Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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Soma Sema.

Those may not seem like fighting words, but they seriously riled up the first generation of Christians two millennia ago.

Soma Sema was one of the slogans of a group of influential intellectuals who called themselves Gnostics.  The name comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.”  The Gnostics considered themselves the original Wise Guys, or “people in the know.”

The Gnostics’ signature idea was that all spiritual things are good, while all material things are evil.  Therefore the existence of the universe itself must be considered a terrible mistake.

According to the Gnostics, God never intended to make mountains, and waterfalls, and armadillos, and star clusters, and jogging paths through beautiful stretches of woods.  A second-rate spiritual being – certainly not the True God – somehow messed everything up by creating a cosmos.

Human beings, unfortunately, became trapped inside physical bodies.  The Gnostics saw the human body as a kind of wretched outer wrapper afflicted by unruly appetites, bad breath, and bodily fluids.  SomaSema was essentially a first century Gnostic bumper sticker (or chariot sticker, perhaps?) that proclaimed their key teaching.

“Soma” is the Greek word for body.  You might remember somatic cells from high school biology.  “Sema” means grave.  For the Gnostics, Soma Sema meant “your body is a tomb.”  It’s a prison.  And you’re trapped inside.

Your lifelong job is to break free.  True spirituality means abandoning the constraints of your body and everything else here on earth, so you can go to heaven as a pure spirit.

Therefore, according to the Gnostics, nothing here on Earth really matters.  Not politics, getting married, helping the poor, painting houses, building hospitals, digging wells, writing poetry, campaigning for justice, or loving your neighbor as yourself.  All those things are a colossal waste of time.

To which the earliest Christian teachers responded in unison: That’s absolute rubbish.

The Apostles’ Creed – the earliest known Christian statement of faith – begins with these words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”  God made the world.  Which means God is seriously into stuff – like elbows and chocolate and goldfinches.  God loves the world so much, in fact, that God the Son lived here as a human being for something like three decades, and still retains a human body.

What does all this mean in the here and now?

It means your body is most certainly not a tomb.  So stop treating it like one.  Don’t despise its limitations and impulses.  Exercise and eat well.  Make peace with your height, your shape, your frailties, and your age.

Our culture blares all kinds of messages about our bodies, and many of them are right out of the Gnostic playbook: You’re too fat. You’re too thin. You have too many wrinkles. You have too many zits. You ought to feel ashamed of yourself because you don’t have perfect abs.

Have you ever hoped that one day you might see an actual miracle?  Just look in the mirror.  The author of Psalm 139:14 writes: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The Good News is that a good God has made an awesome world in which creatures like us can experience deep joy.

Even with less-than-perfect bodies.