In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. At the peak of the creation story, God created mankind in his likeness and called it very good. Humanity is the crowning jewel of God’s creation. The systems that make up our physical bodies were designed with incredible intricacy. From circulation to digestion, the muscular system to the nervous system, and the miracle of reproduction, the body exists in a delicate balance of interconnected systems, knit together by a creative and all-knowing God. Each life sustaining breath we take is from him.
“God designed a good human body in his creation,” says Dr. Dianne Moroz, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education. “In addition, God is sovereign over a creation order that governs how that creation would evolve over time in the absence of sin. However, sin distorted that order.”
The effect of sin on the body in the book of Genesis was obvious and immediate. Adam and Eve felt shame for the first time in their nakedness. They were cast out of the garden, no longer to enjoy the beauty and fruit of its perfection. They would have to work for the food they would need to sustain their bodies. They would experience pain. The effects of sin on the body have continued throughout history.
But much of the damage to our physical beings can be slowed or even reversed with regular exercise and even small adjustments to diet, she says. “Daily activity and reducing saturated fats, sugar and salt, can slow the progress of plaque build-up in the arteries and reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia and stroke. Exercise is used in the prevention and treatment of numerous prevalent diseases including obesity, some cancers, depression, dementia, metabolic syndrome, sarcopenia – muscle loss with aging – and osteoporosis, to name only a few. Fitness and healthy diets not only reduce the risk of many diseases but also promote health and holistic well-being, all of which would seem to be consistent with a loving Creator.”
Fitness and healthy diets not only reduce the risk of many diseases but also promote health and holistic well-being, all of which would seem to be consistent with a loving Creator.
It’s no surprise to most that we have a role to play in our own health. Healthy eating, exercise and appropriate rest can improve our health and generally make us feel better. But we may not always consider these things in light of a partnership with God to redeem our bodies. In 1 Cor. 6:19, Paul poses the question, “Do you not know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” He compels us to honour our bodies and use them for God’s glory.
Moroz has been involved in various types of health research for many years including enhancing physical and mental health and performance through exercise in special populations such as aging adults, athletes, military, astronauts, first responders and those with chronic illness. She has found that many people want to do what’s best for their bodies, but health recommendations can be complex, confusing and difficult to follow.
As part of her research, Moroz looked to Scripture to see how God has instructed us through his word to care for our bodies. She found many verses that talk about caring for the physical body, but specific instructions on how to care for our bodies are not evident.
“It’s not like Jesus took his disciples aside and told them to exercise,” says Moroz. But as she dug deeper, she noticed many references to what are referred to in her field as activities of daily living.
“While there are no Scripture references with specific exercise recommendations, Scripture teaches us how to move and be active by example,” says Moroz. She found that Scripture describes people walking everywhere, sometimes for days, to reach a destination. People also had active work as farmers, shepherds, fisherman and homemakers with no automation.
“Biblical movement can be summed up in today’s terms as daily regular, moderate-intensity activity with bouts of high intensity throughout the day. With this in mind, my latest research determined that activities of daily living, like walking at our usual pace, cleaning, grocery shopping, ascending and descending stairs, all produced physiological responses that promote health such as elevated cardiorespiratory function, muscle metabolism and brain blood flow in older healthy adults. These activities that impact numerous body systems are part of redemption.”
In addition to finding instruction through Scripture, Moroz also believes that we can receive God-designed signals when our bodies are functioning well.
“Some of God’s messages are ingrained in creational structure and are not subtle,” she says. “For example, regular exercise training or sport energizes us, elevates our mood, improves cognition and sleep, as well as muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness and therefore performance. We learn this connection of exercise and well-being by our own experience and that of others and research results in the literature. All of these I see as signals from God that we are exercising in a way that promotes his creation order, moving us in a positive redemptive direction.”
But listening to our bodies for signals on how to care for them also requires caution, discernment and self control. Dr. Lorenzo Love, assistant professor of kinesiology and physical education, notes that eating certain foods may provide comfort, but that’s not always a signal to keep eating them.
God made us stewards of creation and our bodies are part of creation. We should be looking after them properly … staying within the boundaries of our bodies and using them appropriately.
“Many people find happiness and comfort in eating,” he says. “God isn’t seeking after your happiness. He wants your holiness.”
So while taking care of our bodies through good nutrition and exercise can be redemptive, glorifying God with our bodies is also about keeping them holy.
“God made us stewards of creation and our bodies are part of creation,” says Love. “We should be looking after them properly … staying within the boundaries of our bodies and using them appropriately.”
God created the integration of body, mind and spirit, says Moroz, referencing Genesis 2:7. Thus we are holistic beings, body, mind and spirit interactive and interdependent as one.
“Each part influences the other,” she says. “There are a multitude of examples of this connection in research literature. Research supports this integration.”
Moroz describes the neural brain-gut connection or axis as a well-known example of how the spiritual and physical are interconnected. “Thoughts and emotions impact our physical beings, in this case the gut I think we can relate to the physical discomfort associated with worry, for example, that is in opposition to God’s will. It is a way that God signals to us when we are not aligned with him.”
Moroz points to the connection Paul makes in Rom. 12:1 between soul and body when he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.”
Dr. Jane Sinden, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education, comes at her research and teaching from a social science perspective. Having competed as a rower, she intimately knows the connectedness of body, mind and spirit While an elite athlete, Sinden experienced the pressure of a weigh-in sport, always fighting to see the correct numbers on the scale in order to participate in competition. This pattern led to her struggle with bulimia.
We’re holistic and we’re whole; we’re spiritual beings as well. God gives us the tools to pay attention to what our bodies need.
“It ended up being a lot about a release of stress. It was a really stressful environment in which I felt I had to stay within those body standards,” she says. “I was seeking an identity through my body. It was perfectionism … What I was seeking was success in sport to give me peace and joy through my body. In the end, I was actually destroying my body on the inside and on the outside. Because I was so fixated on the identity of the body, I didn’t care how unhealthy it was,” she says of her eating disorder.
Sinden has seen many athletes take exercise and competitive sport to unhealthy levels.
“We can start to really disconnect ourselves from our bodies … seeing our bodies as machines, as opposed to seeing them how God sees them. We’re holistic and we’re whole; we’re spiritual beings as well. God gives us the tools to pay attention to what our bodies need.”
As Redeemer’s director of athletics, James Kryger believes that intention in sport and exercise is critical. He thinks everything in creation has the ability to reflect God’s glory, including our bodies and what we do with them. Not understanding or embracing one’s calling, purpose or platform in sports and exercise can cause one to lose the Kingdom focus of their created body. He is concerned with how exercise and sport in today’s growing self-focused environment have led to a particular crisis of identity.
“Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with chasing success or desiring victory, but when we as his creation elevate these pursuits above Kingdom success, we can quickly lose sight of our calling to be Christ-centred athletes or participants,” Kryger says. “We always caution our athletes that chasing success and victory alone can easily become obsessive or even an idol when that pursuit lacks a Kingdom perspective and a true understanding of its created purpose as worship.”
In her work, Sinden has explored the concept of identity and how it can contribute to redeeming the body. “My work looks at how we get away from a performance-based identity onto a Christ [-centred] identity and redeeming our bodies through recognizing that we are children of God first and athletes second.”
For Sinden, redeeming her body was a healing process during which she determined the reasons why she had sought perfection through her body and then allowed God to heal her. “It’s Christ who is redeeming the body. We can’t do it without him. We need the healing regeneration of Jesus inside.”
Our emotions are a gift from God, Sinden says, to help lead us to healing on the inside, connecting our body with our thoughts and feelings at the deep level of the heart She references Psalm 516, where David says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
“It is in the inward parts of our heart that we will grow in wisdom,” she says. “And the way to the heart is through our emotions and feelings.”
As a mentor, she’s been able to pass on to others her hard-earned wisdom. When a student approaches her about an issue with their body, she always takes them back to their walk with Christ and how they’re leaning on the Lord. “Are they seeing themselves how God sees them? Sometimes there is healing that needs to take place … We need to listen to the Lord and allow him to help us unpack it. He’s there waiting for us.”
Ultimately, God created each of us to serve and glorify him. We can’t do that without the use of our physical bodies.
“Our bodies are how we do service to God,” says Love. “Whatever God is calling us to, we have to use our bodies. We can be more able to live that out if our bodies are healthy.”
Sinden echoes this with a sense of gratitude for how far she has come.
“Partnering with God is appreciating our bodies in the way that God does, being thankful for our bodies … and doing everything we can to keep them as healthy as we can,” she says. “I’m in a place where I feel very free about what I look like and who I am. All I care about is being healthy, being able to get out of bed, to function every day and to serve the Lord the best I can using my body.
“When we take care of ourselves, we’re trusting God. We trust him with who we are and our identities, and how he sees us over what we think of ourselves. I still have to preach to myself sometimes when I’m critical of my body. If you knew where I was and you know where I am now, that’s his glory. When we can break from what the world says, and we live out what God is saying in our lives through our bodies, that’s giving him glory every day.”
Faculty and staff at Redeemer come at research, teaching and coaching from a Christian perspective, integrating a Reformed Christian worldview into their work. As a result, Redeemer students are uniquely prepared to act as guides in partnership with God to redeem the body through these programs:
Optimize health and performance and prevent injury and illness by understanding human movement in all its complexities and applications.
Study health and its impact on populations, and personal and societal health and well-being.
Learn about movement from the perspective of physiology, anatomy, psychology, sociology, biomechanics, lifestyle and behaviour.
Provide service to and advocate for individuals with physical, mental, social, behavioural or emotional imitations.