Do you remember the Last Lecture series? Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburg would periodically select professors to give the lecture they would give if they only had one more chance to pass on their most important lessons.
A computer science professor, Dr. Randy Pausch, was invited to give a Last Lecture, and after he had already accepted, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and given six months to live. It turned out to really be one of his last lectures. He distilled a whole lifetime of learning for his students, but especially for his own three young children, who would not know him as they grew up.
Dr. Pausch boiled it all down to three words: “Tell The Truth” and then added a corollary: “All The Time.” A Ph.D, years of research and teaching, one last chance to memorialize something valuable for his children, and it all came down to “Tell the truth.”
It’s that important.
We have previously said that the body speaks a language. So to be entirely truthful, a person of integrity, you must tell the truth with the body, as well as with your words.
The language of the body is deeper than mere “body language”…but it’s related. “Body language” is what’s employed after every Presidential debate, to analyze what each candidate “really said”, and whether or not it was congruent with their words.
We have an instinctual faith in the body as a truthful witness, and I don’t think it’s a misplaced faith. The body has a language that does not easily lend itself to conscious manipulation.
But you can tell a lie with the body. This happens when you use your body in a way that doesn’t square with its own objective truth.
Objective truth describes something that’s true, independent of our beliefs about it. Like:
- An egg dropped from the top of a 10-story building will fall toward the ground.
- When you have two apples and you add two more, you have a total of four apples.
- A centimeter is 1/100th of the length of a meter.
It differs from subjective statements, which are based on personal feelings, opinions and perceptions, like:
- It’s stuffy in here.
- Ice cream is the best food in the world.
- The stock market is a bad investment right now.
To tell the truth with the body, we have to ask what our bodily actions objectively mean, particularly the one-flesh union between spouses (since that act is essential to the very survival of human life.) What is its objective meaning? What does it signify, apart from my subjective opinion or values or feelings?
Objectively speaking, it is an act of intimacy. The most hidden and tender parts of the body are exposed to another person. Each of the partners accepts the other’s hygiene, smells, health, and all manner of things extremely personal.
This implies that such an action should occur within a relationship of acceptance and trust.
Objectively speaking, it is a face-to-face act. The partners look each other in the eyes, the windows of the soul. It is not an anonymous act, since the partners can gaze on the face of the other.
This implies it should be a relationship of encounter, of love.
Objectively speaking, it is a potentially life-giving act. There’s no getting around that. To avoid the life-giving character of the sexual act requires chemicals, surgery, side effects, expense, hormonal manipulation, disease risk… and even then, it is not foolproof.
As the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park: “If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but there it is.”
The possible creation of a new life means that God is somehow involved. No one can create a soul, and yet every person has one. God is at work. He conditions the creation of a new being upon our actions. He could create new beings any way and any time He chose, but He has deigned that humans shall come into being by an act of love between the parents.
This implies that the act has gravitas.
The health, well-being, and success of children raised by their own two biological parents in a non-conflictual home is so much higher than that of children raised in any other household configuration, it’s inescapable… the ideal is for children to be raised in a stable home by their two parents.
This implies a lifelong commitment for the sake of the family.
Those are the objective meanings of the one-flesh union: that it is an act of trust, encounter, love, openness to new life, permanence, and in the presence of God. Does that sound familiar? In shorthand, we could say that the sexual act says, “I’m married to you and we are a family.”
But it is possible to betray the objective meaning. For example, a one-night stand says with the body, “I unconditionally trust, accept, and love you in the presence of God as my family.” But when the partners depart the next day with no thought for each other or for a possible child, they make liars out of their bodies.
Someone who uses another person sexually to accrue power or social status is saying with the body, “I unconditionally trust, accept, and love you in the presence of God as my family.” But actually, they are only taking what is desired, as if on a shopping expedition. Again, the body has been made a liar.
Someone who thoughtlessly uses another person for temporary gratification is saying one thing with the body but treating another human being as worth no more than a cigarette or a beer, thereby betraying the truth the body has spoken.
Sadly, it is deeply embedded in our culture to tell such lies with our bodies. We’ve swallowed the subjective messages that pervade our culture (sex is free, sex is a universal right, what I do with my body has no effect on anyone else) without weighing them against the objective truth. The body has been made a liar, over and over. And that has a cost.
When the objective truth that the body speaks is betrayed in word or action, the person has created a conflict within himself. This lack of integrity, the failure of the person to honor the truth of his own body, eventually catches up. Objective truth always has its way; it exists, whether or not you acknowledge it. Stress, anxiety, poor relationships, depression or the need to escape one’s own self through chemicals may result. Notice how promiscuity is most often associated with alcohol and drugs.
A culture in which it is widely acceptable to tell lies with the body would be likely to exhibit a high level of addiction, widespread depression, conflict, and stress-induced disease with high health care costs.
On the other hand, if a person lives in concert with the objective meaning of the body, he or she could expect to experience peace, the peace of an undivided self. A society only ever has peace when its members are at peace. When a couple lives the truth of their bodies in marriage, though sacrifice is involved, the marriage acquires a peace, simplicity and beauty never before known to either spouse, and makes a contribution to the well-being of the whole society.
Our growing elevator pitch now consists of these points:
- TOB is great news because it answers the deepest desires of the human heart.
- The soul and body are one.
- The body speaks a language that tells about the inner life of the person.
- The language of masculinity and femininity tells us that we are designed to be gifts to one another.
- When the union of spouses is fully self-giving and fruitful, the union reflects the mystery of the Trinity.
- We are signs to the world of the faithful love of God when we live the truth of the body in our particular state of life.
- It is important to recognize and honor the objective truth of our bodily actions, especially in sexual relations. It is a pathway to peace.
Sheryl Collmer holds a masters degree in theological studies and is the Director of Evangelization Outreach for TOBET, the Theology of the Body Evangelization Team in Irving, Texas.