The question raised recently by a student in class as to the necessity of a body as it relates to the purpose of life has sparked this and the previous post. Much of this post comes from a talk by Elder David A. Bednar entitled “Ye Are the Temple of God” and can be found in its entirety here.
Why A Body Does Us Good
Elder Bednar stated:
Have we ever really considered why having a physical body is so important? Now, I know we can all say the right words when answering the question about why we are here on the earth, but do we really understand why a body is so central to the Father’s plan of happiness? Do we perhaps recite this answer so frequently and routinely that we fail to recognize its true importance? I would like for us to dig a bit deeper into this eternally important question about why a body is so important. Ultimately the answer affects everything we do: what we think, how we act, where we go, what we eat, what we drink, and what we wear and how we look.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught with great clarity about the importance of our physical bodies:
“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into a herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none.
All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 181).
Now, I do not claim to know the complete answer to the question of why a physical body is so important. But let me share with you a few basic reasons why a body is essential to our spiritual development and our eternal progression.
Reason no. 1. Obtaining a tabernacle of flesh is an essential step in the process of becoming like our Heavenly Father. Our physical bodies make possible a breadth, depth, and intensity of experience that simply could not be obtained in our premortal estate. As President Body K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught, “Our physical body is the instrument of our spirit” (Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled , 211). Thus, our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and respond to truth, and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies. In this classroom of mortality we experience tenderness, kindness, happiness, sorrow, disappointment, pain, and even the challenges of physical limitations in ways that prepare us for eternity. Simply stated, there are lessons we must learn and experiences we must have, as the scriptures describe, “according to the flesh” (1 Ne. 19:6; Alma 7:12–13).
Reason no. 2. Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son are, by nature, creators. As the sons and daughters of God, we have the potential to become like Them. The Father and the Son have entrusted us with a portion of Their creative power and provided specific guidelines for the proper use of that sacred ability to create life and establish an eternal family. How we feel about and use that sacred power in this life will determine in large measure whether additional creative power will be ours in the life to come.
Reason no. 3. As we attempt to answer the question about why we are here on the earth, we usually consider receiving a physical body and being tested as two related but separate parts of the answer. However, an essential part of the test of mortality is having and properly using a physical body. Please consider carefully the following statement by President Brigham Young (1801–77):
“The spirit is pure, and under the special control and influence of the Lord, but the body is of the earth, and is subject to the power of the Devil, and is under the mighty influence of that fallen nature that is of the earth. If the spirit yields to the body, the Devil then has power to overcome the body and spirit of that man, and he loses both.
“Recollect, brethren and sisters, every one of you, that when evil is suggested to you, when it arises in your hearts, it is through the temporal organization. When you are tempted, buffeted, and step out of the way inadvertently; when you are overtaken in a fault, or commit an overt act unthinkingly; when you are full of evil passion, and wish to yield to it, then stop and 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” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 70).
In 2 Nephi 2:26–29 we read:
“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
“And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
“And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.”
I suggest that you thoroughly study and prayerfully ponder the statement of Brigham Young and these verses from 2 Nephi. Neither passage asserts that the physical body is inherently evil. Rather, they teach that we live in a fallen world. The very elements out of which our bodies were created are by nature fallen and ever subject to the pull of sin, corruption, and death. Thus, the Fall of Adam and its consequences affect us most directly through our physical bodies. And yet as President Young stated, we are dual creatures, for at the same time that we inhabit a physical body that is subject to the Fall, we also have a spirit that represents the eternal part of us. We are the spirit sons and daughters of God and have inherited divine qualities from Him. The precise nature of the test of mortality, then, can be summarized in the following questions: Will my body rule over my spirit, or will my spirit rule over my body? Will I yield to the enticings of the natural man or to the eternal man? That, brothers and sisters, is the test. We are here on the earth to develop godlike qualities and to learn to bridle all of the passions of the flesh (Elder David A. Bednar, Ye Are the Temple of God, Ensign, September 2001).
Elder Bednar concludes his message with his witness to Paul’s teaching that our bodies are not our own. We are bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Knowing the importance of our bodies, and how they are temples of the Holy Spirit, this makes decisions clear in the minds of youth today. What we put on our temples, in our temples, and what we do with our temples matters in every facet of our lives.
To really understand why the world in which we live has a different mindset with respect to our bodies is important for the youth to understand. This is why the previous post How God Lost His Body is critical in our understanding of these concepts. I believe that the adversary played a role in Christian history in blurring mankind’s understanding of the body – both of the nature of God’s body and to the importance of the body of man. Inherent in this conversation is the relationship we have with God and our potential to become like Him.
All of this is tied together, and if we start on the wrong footing, we really lose our way both doctrinally and spiritually. If our bodies do not matter, what is the purpose of taking great care of it here in mortality? For what purpose should we concern ourselves with modesty, chastity, etc. if these bodies are disposable? To mirror the message of the Screwtape Letters, isn’t this what the adversary wants? Doesn’t it make sense that he would want to blur the lines with respect to anything that has to do with our ability to create lives, or make choices relative to our bodies?