The crisis of modern culture becomes crystal clear. Our relationships, our roles, and ultimately even our bodies lose any objective givenness. They are simply expressions of our current desires, desires which can change at any time and be replaced quickly with the help of technology. I can decide I don’t want to be a husband or Dad anymore. I can even decide I don’t want to be a man anymore. Why? Because sex and gender are bodily expressions. If the body is simply an obstacle to be overcome in other areas of life, why not in this one?
In John Kleinig’s helpful book Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, he makes the point that our bodies matter because they tie to our identity and our obligations in a concrete way. Knowing who we are (and knowing what we are meant to be and do) is not a purely psychological exercise. There’s a givenness to ourselves, and that givenness is expressed multidimensionally.
Consider this paragraph:
Our bodies were designed to work with others and with God here on earth. They were made to be receptive and active: receptive in obtaining life from God and active in working with God to promote life here on earth. Each body has received different characteristics and abilities because each body has something different to do. Thus, my male body qualifies me to work as a husband to my wife, a father to my children, and a grandfather to my grandchildren. Unlike me, the body of a single woman qualifies her to serve as a female relative, a female friend, and a female caregiver to others…We all have different vocations according to our location in the world and in our society. My location as a man is in my marriage and my family in the city of Adelaide, Australia. That is where God has appointed me to work with him caring for my wife, children, and grandchildren. He employs me to work with him in that location with those people.
Notice how Kleinig ties together things that we might not think to connect. Our male or female bodies (physical givenness) qualify us for certain work (roles) in certain places (location) among certain others (context). This is a particular way of understanding one’s identity. Instead of delving deep into self-analysis and introspection to determine what we want our identity to be, we can receive an identity based on physical realities that are objectively true of us. These realities tie us to ourselves, our work, our place, and our relationships. Right now, because of who and where my body is, I can serve as a husband to a wife and a father to two children in Louisville, Kentucky. I cannot serve as a single man or a wife. I cannot live like a childless man or a man of grown children. And I cannot live elsewhere than where I am.