I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled Labor and Redemption series to discuss PMS and the “monthly battle with the flesh.” Yes, this is a response to the dumpster fire of this Gospel Coalition article. Read it with a sizable grain of salt. In summary, the author frames the female body as a spiritual battle ground with PMS as the body’s spiritual saboteur. She summarizes our knowledge of the menstrual cycle as “largely unknown to science,” and concludes with five spiritual attitudes you should use to win the hormonal battle against your body.
This theology is harmful, affecting the view of the female body in ways that we may not intuitively recognize. This theology is dangerous, a female treating physical needs as a spiritual battle may not seek the medical care she needs.
So, let’s reorient. In part, I am responding to the GC article. Mostly, I am seeking to demonstrate that all bodies (yes, person with a uterus, yours too) honors God.
1) Science: Knowledge is Power
The immediate problem in the article is the statement that science does not know the reasons the female body experiences cyclical hormonal changes. In fact, science has taught us a great deal about the menstrual cycle. The lack of basic biology in this article is due to a lack of research, which equates to lazy writing. The science of female physiology could have grounded this author in the reality of a real, present body that experiences a cycle of changing physiology beyond our control. Knowledge of the biology of the female teaches us the wisdom of our bodies and the ways bodies communicate how we need to care for them.
2) Gnosticism: The Bad Body and Good Spirit
The author uses language connected to an ancient heresy called Gnosticism, which bleeds through almost every statement. Gnosticism teaches that the spirit is inherently good, but it is bound or restricted by the body, which is inherently evil. As a result, there is a perpetual spiritual war between the body and the spirit with the body as your enemy.
Recap: describing the body itself and its physiological changes and reactions as sinful and as players in a spiritual battle is Gnostic language.
Combine this language with a patriarchal hierarchy and misogyny results in the treatment of female bodies as inherently sinful.
3) Paul: The war of flesh and spirit
Christianese often places “body” and “flesh” in conjunction with one another. Paul uses “flesh” to describe competing spiritual realities (Gal. 5:16-17). However, flesh is a metaphor for the sin that seeks to separate us from God and one another. He expands his metaphor describing the spiritual fruit as love, joy, peace, so on while the fruit of the flesh is anger, jealousy, and so on (Gal. 5:19-23). The battle between flesh and spirit takes place on a spiritual plane rather than a physical one.
Of course, sin expresses itself in a tangible plane. I experience anxiety (I talk a little about this in my bio). Anxiety is spiritually benign. It is neither evil nor good. It is simply a part of what my body and mind do. However, God created and gave my body to me. I am responsible to steward my gift. If I do not address my anxiety, then I may behave in hurtful way toward other people. My anxiety is not the sin, but the ways I may act out of it can be. You see the distinction?
“Flesh” and “body” are not synonyms. “Body” and “good” are not antonyms.
4) God loves all of you.
Your body is not sinful. Christians believe that God created your body and declared it good. Paul describes the body as a temple, holy to the Lord when he has filled our bodies with his Spirit. (I Cor. 6:19). We worship with our bodies – a sacrament of the church centers around eating and drinking, another sacrament baptizes our body with water. We often feel physiological responses in worship in which we may stand, move, raise hands, kneel all as a part of the way we engage with how God is expressing himself to us. Our bodies are a part of how God expresses his goodness, and a part of how we return glory to him. We believe that God will one day resurrect and redeem our bodies.
More than all this, we worship Jesus Incarnate, meaning we worship the Son of God who came to dwell with us in a real, physical body. He got tired, he ate and drank, he was moved with visceral emotion (Matthew 9:36; Mark 11:12; John 4:6, 11:35). Jesus had a body created by God. His body was good, his body had needs, his body had physiological reactions he could not control. His body touched and carried us, suffered and died for us, walked out of the grave for us, ascended to heaven for us.
If you see your body as a gift instead of an enemy, then caring for yourself physically may just nourish you spiritually. When PMS wears your body out, you can honor your body with rest and calm. When your body is achy, take time in a warm bath or lotion those tired limbs. If your body is negatively affecting your life, a part of receiving God’s gift should probably include the care of physician.
God expressed his love for you through the body of his Son. God expresses his love for you through your body. May your body, in all its quirks and changes, lead you to receive that love and teach you to love yourself.
Friend, your body is crafted by God who loves you. You are precious and treasured, body and spirit.