“You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19b). That’s the motivation and grounding Paul gives the Corinthians as he instructs them on how to live godly lives. They do not belong to themselves. Their bodies, identities, and whole being belongs to the God who “bought” them with the price of His own Son. Trauma dramatically alters a person’s experience of their own body, but God offers hope and help through the redemption of the body.
Trauma can impact a person’s experience of their body in a myriad of ways, but perhaps the two most common ways are through self-hatred and dissociation. So, for some trauma can tempt them to hate their bodies, not simply hate the way they look but become angry and disgusted by their own physicality. Their hands, or face, or hair, or genitals, or any whole body is so identified with the pain of trauma that they can no longer stand themselves. They may blame their bodies for the traumatic events, especially if assault was involved. They may become angry with themselves for the way their body responded in the moment of trauma, either with pleasure or with frozen fear or some other response. They don’t simply hate themselves, but rather their hatred is directly focused on their physical form.
For others, however, trauma can cultivate a dissociative response that makes them feel completely disconnected from their own body. Such that while they know it is their body, they do not feel at home within it. They sense that their hands or voice are not their own. Or perhaps they have no feeling at all, they feel numb emotionally and physically. The sensations that should arrive from physical touch or contact are lacking, either diminished or completely deadened. What started as a defense mechanism in the moment of trauma has become stuck and maladaptive in the long-term. Trauma impacts a person’s experience of their body, but God offers real hope and help.
God cares about our bodies. He is not merely interested in our soul or spiritual components. God’s interest is in the whole person, as a whole person. Several doctrines affirm this truth. (1) For example, God utilizes the temporal to engage in the spiritual. Ours is an embodied faith in which our spiritual life is played out through physical activity and engagement. Consider the two great ordinances of the church. In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper we are using our bodies to live out our faith, express our faith, and experience God’s grace. So, in baptism we are not merely professing faith, we are experiencing the submersion of our whole selves under water. In the Lord’s Supper we are smelling, tasking, touching, and ingesting the elements intended to point us to the living sacrifice of Jesus. We experience our faith in our whole body. (2) Jesus took on human form. Christ came in the flesh (John 1:14), lived among us, and experienced earthly life. Then, after His resurrection he maintained that human form. Thomas could touch Him (John 20:24-29), Peter watched Him eat fish (Luke 24:42). He even retained the scars of His crucifixion. Jesus has a body! (3) Like Jesus, we too will have a body in the God’s Kingdom (Phil. 3:20-21). God will raise our bodies to dwell with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth (Matt. 22:30-31; 1 Cor .15:52; 1 These. 4:16). Our souls and bodies will be reunited in glory. God cares about the body. He cares about your body, even if you’ve been impacted by trauma
It’s important, however, to clarify carefully just how God redeems our bodies. For, God does not redeem our body by giving them back to us in a perfect state and with a perfect experience. Instead, the redemption of our bodies is grounded in their belonging to God Himself. He redeems our bodies not, then, by giving them back to us, but rather by taking them for Himself. Within the Christian faith our bodies do not belong to us.
This does not meant that the experiences of numbing, depersonalization, or body dysmorphia cannot be overcome or addressed. It does mean, however, that we must recognize that redemption neither erases the scars of trauma nor gives us perfect personal independence. Redemption submits our bodies afresh to God. For some this can feel very scary and unsettling, and yet a body subject to God is the perfect place for us to be. For He establishes a secure identity and a strong foundation for reality. If we look for our feelings to always validate reality we will be left with much insecurity. God tells us what is real; He defines objective truth and clarifies personal identity. We can go to Him because He owns us doubly. On the one hand He has made us. The Psalmist declares:
My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth (Ps. 139:15)
He crafted each part of us as He intended. Surely the Fall has impacted our physiology, our psychology, and our affections but God is above even all of that. He ordains how we are made (Ex. 4:11). In addition to that He has redeemed us and owns us now as His own possession uniquely through Christ (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In this relational dynamic our feelings are not unimportant, but they are not ultimate. We must look to God for greater confidence than we can find in our own sense and experience of reality or physicality. Again, the Psalmist declares:
Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy. (Ps. 61:1-3)
The psalmist cries to God when his “heart is faint.” His plea is to find stable ground, a more sure footing than his own heart and self-awareness. He wants a refuge, and the following verses indicate that God is that refuge. Christ himself is the “rock” that is higher than us (1 Peter 2:4). We can trust what He has said about who we are in Christ, and about the way the world is.
There is much more that an individual needs as they seek to navigate the various ways that trauma has impacted their experience of their body. Helping them will require practical steps like journaling symptoms, anchoring self in the present, and serving others. Yet, we must always begin with hope that our God can speak to the pain of our current experiences and the trauma of our past. The Bible tells us He can, and we know He can precisely because He cares about our body and redeems them for Himself. He is making all things new, even our physical form (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
A twist to Matthew 25:34-45, the turning point of one who had broken through to freedom in accepting what they had been through was when they realized that God saw and felt every abuse against them. They realized that they were not alone in the abuse, that God bore the abuse also.