And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. (Luke 12:4)

There’s been a lot of talk over the last 50 years about “bodily autonomy.” The idea is that a person should control whatever happens to their own body. We’ve seen this most prominently, of course, in the abortion debate. At the same time, it has also appeared in large segments of the conservative church, particularly in the debate of vaccine mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s interesting about this phrase is that one group will claim it for their issue yet deny it for the other issues. Supporters of abortion rights (with some exceptions, of course) are more likley to be in favor of vaccine mandates, thus denying the idea of “bodily autonomy” applies in that situation. Those who oppose vaccine mandates (on the principle of “my body, my choice,” and again with some exceptions) deny this principle applies to abortion.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that abortion (and by that I mean the intentional termination of pregnancy that results in the death of the unborn baby) is different from vaccine mandates, because it involves the life of another. Likewise, vaccine mandates are different in that they introduce a substance into the body that someone may or may not want in their body. But, I digress.

The common thread here is this idea of “my body, my choice.” What is the church to do with this? I have long said that it’s inappropriate and contrary to the gospel for followers of Jesus to place their idea of “rights” over the gospel. We live in a culture (at least those of us in most of the western world) that elevates individual autonomy far above the community. It’s this thinking that is behind the “my body, my choice” idea, and that idea has long been making inroads into the church. 

What the church must realize is that underneath the “my body, my choice” idea lies the deeper needs for security and significance. The deepest human need is to feel a sense of personal wholeness, and that sense comes through what we might call significance (or impact or purpose) and security (relationship, acceptance, unconditional love). Now, these needs are not the problem. They are part of how we are created. 

In fact, before the fall they were not needs but attributes of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve enjoyed a sense of personal wholeness as they knew God and walked with him. They found their security in their relationship with the Triune God, the Eternal Community. They found their significance in the fact that God created them and had given them a purpose–to take care of the garden and display his glory. When they fell into sin, however, they were cut off from God. Their sense of personal wholeness (expressed in significance and security) was gone. Those attributes now became needs.

All fallen humanity has these needs. The problem is that, being fallen, we seek to fulfill those needs outside God. When people can’t find security and significance in the world, the only thing left for them is control of their own body. Now, don’t get me wrong. As image-bearers of God, we have inherent dignity, and no one should be able to violate our body. I’m not suggesting otherwise.

What I’m suggesting, however, is that underneath the “bodily autonomy” talk is a deep, almost desparte, need to control our bodies so that we can have at least some shred (and it is a tiny shred) of personal wholeness. These needs are often so strong that even the human conscience will give way under the weight, causing us to do whatever we think we have to in order to have those needs met and avoid the soul-crushing pain of emptiness. And, these ideas have become so deeply ingrained in us, that most are unaware of them.

We’ve seen countless people kill others to preserve their own sense of importance (“if people find out what really happened, I’ll lose my security and significance”). Why would it be surprising that talk of abortion and vaccine mandates be any different? 

It’s not enough, then, to say, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (though that’s true). It’s not enough to just say, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (though that’s true). It’s also not enough to say, “Abortion is murder” (even though that’s true). It’s not enough to say, “Love your neighbor” (to the opponents of vaccine mandates). As always, it comes down to the Gospel of Jesus. We need to be teaching, preaching, and living the truth that we are fully secure and significant because of what God did for us in sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. We are secure because nothing that happens to us in this life can take that away. We are significant because he has given us a great purpose–to exalt him and spread his glory among the nations. 

We need to be helping those in the church identify and repent of those sinful patterns of thinking (of which many are consciously unaware). Only then, when we experience the truth that Jesus really is enough, and that our deepest needs really are met in him, will we see major change in the church–and our society.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s