You look in the mirror. How do you feel? Where are your eyes drawn? Do you like what you see? Or do you hate it? What do you wish you could change? What features do you hope will never change? What does the voice in the back of your head say to you from the mirror?
Or what about the very confusing voices that we hear from our world. One voice says ‘you’re perfect as you are, accept yourself, love yourself’ but then a totally different voice says ‘you have flaws, but you can change them! Work hard, get to the gym, improve yourself.’ So which voice do we listen to? Do I accept my body, myself, as I am, or do I put in the work and improve myself? Which will make me feel happy? Which approach will make me feel comfortable in my own skin?
Well, I want to suggest that we don’t listen to the voice inside our head, or the voices in the world. Don’t get me wrong, both voices contain some truth in them! But they also don’t tell the whole story. I want to suggest that we listen to a better voice, a voice found in the Bible. The voice of the one who knows our bodies better than we do because He created them! God’s voice. What does He have to say about how we view our bodies? What does He have to say about how we view ourselves?
If we go back right to the beginning of the Bible we can see that all humans are made in God’s image, Genesis 1:27:
‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’.
If you are a human (which if you’re reading this then I assume you are!) then you are made in the image of God. That means that you reflect something of God’s goodness to the world. That means that no matter what you think of yourself, no matter what comes to mind when you see your body in the mirror, you have worth, value and dignity because you are made in God’s image. So if you’re someone who looks down on themselves and hates what they see in the mirror, know that you are special to God regardless of how you feel, He made you and loves you. But equally if you’re someone who looks in the mirror and takes pride in their appearance you need to remind yourself that you are only an image of God, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to.
We don’t have worth and value because there is anything special or loveable about us, we have worth and value because we reflect God’s image. Yes, Jesus died for us because He loves us, but He didn’t die for us because we are loveable! The message of the Bible is that we are made in God’s image, and yet we have distorted that image, we have made it ugly through our sin. Yet because God is so loving, he chose to send his son Jesus into the world to die for us, to save us and to one day bring us to be with him where we will no longer sin and spoil his image!
This should lead us to have what Graham Beynon describes in his excellent book Mirror, Mirror as a ‘humble dignity’. He writes: ‘No matter what else is true of me, or what has happened to me that day or that week, I should remind myself of my identity as made in God’s image’.
I have always described myself as ‘the jack of all trades, master of none’. What I mean by that is I’m usually quite quick to pick something up, but I’m rarely the best at something. That was always true in sport, I tended to be good, but I was never the star player on the pitch. I got good grades at school, but friends and family would always do better! And there are moments where this gets me quite down or frustrated, it has even led to jealousy of those that are better than me! But equally, there are times when this can lead me to look down at others and think of myself as better than them.
My problem is comparison, and it’s something we all struggle with. Whenever I compare myself to someone else it will either mean my mood improves or drops; it’s an unstable way to live. The same is certainly true of the way that we think of our bodies and appearance. And if we dig down into why we compare ourselves to others it’s usually because we want to feel better about ourselves, or we want the approval of others. I either want to prove something to myself, or to prove myself to the world.
But being a Christian frees us from this endless cycle because we have put our trust in God, and so God now sees us as he sees Jesus. If you are a Christian then you don’t need to constantly seek the approval of those around you, because you have the approval of God in Jesus. No longer do you need to try and justify yourself, or prove yourself to others, because in Jesus you are completely justified before God. You don’t even need to try and prove yourself to God, because in Jesus He sees you as perfect. This should liberate us to not to play the comparison game like the rest of the world, but instead to rest in the freedom that the gospel brings, to rest in the unchanging approval we have in God because of Jesus. This frees us from constantly thinking about ourselves and instead to think more about Jesus and all He has done for us.
I’m not saying that if you’re a Christian you’ll never struggle with comparison, or how you view your body, quite the opposite! If you are a follower of Jesus, then comparison will be a daily battle. But every time you feel unworthy, or you feel the need to prove yourself, you can remind yourself that the gospel tells you that though you are unworthy, you are also loved.
Tim Keller writes: “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
So the next time you look in the mirror and think to yourself ‘I don’t like what I see’ or ‘how could anyone love me with a body like this’, remind yourself that you are made in God’s image, and that Jesus loves you so much that he was willing to give up his body by dying on a cross for you. The next time you feel the temptation to compare yourself to someone else, remind yourself that in Jesus you don’t need to prove or justify yourself to others, because you have God’s approval in Jesus. It’s a daily struggle for us all to listen to God’s voice over the voice in our head, or the voices of the world around us. The battle to view ourselves rightly is not an easy one. But with the Holy Spirit’s help we can make progress, and one day when Jesus returns, we will be so focussed on thinking about him and how wonderful He is that we will never struggle with thinking about ourselves wrongly again.
In an article like this there is only so much you can say on a topic! I would recommend the following books for more detailed thought on what the Bible has to say about Body-Image and Identity:
• Mirror, Mirror by Graham Beynon
• Compared to her by Sophie De Witt
• The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller.
David Upton, part of the Staff Team at Cornerstone Church Nottingham.