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What do you think of when you hear the word hybrid? For those looking to replace their current gas-guzzler, a hybrid car probably comes to mind. Those who were students a few years ago remember the frustrations of hybrid learning, seeing some friends in person and others online. Any farmer reading this article remembers that most of the corn planted now is a hybrid grain. But the most important example of a hybrid that you should consider is you. You are a hybrid.

You are a combination of body and soul, made of what is visible and invisible. You reconcile earth and heaven in yourself, sharing a kinship with both animals and angels. And yet none of the animal kingdom nor any of the heavenly hosts can lay claim to being both. Only humankind is composed of these distinct yet inseparable entities of clay and spirit. Only humankind is declared to be the image bearer of God: “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26–27). Fundamental to understanding our personal identity is appreciating our human identity as made in God’s image, and that image refers to the whole person, both body and soul. To do full justice to the image of God, one must maintain this organic unity of human personhood. Nothing less will do.

two in one: body and soul

On the one hand, this means that what was fearfully and wonderfully knit together in your mother’s womb must always be regarded as an essential and noble part of the image (Ps. 139:13–16). There are those who would denigrate the body by suggesting that it is inherently evil or that it is the source of sin. But Paul had strong words for those who slander God’s good creation, and he labeled such libel as “teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1–5; see also Col. 2:23). Likewise, Christ affirmed the importance of the human body and its essential needs when He ministered to those who suffered from physical pain and to those who were blind, deaf, lame, or hungry. When Christ returns in glory, He will complete this work of full and final redemption in us, both outwardly and inwardly (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). The promise of our glorification provides hope as we experience the gradual decline of sight, hearing, taste, mobility, and strength (Eccl. 12:1–6). It provides even brighter hope for those who endure the challenges with greatly diminished physical or physiological abilities, knowing that the body that is “sown in weakness” will be “raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:43). The body is part of what it means to bear God’s image, no matter how fit or how needy it might be.

Our spiritual dimension is the fountain of what it means to be human. From it flow all our thoughts, desires, will, emotions, passions, choices, and love.

On the other hand, it is important to appreciate how man’s inner spiritual life relates to the image of God. Although it is true that the image refers to the whole person (including the body), it is also true, as John Calvin stated, that the “primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and heart, or in the soul and its powers” (Institutes, 1.15.3). This inner life is what distinguishes humanity from every other living thing on earth, just as our bodies distinguish us from the angels in heaven. Scripture uses a cluster of terms to refer to the inner person: “soul,” “spirit,” “conscience,” “inner self,” and, most often, “heart.” Our spiritual dimension is the fountain of what it means to be human. From it flow all our thoughts, desires, will, emotions, passions, choices, and love—everything that gives birth to song, poetry, courage, and tears. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “What part of us feels pleasure? Is it our hand, our arm, our flesh, or our blood? It must obviously be something immaterial.” What’s more—without taking anything away from the body’s essential part of the image of God—our spiritual life must be given a place of preference.

the noble soul

The primacy of our invisible nature is seen in the fact that it can exist even without the body. Upon the death of a Christian, his or her soul leaves the body to be gathered before the Lord with the other “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Christ assured the thief on the cross of this reality when He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus comforted Martha with the same truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–-26). The body may die, but the soul will live on. The priority of our inner being is also reflected in Christ’s warning: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The identical idea drives His exhortation about worldliness: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (16:26). We are not to be enamored of the things that are seen, which are transient, but must look “to the things that are unseen,” which are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” Every person we ever meet is made in the image of our Creator and was designed to embrace immortality.

God made humankind for a purpose. We understand this easily enough when it comes to the unique features of male and female anatomy. But it is also true that the human soul was created to correspond to the One whose image it bears. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image” (4.2). We were created with the capacity to commune with our righteous and holy Creator and to know Him personally. This spiritual capacity also applies to our relationships with people, all of whom are made in God’s image just as we are. To borrow an idea from G.K. Chesterton, in them we discover something strange and yet find something familiar. We detect wonder and welcome. We are capable of remarkable rapport, companionship, and intimate discovery with one another, particularly in marriage.

two become one

The Old Testament passage that our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul consistently refer to when they address marriage, divorce, and sexual immorality is Genesis 2:24, which says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (see Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31). The command is simple. The former primary relationship of the parents must now give way to the higher priority of marriage. Together the two will become one—in every sense of the word. Paul says that the husband “who loves his wife loves himself,” because he loves her as his own body (Eph. 5:28). He is alluding to the words in Genesis that the two “shall become one flesh.” This nexus of body and soul transcends the mere physical. It touches interior pools of untold depth that are alive with newborn feelings, tenderness, passion, sweetness, and inspiration. It is the stuff of rapture and heartache, and it gives rise to ballads and blues, laughter and tears. It is one of the strongest bonds on earth. It is love. What they share is exclusive to them. They have eyes, ears, feelings, loyalty, and a heart for one and one only.

Scripture plainly states that something so sacred must be shielded from the desecrations of trampling feet. It is no wonder that the tightest prohibitions in the Word of God surround the sanctity of marital intimacy like barbed wire. For example, the Old Testament law forbade newlyweds from military or public duties for the first year of their marriage, so that they could enjoy their new happiness together (Deut. 24:5). This loving union cultivates a wonder that is impossible to explain (Prov. 30:19). Something about it is palpable yet inexplicable. This is why in Proverbs the father encourages his son to embrace sexual virtue. He encourages his son to fan into flame his love for his wife: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. . . . Be intoxicated always in her love” (Prov. 5:18–19). But equally, he warns his son about the forbidden woman and the adulteress, who will lead his soul away to destruction (2:16; 5:5, 20; 7:27). He does not tell his son to protect his body. He tells him to guard his heart (4:23; 23:26). The father knows that the only thing that can answer the power of seduction is the power of wisdom—a wisdom rooted in a heart that fears the Lord and trusts in the Lord (1:7; 3:5–6). Paul similarly describes the treachery of sexual immorality. Those who “become one body” with a prostitute profane the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15–20). It is a battle between the purity of love and its corrupters because the issue involves more than the body.

Marriage must reflect the priority of the spiritual over the physical. God is crystal clear about where true loveliness is found:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3–4)

This provides a standard for priorities in a godly marriage. Spiritual character, not physical characteristics, should receive our highest praise. Paying attention to one’s physical fitness or appearance is certainly proper. But it must be put into perspective. As Paul says, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Nothing could be more out of step with our world. The word idolatrous sounds too mild to describe our modern culture, which is terribly obsessed with physical appearance. Yet that same culture seems utterly ignorant of how morally shallow, indifferent, and callous we moderns are within. Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees is strikingly relevant for those who “outwardly appear beautiful” but “within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). God’s priorities are different from the world’s. He encourages us to look and see the deeper undercurrents of beauty and the things that endure. It is there that one finds a prelude of the majesty to come.

But marriage, Paul reminds us, is a picture of a far greater mystery—namely, the union between Christ and the “members of his body” (Eph. 5:30). The love that subsists between the heavenly Bridegroom and His bride is one that surpasses knowledge. No breadth or length or height or depth can comprehend it (Eph. 3:18–19). Nothing in all creation can separate us from it (Rom. 8:39). It was purchased at great cost and guaranteed by great conquest. The death and resurrection of Christ prove that love is stronger than death (Song 8:6). The wonder of the love of God in the gospel rises and falls with the fact that Christ took our nature upon Himself. He became poor so that we could become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). And as John Murray noted, the Lord Jesus Christ became poor not by subtraction but by addition. Never has such loving condescension been seen as when Christ took our nature to Himself. Never has higher dignity been bestowed on humankind as when Christ took our nature—both body and soul—to Himself.

Deceived by Feelings

In Christ

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From the June 2024 Issue
Jun 2024 Issue