If I were to tell you that Christian author and theologian John Piper has toxic advice about body image, would you be surprised?
Leave it to the man who once advised abused women to endure “a little smacking” to suggest that body shame can be a good thing. In response to a question from a female reader of his popular blog who claims to hate her body, Piper had this to say:
You said, “Ever since puberty, I have hated my body.” I wonder if it might be worth considering that there is a good hatred of the body and a bad hatred of the body. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline [pummel] my body” — literally, “I give my body a black eye” — “and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” You don’t beat up on your friend. You beat up on your enemies.
Now, of course, the body in one sense is a friend. There’s no life on earth without it. It does make some pleasures possible. It will be raised on the last day and made beautiful and glorious for every single child of God. But there’s another sense in which the body is not a friend. It has become the base of operations for much enemy activity, and it has become complicit in that attack of the evil one on us.
Piper’s Calvinistic theology shines through here. Calvinists, as you may know, don’t have much of anything positive to say about humanity: we are worthless, depraved beings who deserve nothing less than eternal damnation. I’m not surprised that the concept of healthy self-esteem is entirely lost on them.
Paul has an ambivalent view of the body. He doesn’t want to throw it away in suicide or mutilate it in some unhealthy way. He prefers resurrection. He doesn’t want it to vanish. He knows God gave us a body for a reason. Yet, while he’s here on the earth, the enemy has made Paul’s body complicit in his destruction. He hates it in that sense, so he opposes it and will not let the body destroy him.
My question is, Have you ever asked, “Instead of saying, ‘I should stop hating my body,’ maybe I should say, ‘I should start hating my body in the right way; I should start hating my body because it tempts me to sin’”?
Now, this is not because it has any particular shape or disfiguration or has a certain complexion or whatever, but rather, you hate the body because it is what is making you sin against God. In that sense, shift all of your hatred. This would be a very significant liberation.
So far, Piper hasn’t even come close to addressing the actual concern from his reader: she’s insecure about her physical appearance and even mentioned the possibility of having a mental illness. At no point does he suggest that she see a doctor or a counselor to talk about this. Even the clichés about how “beauty is found on the inside” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “everyone is beautiful” are more helpful than the drivel he’s offering.
Self-doubt and occasional insecurity are normal. Pervasive negativity about your appearance is not. And it doesn’t help when you get advice from someone who only gives you more reason to feel guilty. One can only hope that Piper’s readers recognize the damage in his advice — and that the questioner finds the legitimate help she clearly needs.
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