Do you think of your body as a burden or a blessing? Do you identify your body as a part of yourself or rather as some object that you have? Is your true self spirit only, or is your true self both body and spirit?
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “we came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom.” Our spirits must be united with a body to attain that “great principle of happiness.” 1
As Latter-day Saints we are taught that the soul, our real self, consists of both the body and the spirit. (See D&C 88:15.) Neither part can be exalted without the other; both are necessary. Joseph Smith also taught that Satan’s punishment for his rebellion is that “he shall not have a tabernacle.” 2 Without a tabernacle, or a body, our spirits cannot progress.
Although we believe that we are both body and spirit, some of us identify ourselves only as our mind or personality—traits of the spirit. We see our body as some entity outside our “real” self, as something we “have” rather than something we are.
When we think this way, we show that we have been influenced by the theory called immaterialism. This theory says that the mortal body is less real and less important than the mind or spirit, that nothing made of matter is “real,” that reality is a spiritual something beyond matter. Therefore, the body, being made of matter, is regarded as less than real. Plato (428–348 B.C.) contended that the body was a prison house of the spirit, a detriment to perfection, a hindrance to wisdom and knowledge. “The body is a source of endless trouble to us,” Plato wrote. He felt that man could not become pure until death, when “the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone.” Then, “having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure.” 3
Later philosophers—Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), St. Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225–1274), and Rene Descartes (1596–1650)—followed or built upon Plato’s thinking. Aristotle saw the soul or “actuality” of a person as being distinct from the body. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas felt that the body and spirit were opposites—the spirit incorruptible and the body corruptible. 5 Descartes, in his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am,” presents the mind as the only ultimate reality in human life. 6
The doctrines of many modern religions maintain that the spirit is immaterial and therefore only the spirit is immortal. At death, according to this view, the body ceases to be; the resurrection is of the spirit only. After death our immortal selves will be spirit only. The immaterialist view also purports that God is without body, parts, or passions.
People who are influenced unduly by these beliefs often assume that their body is a burden, a thing to be overcome. They see their mind or spirit as far more important than the body; that this life is designed for improving the mind and spirit. They may think attention to the body is important only to elevate the spirit.
Latter-day Saints are taught that both the body and the spirit are immortal and that the resurrection is a literal reuniting of body and spirit. We will then be like God in nature, for “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” (D&C 130:22.)
Ten years before section 130 was recorded, the Prophet received another revelation which speaks of the nature of beings: “Man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
“And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” (D&C 93:33–34.)
This soul is the soul which rises in the resurrection.
Amulek taught that in the resurrection men are raised “from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; … they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45.)
Immaterialism is not the only philosophy that incorrectly influences our feelings about ourselves. There are others, but perhaps foremost among them is existentialism. Early existential thinkers denied the spirit and claimed that we are only our bodies. “The identity of the body is not logically independent of the identity of the person whose body it is. … A person is his body.” 7
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) advanced this theory, “Body am I, and soul—thus speaks the child. And why should one not speak like children?
“But the awakened and knowing say: body am I entirely and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body.” 8
Proponents of this modern philosophy often make the following claims: There is no God and so no spirit. Man is his body. Human beings are physically capable of evolving beyond their present state. Human beings are not composed of different parts—such as spirit, mind, or body—but are one unified whole with various dispositions.
Existentialist attitudes toward the body may lead a person to believe that life’s main purpose is to feel pleasure, to experience all that one can with the body. An individual may prefer an irrational and spontaneous approach to life, deciding that if something feels good, then it is permissible. Right and wrong is a matter for personal interpretation, with no basis in an absolute truth. Therefore, the influence of existential thinking may also cause us to not want to identify with our Savior. The truth is that the body and the spirit both constitute our reality and identity.
Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “It is peculiar to the theology of the Latter-day Saints that we regard the body as an essential part of the soul. … Nowhere, outside of the Church of Jesus Christ, is the solemn and eternal truth taught that the soul of man is the body and the spirit combined.” 9
Gospel teachings such as these teach that our bodies are a blessing, a sacred part of our eternal happiness. There is only a perceived mind versus body dilemma. Although there is a distinction between the body and the spirit, these two entities are not opposites. The spirit is not immaterial but both body and spirit are material. We learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes.
“We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (D&C 131:7–8.)
This latter-day insight allows us to see that the spirit and the body are more alike than different and each is of great importance to the other. Paul spoke of the glory of the body when he asked the Corinthians, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Cor. 3:16.) The Lord makes continual reference to our bodies as temples, perhaps to emphasize the holiness, the sanctity of the body.
“The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples.” (D&C 93:35.)
Having a body is a blessing. It is a gift we received because we kept our first estate in our premortal life. Because we have gained a body, we are now more like God than we were before coming to earth. People who understand these truths understand that the “real” self, or soul, is both body and spirit. They may feel a oneness, an inner satisfaction, as both parts work together in righteousness. They see their body as a blessing, as a reward for past righteousness. These people are grateful to have the privilege of being able to progress to this second estate to become more like God, and they want to prepare, both in body and in spirit, to live with their Heavenly Father again.
This process of preparation is called sanctification, and it centers in the atonement and resurrection of Christ. Sanctification begins as we repent of our sins, make covenants with the Father and the Son, and strive to keep the commandments. The Holy Ghost can then enter our lives and change us from our “carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness.” We are, in effect, “born of the Spirit.” (Mosiah 27:24–25.)
It is fundamental to our theology that this process of sanctification involves not only the spirit, but the body as well. As we give heed to the promptings of the Spirit and purify our lives, the Lord promises: “your whole bodies shall be filled with light, … and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.
“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you.” (D&C 88:67–68.)
The sanctification of our souls will be complete when we “come forth in the resurrection of the just” with celestial bodies, to “dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever.” (See D&C 76:50–70.)
Thus, receiving a body gave us the power to continue our eternal progression, a power we must train to do good. In his classic discourse, The Three Degrees of Glory, Elder Melvin J. Ballard admonishes us to overcome all things in this life. We will not lose the tendencies of the flesh when we die and go to the spirit world. “They will be with us,” he says. “It is my judgment that any man or woman can do more to conform to the laws of God in one year in this life than they could in ten years when they are dead. … It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both flesh and spirit are combined as one.” 10 The body is sacred and central to our progress. The spirit, however, must take the lead.
Brigham Young said, “Let the spirit, which God has put into your tabernacles, take the lead. If you do that, I will promise that you will overcome all evil, and obtain eternal lives. But many, very many, let the spirit yield to the body, and are overcome and destroyed.” (Journal of Discourses, 2:256.) Elder Theodore M. Burton in his April 1981 conference address stated, “There is no need to let the body and bodily appetites control our actions … some people have greater drives and appetites than others, but I say that a righteous God has given us minds and wills by means of which, if we desire, we can control and limit those passions and appetites … As we practice righteousness and approach ever closer to God, the easier it becomes to resist temptation and to live in accordance with that light and truth which emanates from Jesus Christ. (Ensign, May, 1981, p. 30.)
Elder Paul H. Dunn says that we prepare ourselves for sanctification by learning to bridle our passions. “Bridle,” he says, “is the word that wise father Alma used in counseling his son Shiblon, and the promise he attached is the key to understanding: ‘Bridle … your passions, that ye may be filled with love.’ (Alma 38:12.) Bridling increases strength, increases power, increases love. … Alma never said kill your passions. The implication is not that passions are evil, that we shouldn’t have them. On the contrary, we bridle something we love, something whose power we respect.” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 72.)
Learning to unify the body and spirit and to subject both to the will of the Lord can be one of the greatest joys of life. “Full joy is felt when we are most aware of our bodies. In moments of spirituality and great inspiration men are not less but more aware of all that is around them and of their bodies themselves.” 11
I remember one experience in which I felt this great depth of joy, a feeling I describe as the “joy of effort.” It is the joy I believe we feel when the body and spirit work together in full harmony.
I was in Innsbruck, Austria, site of the 1964 Winter Olympic Games. It was a bright morning, with the sun’s rays bouncing lightly off the sleek, icy surface of the 400 meter speed skating oval. Nearly all the pairs had skated in the final women’s event—the 3000 meter race. Lydia Skoblikova had already won the first three races; two pairs after mine she would be going for her fourth gold medal of the Games.
The announcer called my number, 32, United States of America. As I approached the line, I felt confident that I could win the race. I was in fantastic condition. I had been training six to eight hours a day for eleven months a year for the past five years, and my times over the past two weeks had all been personal bests. The starter shot the gun, and we took off at the pace of a 500 meter instead of a 3000 meter race. I just flew. I felt as if my feet were barely touching the ice. My muscles were pulling and straining, yet it seemed so effortless. Although I was keenly aware of my environment, I was completely focused on the race. All of me, spirit and body, every ounce of my being contributed to this supreme effort. I sensed an amazing oneness of purpose, a harmony of being that I had never known before.
I did not win the race. I fell, and although I jumped to my feet, I lost fourteen seconds and dropped from a possible silver medal to twentieth place. However, that peak performance continues to be vivid even now. It was a moment of joy when I was fully aware of both body and spirit.
The knowledge of our identity as both body and spirit is crucial to our eternal progression, but the knowledge alone is not enough; we must act upon it.
When we accept our Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for our soul—spirit and body—we, too, can love our total selves, body and spirit, and feel grateful for the opportunity of progressing to become like him. When we see our bodies as a blessing and not a burden, we will rid ourselves of excuses, complaining, and procrastination. We will want to live the commandments, magnify our talents, and do all that we can to know and to overcome our weaknesses. We will learn to live with an eye single to the glory of God, that we may be among those “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, … whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God.” (D&C 76:69–70.)
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “The Body: A Burden or a Blessing?” you may want to discuss the following ideas and questions:
1. Some of today’s advertisements, movies, literature, and entertainment promote the idea that man is just his body with no spirit. How does exposure to this philosophy affect your life?
2. What increased capacity or power do you have because you are embodied?
3. Turn to the Topical Guide in the LDS edition of the scriptures and look up the scriptures listed under “Holy Ghost, Baptism of.” How does the Gift of the Holy Ghost help us achieve “a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33)? How does one obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost and allow it to have the greatest influence in his life?
4. Do you ever think of your body as an object, a thing, a burden? What would change if you considered your body a blessing to you and were grateful for it—honestly, completely liking your body?
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), p. 181.
Ibid., p. 297.
Robert M. Hutchins, ed. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 7, Plato (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952), pp. 224–25.
Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 8, Aristotle I, p. 642.
Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 19, Thomas Aquinas I, p. 381–84.
Stuart F. Spicker, The Philosophy of the Body (New York: Quadrangle, The New York Times Book Co., 1970), p. 22.
Ibid., p. 20.
Ibid., p. 21.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1913, p. 117.
Melvin J. Ballard, The Three Degrees of Glory (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1965), pp. 12–13; italics added.
Richard M. Eyre, The Discovery of Joy (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1974), p. 37.