ears, see it with our eyes in the water, bread, and wine, and taste it with our mouths—and we therefore believe it as the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with his joy and peace.

In like fashion, we don’t just worship God in spirit, with heavenly affections. Good as those may be, we are urged to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). [2] Though we have God-loving minds and hearts, yet our bodies aren’t yet renewed in the same way; thus we can speak of our “body of death” rebelling against what we know and love (Rom. 7:21-25). But we hope for the “reconciliation of all things,” when our whole being will again see, taste, feel, love, and cherish the Triune God in all his beauty and perfections—forevermore!


1. “Soul Meets Body” is the title of a song by one of my favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie. (It’s on their 2005 Barsuk release Plans.)
2. “Spiritual” is here the Greek logikos, which may also mean “rational” or “sensible” (see NIV footnote).
But the point stands: we worship God by employing our bodily members in his service.

Saturday, May 3, 2008