In 1932 Dorothy L. Sayers published her first novel, Whose Body? The mystery launched her literary career, along with the detective career of her protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey. A strange man is found dead in a peaceful citizen’s bathtub, wearing only a pince-nez. Who is he? How did he get there? Are the occupants of the apartment certain they don’t know him? Whose body is this?
It is mystery.
As with good mysteries there are possibilities, conjectures, clues to pursue. The professionals look askance at Lord Peter and his pursuit of the truth – what does he know, he isn’t trained in police work – stand aside Lord Peter. A body in a bathtub, how did it get there and why is it wearing a pince-nez?
We seem to have answered the question of “Whose body?" in our culture with a resounding “IT IS MINE! IT IS MINE! IT IS MINE AND I SHALL DO WHAT I PLEASE WITH IT!”
The Bible tells us that “God created man…” The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, and throughout the Bible God is celebrated as not only the Creator of the planet and the heavens, but He is also celebrated as the Creator of man – as our Creator. The thing is, that if God is our Creator then the question “Whose body?” takes on added meaning for it means that we are not the products of time plus matter plus chance but rather that we have been formed into the image of God and that we ought not to do with ourselves as we please – for our bodies were not designed and created to live autonomously from our Creator God but rather to enjoy intimate relationship with Him.
One of the problems in the professing church is that we like to pick and choose in what areas of life we recognize our bodies as belonging to the Creator and in what areas we insist on being in control of our bodies. We think we are entitled to use our bodies in certain ways, including our minds and emotions and desires, and we think that we can do so with impunity – after all, everyone else is doing it. But I will pick this thread up in a future post. What I want to say now is that in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Whose Body? it was obvious that the body didn’t put itself in the bathtub; there was disagreement about how the body got to the bathtub, but no one suggested (as I recall, it’s been awhile since I read the book) that the body put itself there because there was no evidence of suicide. And why the pince-nez?
As Chesterton said (quoting from memory), “Darwinism didn’t destroy God, it destroyed man.” To live life in an awareness of our Creator, to learn to see ourselves as we were meant to be – in whatever measure that is possible – to see others not as objects of exploitation but as fellow creatures made in the image of God, to see ourselves as inhabiting bodies that have been given to us to use wisely in accordance with the purpose of their formation, and from there to seek the Creator who desires us to know Him as daughters and sons – this is a foundational principle of life, a principle sadly lost in the church and in society.
It is incongruous to think that we just “happened.” Where does beauty come from? Consciousness? Conscience? Love? The desire to create and assemble and form? What immaterial cosmic accident could have produced a thing called hope? A desire for redemption? A yearning for forgiveness and reconciliation in various facets of life? What about the connection that we sometimes have when our eyes look into the eyes of another and see something more than eyes?
Whose body is it that we live in? Whatever this body is, it is more than a body, it is part of a person, a mysterious being called a person – and when the body dies there is a palpable change – something happens – what was there is there no more…yet do we really believe that what was there is no more anywhere? It may not be there, but that does not mean that it is nowhere.
Do we really think that our bodies are here to be used, abused, and then thrown on the trash heap at the end of life – biodegrading – and that the person who once loved and joyed and sorrowed and hoped and dreamed and sacrificed and gave and received and marveled at beauty and learned and grew – that that person is no more?
The protagonists of both Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie were often amateurs, looked down on by professional detectives, thoughtfulness and common sense were often dismissed in an effort to make a speedy arrest and obtain a conviction. Lord Peter Wimsey and Miss Marple and Poirot watch and wait and ask questions and ponder, observing human nature, considering the clues that others ignore.
Our bodies are more than just bodies – how have we been tricked into thinking otherwise?
Just whose body is it in the bathtub, naked except for the pince-nez?