Words, Bodies, and Spirit
In the early 1980s, sociologist Daniel Bell defined culture as "the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential questions that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives." From what we cherish to what we abhor, from how we live to how we die, from what is sacred to what is profane, in each decision we try to make sense out of our lives. And culture is that sort of glue that holds our common values together.
Strangely, nowadays to understand culture even in those terms may well be outdated. I recall, for example lecturing at a university when a student stormed up to the microphone and bellowed, "Who told you culture is a search for coherence? Where do you get that idea from? This idea of coherence is a Western idea."
Rather surprised, I replied by reminding her that all I had done was present a sociologist's definition. "Ah! Words! Just words!" she shouted back.
"Let me ask you this then," I pleaded with her. "Do you want my answer to be coherent?" At that moment, laughter rippled through the auditorium. She herself was stymied for a few moments. "But that's language, isn't it?" she retorted.
So I asked her if language had anything to do with reality. "Don't words refer to something?" I asked her. "If you are seeking an intelligible answer from me, mustn't there be correspondence between my words and reality? How then can this basic requirement be met in our culture?"
Of course, this student is only reflecting the spirit of thought among us today—no truth, no meaning, no certainty. We now hear that language is detached from reality and truth detached from meaning. What we are left with is a way of thinking basically shaped by our appetites and by our proclivities, which is how life has become defined by our untamed passions. Hence, incoherence is now normal.
In a staggering contrast, Jesus once said that our bodies were meant to be temples of the living God. Only when we understand what it means for our lives to be the temple of God can we understand what living means and how coherence is born. For you see, life is not made sacred by going to a place of worship; life already is sacred and that is why it moves us to a place of worship. In this sense, wherever you are, you cannot leave without the temple. Profane it and reap incoherence; keep it sacred and harmony ensues.
Of Jesus it is said, "In the beginning was the word... And the word became flesh and came among us." Words and bodies and spirits are meant to reflect God's purpose for our lives. In this truth we will find life to be coherent.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.