Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say About Our Bodies: How the Gospel is Good News for Our Physical Selves (Crossway, 2021)
We all have different relationships with our bodies. I’ve misused and abused mine, have some insecurities about it, and probably attach a certain amount of my worth to being a particular size, shape, and weight. In more general terms, we in the west arguably see our soul or inner being as the true core of who we are, with our body just a vessel that dies while the soul lives on. So, what does the Bible have to say into this confused picture? Sam Allberry’s book, What God Has to Say About Our Bodies, helps us to think all of this through.
Sam starts by arguing that our bodies matter to God, both because he made them and because Jesus had to become a human body in order to be one of us. From there, Sam explores: how our body relates to our identity – ‘Your body is not nothing. Nor is it everything’ (p. 41); the body, biological sex, and gender according to the Bible; the reality of our bodies being broken, subject to sin and death; why Jesus’ physical life, death, and resurrection give us hope; how, in light of that, we should live and treat our bodies now (in a nutshell: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20); and the (physical) resurrection glory to come.
The book covers a lot of ground, and Sam doesn’t shy away from some hot topics in our culture today.
The book covers a lot of ground, and Sam doesn’t shy away from some hot topics in our culture today. On sex and gender, he persuasively argues that men and women’s experiences of the world are generally very different because we are physically different (p. 78). He also makes the biblical case that these differences are by design and help us to more fully reflect the image of God (p. 67). It’s particularly helpful that Sam affirms and explains the biblical view on all of the issues he tackles.
But, it can equally feel uncomfortable to read some pretty counter-cultural things like ‘Maleness and femaleness are physically grounded, not psychologically determined’ (p.58). Although Sam acknowledges the pain and difficulty many people experience with their biological sex or gender identity (p.62), as does Jesus when he speaks about eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), I needed to take some time after reading these chapters to consider how we lovingly communicate what the Bible says to those for whom these are very real struggles. Other resources more specifically focussed on the topic of transgender would act as a good accompaniment to what Sam says on the topic (for example, Andrew Bunt's People Not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience).
Another challenge in the book is the idea of us being made in God’s image exactly as he intended, yet, in this world being physically broken. There were points when I asked myself, ‘What would it feel like to read this as a transgender person? Or someone who struggles with an eating disorder? Or a person with a disability from birth?’ However, Sam is honest and sensitive about how our experiences of pain, sickness and shame of all kinds are deeply troubling and not always fixed by God right now (pp.93-4).
Really, my struggles with some of the content say more about me and our culture than Sam’s book or what the Bible has to say. This book and the Bible are both full of beautiful truth and hope for all of us, no matter what our struggles with our bodies and identities might be.
There are fresh insights and encouragements scattered throughout Sam’s book. For example, have you ever thought about how ‘physical presence matters because we are physical people’ (p.33), or the role of appropriate physical touch in church, such as greeting people with a handshake or a hug like you might when seeing family (p.36)? How about the way eating isn’t just a solitary activity for fuelling us until our next meal, but a deeply relational thing (p.156)? It’s amazing just how much God has to say about our bodies.
It’s amazing just how much God has to say about our bodies.
Most wonderful of all, though, is the way Sam demonstrates why Jesus is the ultimate solution and source of hope in all our physical brokenness. As a man, Jesus knows and can sympathise with our physical temptations and frustrations. As God, he’s not in the pit of sin with us and so is best placed to help us out of it. While ‘the answer to the problems in our body … is never going to be found in our body itself’ (p.131), the eternal life that Jesus brings means that our physical ‘glory days are not behind but ahead’ (p.185).
For all the challenges and questions What God Has to Say about Our Bodies raises, I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what God says about our bodies and how we should respond to that. This is, for me at least, something we don’t consider very often but which is clearly important both to God and to how we understand the good news of Jesus. Sam’s book will help you appreciate the gospel and the transformative power of what Jesus has achieved for us on a whole new, physical level. As Sam puts it, ‘Real bodily hope is found only in Christ’ (p.132).