Are We Tacit Gnostics?

– Matthew R. Crawford –

As a consequence of recently joining a history book club, yesterday I received a free copy of The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, a compendium of the group of texts that launched the modern scholarly interest in Gnosticism. Key to Gnosticism is the disavowal of the body. The body is merely a prison for the soul, something to be transcended. As many others have noted, this view is at odds with historic Christian orthodoxy which affirms the value of the physical as a evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus. However, I wonder if we at times are still Gnostics at heart in the manner in which we treat our bodies? When we consistently deprive ourselves of bodily necessities like sleep, exercise, food, and recreation, or when we persistently indulge in harmful pleasures, we are demonstrating whether or not we truly value the body. I’m not saying that if you have ever pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper, or if you have eaten an entire quart of ice cream in one sitting then you are a Gnostic. There probably are legitimate places for both of those activities. What I am saying is we need to examine our unspoken assumptions that drive out actions. Do we really see value in our physical bodies? Or do we consider them merely a tool to be used or mistreated in order to accomplish our goal, whether it is a hedonistic pursuit of physical pleasure, or the ascetic pursuit of an impressive degree?

A colleague recently told me a pithy statement that gets at the solution to this tacit Gnosticism. He said, “We were creatures before we were Christians.” That is, before we became followers of Christ we were physical beings, and once we experience the regenerating power of God, we remain physical beings, albeit with remarkably changed desires and outlooks. Part of the calling of being a “new man” in Christ is to care for this old body that is still very much a part of who we are. As Christians our highest calling is to glorify God. Doing so will at times necessitate what Paul called “beating our bodies” – sleepless nights, lack of food, rigorous discipline, and the like. However, let us remember as we do so that this calling to glorify God exists in the same book that emphatically affirms the goodness of our bodies. Persistent neglect of caring for the body might be a sign that our theology is not in keeping with that propounded in the pages of the New Testament, for the apostle who denied himself bodily pleasure in his labor for the church was also the one who showed concern for his young protégé’s health by telling him to take a little wine. I leave you with a couple of passages to ponder:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)

“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Are We Tacit Gnostics?

  1. ArM

    Matt,
    If we look around at church and in the mirror, it is hard to argue against Gnosticism.
    Also, if we consider closely the lives of those who profess Christ, along with our own at times, we might also find that practical Atheism is rampant among us.

  2. Danny Slavich

    This is a good point. I appreciate your insight here.

    God Bless
    Danny

  3. Danny McDonald

    Great! Now I have to go excercise! Thanks a lot! In all seriousness, though, you hit on a great point with a unique perspective. We speak of being good stewards with our time, money, gifts, etc., but of our body? Am I a witness of our Lord Jesus Christ through word, action, and how I carry myself? Thank you for your post.
    Danny McDonald

  4. Joseph Gould

    Very convicting post Matt!

    This is something I continually struggle with, as I neglect my body in pursuit of theological education. The thought of working towards a doctorate after my present degree only further depresses me in this regard!

    Unfortunately, we don’t see many good models of how to pursue theology or pastor churches while not neglecting our bodies. It seems most fall either into the trap of indulging the body or stretching the body too far on a regular basis.

  5. Jennifer Frederick

    Great point! Thanks for speaking the truth. We should always do everything–including physical–as unto the Lord.

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