Paula Gooder

Body Beautiful

(A Review by Christopher Laurence)

Lots of people are interested in bodies and how we see ourselves. As proof there was a full house to hear the theologian Dr Paula Gooder address the subject for the Lincoln Theological Society.

Before she launched into a defence of St Paul (who is generally thought to have something to answer in our misconceptions) she told us of her daughter’s love of Barbie Doll. Her physique is absurd and impossible but admired by wannabe teenage girls. She added a statistic last year in the developed world there 50,000,000 cosmetic surgery operations. Something must be deeply wrong in the way we see our bodies if we are so unhappy with how we look naturally.

It’s partly because there’s a widespread understanding that our bodies, that is ourselves, can be fully described by our physical composition. ‘Reductive materialism’, Dr Gooder called it. Beyond that there may or may not be a spiritual entity but that is understood to be ethereal, non corporeal.

Greek philosophy, which Dr Gooder insisted was not followed by Paul, thought of the body as a prison which the spirit must overcome to escape. Hence the idea, which is certainly biblical, that the flesh is at war with the spirit.

This idea of such a split was not really Paul’s, we learned. He had a much loftier conception of our bodies as the body of Christ, essential to our spiritual nature, indeed the means of our salvation. Body, mind and spirit are one, inseparable and also not distinguishable. Dr. Gooder took us through a catalogue of biblical themes associated with the body: such as ‘wind’, ‘blood’, ‘life’, ‘breath’, ‘soul’, showing how imprecise there are.
It’s always a pleasure to hear theologians who give such close and reverent attention to the biblical text. This lecture was a great encouragement to us to do the same.

Dr Gooder took us over a course which had many high fences. She sailed over them gracefully and with humour, leaving us, I hope, with admiration for her skill, and relief that the bodies we are, whatever shape or size, however inadequate our minds and spirits may seem to us, are indeed working towards beauty: complete integration in God.

Christopher Laurence