The human body reveals that we are made for a heaven. Our bodies teach us things about intimate human relationships as well as our ultimate destiny. Human bodies are capable of creating new life, nurturing new life and thus fostering close family bonds, in and through the body. These are very basic human realities, but they also point towards how we are made in the image of God. We are ultimately made from and for family. Family structure is an image of God.
We certainly may not have had an idyllic experience of relationships or family life, but that does not remove the importance of the image and purpose of family. It may, however, require a different point of reference.
Beginning in 1979, then-Pope John Paul II offered the world a renewed focus and point of reference for the human person and relationships as he reflected on the meaning of love, sex and marriage in light of what was revealed through the creation story of Genesis. This has been termed the “Theology of the Body.” St. John Paul II pointed us towards the idea that the body is an expression of the person, and thus what we do and communicate with our bodies matters. This reality is more of an affirmation than simply a command or moral precept, as it reveals how we are made and thus most fulfilled.
St. John Paul II notes that, in the biblical narrative, Adam felt incomplete as he noticed his bodily difference from the rest of the created world and longed for a connection with someone like himself. John Paul II affirmed this as the “nuptial meaning” of our bodies: the capacity of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, to express and realize our call to relationship through self-giving or sacrificial love. It is possible to see God’s creative design as an affirmation of our human desires. He designed us for authentic relationship and ultimately to desire to return to him.
Developmental psychology also affirms our natural inclination for connection. At about age four, children just start to learn the ability to understand and tolerate that their own needs can be weighed against the needs of others. Trust and attachment are vital dynamics for human development. When our trust in a parent is broken, we can revert towards meeting our own needs and limit our ability seek relational solutions to our problems. But, we can witness a pattern of connection within the image of the Trinity: the Father wills the good of the Son; the Son receives and entrusts himself to the Father; then the Son espouses this love and connections himself to the Father’s mission. This pattern of “being from” as sons and daughters and “being for” as “father/spouse” offers a template of our relational capacity. We first learn to receive care, and this relational attachment thus prepares us to be able to give ourselves in response.
In many ways, psychology affirms our deep hunger for authentic relationship. We are certainly designed with the need for relationship. Human development recognizes this need, evidenced particularly as a trusting attachment to adult caregivers. We have a desire to be nurtured and safe. In the words of the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby, we seek to have our caregivers provide us with “accessibility and responsiveness.”
So even if our parental attachments have been disrupted, the reality of the trinitarian image still remains. Sometimes we have a sense that there is more to be experienced in relationships. Still, throughout our lives, we have the opportunity for receiving this in different ways. There are second chances to develop lasting human connections and friendships through others and through a God who designed this pattern.
And even in our relationship with God as father, we can experience a renewed family connection. This is also evidenced in Scripture. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000 (14:13-21), we see God’s care for his people. We have a savior who ultimately wishes to satisfy and fulfill all our needs. He is ready to fill our stomachs and our hearts. Our relationships and our human bodily connections thus point us towards the eternal truths of unbroken patterns and connections.