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Four things Christians need to know about ethics #4

Understanding the nature of human beings

If I had written these thoughts a year ago I think it would have been about three things Christians need to know about ethics. I would have stopped with the three things that I have discussed in the previous posts. Last June I listened to Robert George speak at the CBHD conference on modern Gnosticism. At first that would seem to have no relevance to this list of things we need to know about ethics, but he made it clear why this is essential. His thought was that modern western culture has adopted a view of who we are as human beings that is grounded in Greek Gnostic thought. That view is that we are immaterial persons (minds) who inhabit a non-personal physical body.

This impacts how we think about the issue of how we define who is a person that I discussed in the previous post. If we are primarily our minds then having cognitive capacities such as sentience, reasoning, will, communication, and self-awareness define who is a person. It says that we are free to use our bodies in any way we desire to obtain mental and emotional pleasure, opening up all possible ways of gratifying our desires. It also means that characteristics such as my gender are defined by how if think or feel about them.

This is very different from the established way that the church has understood what we are as human beings. The church has understood that we are a tightly integrated unity of spirit and body. This is seen most clearly in the biblical teaching of bodily resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not rise only as a spirit. He demonstrated the physical nature of his resurrected body by allowing his disciples to touch him and by eating with them. Scripture also teaches that we will have material bodies after our resurrection as well.

The understanding that we are a unity of body and spirit has significant implications for ethics. It means that we are who we are from the time our body begins to exist at conception until that body dies and that there is never a time when our bodies are alive but we as persons are not present. It also means that what we do with our bodies is intimately related to who we are as a person. We cannot do things that are wrong with our bodies without degrading ourselves as persons. If we have been created by God in the image of Jesus as embodied spirits then we are to accept the attributes of our bodies including the sex of our bodies as a part of who he made us to be.

We need to realize that there are different ways to understand who we are as human beings and have a clear biblical understanding of how God has made us so that we can think clearly about how we ought to live.

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