Who would hate his own body? Romans 1

June 27, 2011

In Romans 1:24, it is written,

 “For this reason, God gave them over to the passions of their hearts and into (the) uncleanliness of dishonoring their bodies with one another” (my own translation from the Greek).

They dishonored their bodies. To dishonor something or someone means to give them no consideration in the things a person says or does. When a person dishonors his body, he pays it no mind when he considers what he will do or say.

This is not unlike the way that our world today tells us to treat our bodies. Encapsulated in even pedestrian clichés, like “It’s the inside that counts”, or “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, is the idea that the body, the “outside” or the “cover” in the metaphors above, has no worth or meaning. To say that something or someone has no worth or meaning is to say that is unworthy of honor or respect, that is, to dishonor it.

Why did the people in Romans 1 so dishonor their own bodies? In the previous verse, it is written,

“And they turned from the glory of the immortal God and to (the) sameness of the image of mortal man, and birds, and four-legged creatures, and reptiles” (my own translation from the Greek).

That word “sameness” (Greek: homoiomati, dative singular) is intriguingly similar to the sorts of words we hear today, used to justify the dishonoring of the body. The logic, in simplified form, goes something like this: sameness is fair and good; because our bodies are not the same, therefore they are not fair or good; because they are not fair or good, they should not matter.

The people in Romans I dishonored their bodies because they turned toward/focused on one another and the natural world rather than on God. Their upward gaze toward God collapsed into a lateral stare at one another.

It may have worked something like this: once they quit looking at the perfection of God and started looking at the imperfections of one another, they quit honoring the creations of God  as, albeit imperfect, expressions of a God they loved, and started dishonoring the creations of God as reminders of the imperfections within themselves that they loathed. Since they had rejected God as the one who would ultimately make all things right and all things work, they had to make all things right and all things work on their own. They acted as mirrors, reflecting the inadequacies of their own imperfections back to each other. Since their bodies became the literal reflections of those imperfections and limitations, imperfect and limited as bodies are, their own bodies became the objects of their scorn. They didn’t see in the imperfect body of their neighbor a continually improving project of God’s, but a continual reminder of their own powerlessness to fix that body and to fix their own.

It isn’t surprising that they ended up dishonoring their bodies. Why would they honor the thing which reminds them of their own deficiencies, inadequacies and powerlessness? Bodies used to remind them of God’s handiwork, and the steady improvement in the body, mind and spirit used to remind them of the steady work of God in making all things right. When they loved God, it was natural that they would love and honor the things that reminded them of Him. Having rejected God, their bodies only reminded them of their own imperfection and their failure to rectify that failure. As their bodies decay, they remind them of their death, the final consequence of their failure to become perfect, to be their own master and to decide their own destiny, for example, not dying. Why would any man honor a symbol or a reminder of his most deadly and miserable failure? It was natural that they would dishonor and loathe the thing that reminded them of that failure.

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