Swimsuit season is approaching. Time to sweat pounds, shed weight, and squeeze into swimsuits. But why do we even wear swimsuits? And why only cover our “private” parts? The Bible explains why, down to our genitals. If however you confuse body talk with bawdy talk, be forewarned. You might find this column too graphic.

Talking about genitals makes some people jumpy. Two dynamics are at play here. First, a pornographic culture causes people to hear penis and think porn. Second, Western Christianity is largely a disembodied faith. It focuses mostly on the mind. James K. A. Smith says the Western church considers people to be “brains on a stick.” This leaves the rest of the human body out of the equation. The gospel doesn’t however.

The Apostle Paul wrote that the gospel is a “great mystery” (Eph. 5:32). It is the marriage of divinity and humanity. It begins with God. He is a Mystery, three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – in one nature. This reality is so far “beyond” us, the only way we could encounter it would be for the Mystery to come down to our level and reveal himself. God did – and why the church historically taught that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation.”1

The way our flesh works opens the door into the mystery of God as well as the marriage of divinity and humanity. This glimpse begins with God is love. By definition, love is the enjoyment of another as well as the desire to expand the circle – enjoyment and expansion. For all eternity, Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy one another and seek to expand the circle of love. Expansion requires creating other beings. The marriage of divinity and humanity requires human beings, male and female, made in the image of divinity.

Adam was created first. His name means “body-person.” In his infinite wisdom, God knew that it was not good for Adam to be alone (Gen. 1:18). Adam however was finite and didn’t yet know what “alone” meant. He had never felt alone. My hunch is that if God had told Adam it was not good to be alone, Adam would not have felt it in his body. It might have registered in his brain as some sort of concept (“concepts” are what the Western Church tends to teach), but he wouldn’t have felt it in his bones.

God instead had Adam replicate what God did over seven days. God spoke reality into existence. For example, he “named” day and night. God brought animals to Adam for naming. This is the part in the story where those who confuse body talk with bawdy talk might find the following to be too graphic. Adam was naked. For a long time, largely due to coming to faith in a disembodied faith tradition – I imagined Adam decked out in lab coat, clipboard in hand, scientifically surmising what to name the animals. I was wrong.

In his outstanding book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, James K. A. Smith writes: “We feel our way around our world more than we think our way through it.”2 Adam felt his way along in naming the animals. God didn’t run the animals assembly-line style by Adam. Adam instead petted them, played with them, talked to them – much as we do with our pets. In the pristine creation, the animal kingdom didn’t fear humans. Yet, as Adam was feeling his way along, we know from our experience that he did not feel one particular sensation – sexual arousal. Adam began to sense in his body that he hadn’t found “a suitable companion” (Gen. 1:20).

God put Adam to sleep, formed a female, and presented her to Adam. In a flush of erotic enthusiasm, Adam gushed: “OMG!!! This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” He didn’t sigh, “Gee, a woman who thinks as I do.” Adam felt love. Adam felt Eve. Love is enjoyment and expansion. Adam’s penis expanded. He called the woman “Eve,” meaning “Open.” It is a picture of spreading, or receptivity. Eve’s outer labia – the two folds of skin and fatty tissue on each side of the opening to her vagina – expanded. Her nipples expanded, becoming erect. What happened next is what you are imagining at this moment. Eve spread her legs and the two became one flesh (Gen. 2:24.)

Christopher West sums it up well. “Our sexuality illuminates the very essence of our humanity as men and women made in the image of God.”3 It is in our sexuality, particularly in our genitals, where we most instinctively feel what it means to be made in the image of God and designed for the marriage of divinity and humanity. We experience physiological and biochemical sensations designed to point humanity to the immortal, invisible God who loves us and desires to expand the circle of love.

Our design also explains Adam and Eve’s instinctive reaction after they fell into sin. They immediately covered their genitals. Why didn’t they cover their head instead? It is mostly in our genitals that we intuitively feel the image of God – and feel fallen. Adam and Eve, feeling shame, instinctively cover their genitals with clothing. Clothing is for modesty. It holds in tension two realities. First, our bodies, particularly our genitals, are designed to tell a public story of love – enjoyment and expansion. Our entire bodies ought to be celebrated. But particular parts of our bodies poignantly remind us of the fall. Desire easily degenerates into lust. That’s why particular parts of our bodies, breasts and buttocks, designed to be public, require an appropriate degree of covering and privacy. That’s why we wear swimsuits. That’s why only cover our “private” parts. And that’s one reason why men and women in times past believed in Christianity.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen;” C. S. Lewis wrote. “Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Only a graphic gospel explains reality, including erections and swimsuits. Christians who confuse body talk with bawdy talk find this gospel too graphic. Christians who see neighbors succumbing to a pornographic culture feel otherwise. If you are one of the latter, the next few weeks will grapple with the graphic gospel. If you like graphic novels, stay tuned. If you find it all too graphic, we’ll see you in September, at the end of swimsuit season.

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1 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1015)
2 James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), p. 57.
3 Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization (New York: Image Book, 2012), p. 18.

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14 Responses to “The Swimsuit Edition”

  1. George Hepburn says:

    Thanks Mike. I’m leaning heavily into the period leading up to Pentecost, which I’ve been told paralllels the time May 17th -27th this year, when the deciples and other beleivers were in the upper room waitng for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them . Swimsuit discussion and the reality of our feeling our way around this life is certainly how God created us. I’ll look forward to the discussion on this. I believe sensations are good when they are what God wanted us to sense. In our culture today, we are overloaded with the notion that we can sense whatever we want and that all is OK which we know as believers, all is not OK.

  2. Maria Cochrane says:

    I thought that you were also going to touch on our squeamishness over breast-feeding in public. We are really a confused group of North Americans. Thanks for your graphic description of Adam interacting with the animals like we do with pets…You’ve forever changed the way I will think about that first job. And I love the picture of Adam’s physical response to Eve…not his cerebral evaluation!

  3. Eric says:

    Excellent post. For those seeking an expanded view of sex and God’s intention for its celebration of His love for us, Christopher West has several other books, including Theology of the Body for Beginners. Theology of the Body is based upon Pope John Paul II’s multiple lectures on sex and marriage; it is an eye-opening look at how far askew we have come to look at marriage and sex in our secular culture. A great read.

  4. Gerard says:

    Mike,

    I look forward to the dopamine-releases that occur when learning new things this summer with the swimsuit issue.

    Sin has “in the body” consequences; however, this does not seem to be part of today’s gospel.

    Today’s gospel is more of a “you can look but don’t touch” type of sanctification not knowing (or willing to know) that the looking produces real, physical, “of this world” and “in this body” consequences.

    Often the consequence of sin is presented as ‘outside the body’ and the only one affected is God and His justice. And if God wasn’t there to be offended, sin would be OK.

    The following neuroscience article articulates the affects: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/ummah/men/how-watching-pornography-changes-the-brain/

    When Peter writes about us being delivered from the “present evil age”, it is not just our mind, but our whole body, and a gospel that does not deliver the body is not good news.

  5. Dave Thom says:

    Mike, this is terrific. You put into words notions that are hard to describe, but you do so very well. Outstanding. “Um, I link to DoggieHeadTilt for the articles.”

  6. Mike Metzger says:

    What, Dave? You don’t read doggieheadtilt for the pictures??? I’m insulted. That’s me on the masthead, to the left.

  7. kyle vitasek says:

    Mike… this is great! Thanks for reminding us that the heart loves most what it learns by intuition – einstein?

    Very much looking forward to the rest of the series. I’m just coming out of “frozen chosen” mode and realizing God wants my emotions to move like the tides w/him, but if i get caught up in the headiness that infects most of Northern VA I keep myself from him. Heard a great scripture on this last night at MPC’s Harvest.

    Trust in the LORD with all your HEART and lean not on your own UNDERSTANDING… In ALL your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

    The analogy of walking and “your ways” and your heart… sounds like we’re feeling out the path, not observing and thinking our way along it… if I could think and walk I’d be in business… I’m not good at doing two things at one :) I’ll stick to trusting Him with all of my heart.

    Thanks for writing.

    Kyle

  8. Jeff Weaver says:

    Mike,

    Question for you, or maybe Christopher West addresses it in his book: If “our bodies, particularly our genitals, are designed to tell a public story of love – enjoyment and expansion” should we expect a restoration of our nudity in the New Heavens and New Earth?

    I guess I’m to assume that the white linen that arrays the armies of heaven In Revelation 19 is lingerie?

  9. Mike Metzger says:

    Jeff:

    Good question. Hard to say. The linens are for the fiancé, or the betrothed. They are worn at the wedding ceremony and the following feast. If I am correct, the consummation follows – Christ and the church. My guess is that your fiancé was wearing bridal clothes at your wedding and the following feast. My guess is that the consummation followed. My guess is that you removed your spouse’s fine linens on your fine and wonderful wedding night.

    We’ll tackle this as we go forward. Many have held that Jesus came out of the tomb naked. He was the first Adam. Adam was created naked. Before Christ’s crucifixion, the Roman soldiers stripped him. Men hung naked in Roman crucifixion. After his death, Jesus was wrapped in burial cloth. When the women looked in the empty tomb, they saw the burial cloth. Just as Adam and Eve didn’t notice pure nakedness (before the fall), so too it might be that pure nakedness is so dazzling and beautiful that you hardly even notice it.

  10. David Severy says:

    I’m 63 and nobody was talking about sex when I was growing up except on the street. I didn’t get saved until 1976 (at age 27) and no one was talking about it in church then, at least not where I was.

    IMHO what we need to know about sex is this: If I do it apart from my spouse (my life’s partner and a member of the opposite sex) I cause harm to (I sin against) my own body. I think that “my own body” may (can, does?) means my personal body, the body of my spouse (because we are one flesh) and even the church (the body of Messiah of whom I am a member). What kind of harm?

    1) Loss of sexual innocence
    2) loss of spousal trust
    3) guilt, shame, mental anguish (more so than other sins)
    4) if not divorce then >
    5) the pain of confession and reconciliation
    6) the loss of office and/or ministry to others for some length of time
    7) loss of respect in the community, church, family, and from spouse
    8) creates fodder for unbelievers blasphemy
    9) sexually transmitted diseases

    There are likely some others, let me know what I missed.

    So what I am saying is this: For the harm it does do, we ought to take Paul’s advice: Flee from fornication (KJV) or sexual immorality (NIV).
    FLEE, RUN, HIDE EVEN. And teach others the same.

    Regarding swimsuits, until we can count ourselves safe from the temptation presented to their HEART by seeing near nudity we ought to swim only in our bathtubs. HIDE EVEN. There will be enough near nudity on the street as in media, why add to it by going where the world openly flaunts their flesh. Indeed, we ought to be very select in what we watch on TV and where we go in public.

    Having said this, we can take comfort in the mercy of God and Jesus who tells us:

    Matthew 18:7
    Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

    http://www.bible.is/ENGKJV/Matt/18/7

  11. Dave Thom says:

    Mike, I tried looking it up…I don’t get where Eve means “open”. How did you get that?

  12. Mike Metzger says:

    Read Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body for Beginniners.”

  13. Dave Thom says:

    Mike, I believe you but I can’t get a whole book in; I’ve tried this link and it kinda’ supports your thought. Or, “opens up on the thought”? It tries to go beyond “mother of the living”.

    http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Eve.html

  14. Hillary says:

    Agree with Dave on your definition of Eve. The literal and accepted translation of Eve comes from the Hebrew verb ‘haya’, meaning ‘to breath’, ‘ to live’, ‘to have life.” The interpretation of “open” is hard to come by, and certainly not widely accepted.

    Additionally, Adam comes from ‘Adamah’- earth, ‘adom’ is red and Adam literally means man.

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