I was working through Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart recently, and something he said stuck out to me as an important insight concerning our formation as Christians specifically, and even for our formation as humans generally.
In encouraging people to pay attention to the most important parts of themselves (heart, soul, will, etc.), Willard notes what happens when we lose sight of our spiritual formation and try to compensate. When the human soul is malformed, our thoughts feelings and inevitably follow and we try to replace a dysfunctional soul with bodily fulfillment. Willard says:
“The human body becomes the primary area of pleasure for the person who does not live honestly and interactively with God, and also the primary source of terror, torture, and death.”
In the malformed soul, bodily fulfillment is our highest hope and bodily discomfort is our greatest fear.
And we see this everywhere. As a culture, we have no idea what a well-formed soul looks like, but we can describe in pornographic detail what a well-formed body looks like. The heroes of our popular culture may or may not have souls worth emulating, but they must have bodies and sensual lives worth copying. Our paragons of virtue and lifestyle are the exact opposite of what they ought to be. A young woman who sleeps around, has kids outside of marriage, is drunk more often than not can still be worthy of our attention and praise if she is physically beautiful. If a young man treats women like disposable diapers, fails to be a father to his kids and flaunts the laws of the land, he can still be a hero to millions if he is rich and muscular.
In the properly formed human, the body serves the virtue of the soul. What does it mean for the pleasures of the body to follow dutifully behind the forming of the mind, will and emotions? And even more difficult, what does it look like for the suffering of the body to be understood in terms of the soul’s formation? Which is worse—the suffering of the body or the dysfunction of the soul?