Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

In my junior year of high school I was given the option of either taking a higher level math course such as Calculus, or a higher level science class. Since Algebra, Geometry, and Chemistry were as much fun as pulling out my fingernails one by one, I opted for Biology II in hopes of equal fascination to Biology I. The second round of Biology did not disappoint primarily because Mr. Bowen related to students on a personal level and taught in such a way that we did not count every second 'til the shrill bell of freedom. In his class we dissected a myriad of animals which surprisingly did not render me squeamish. The smell was wretched, but I enjoyed peering into the mysteries of anatomy created by God's hand. Once we split apart a pregnant rabbit - my first insight into the horrors of abortion. I realize rabbits are neither pro-life nor pro-choice, yet it was sobering to remove each tiny rabbit fetus. Mr. Bowen planned to take us on a field trip to work on a human cadaver, but for whatever reason his plan did not pan out. I was disappointed; a chance to intimately look upon God's ultimate creation was denied.

Gunther von Hagens's controversial Body Worlds 3 exhibit presented me a priceless opportunity to view human cadavers minus the aroma of formaldehyde. Johnny, my brother, and I made plans to attend on Friday afternoon, and the few people I told either spewed disgust or politely trusted my judgement with a healthy dose of skepticism. I felt freakish though my sole interest was to revel in the beauty of God's creation and the glorious complexities of human anatomy. As I began to ponder on the Biblical implications of viewing sculpted, plastinated human cadavers, I had trepidation that I was embarking on an evil field trip. I picked the brain of my husband and thankfully he, too, will write about Body Worlds expounding on most theological concerns. We came to the conclusion it was not sinful to at least view Body Worlds, so off we went.

I was prepared to be creeped out, or feel as if Gunther was a morbid psycho, but I felt neither to my surprise. The three of us were further shocked to see the second installment of the exhibit entitled "The Praying Skeleton." Obviously it is a skeleton, kneeling behind a wooden Cross, offering up a human heart. The placard's description said this skeleton is included to pay homage to Christianity which is the only religion that made modern human anatomy possible. The information also stated that of all the willing donors who gave their own bodies to Gunther von Hagens, the majority are Christians. My brother kept teasing he would donate his body, and after my first few cries of protest I thought well, it is better than cremation. At least plastination still honors the body instead of despising it to ashes.

As we meandered the crowded room and met each cadaver face to face, I took seriously that each was once a living person, but through the plastination process, the bodies look like just that - plastic. I was not grossed out by morbidity, and I marveled at the precise placement of our organs, bones, arteries, intestines, and muscles. A man diving for a soccer ball. Another man holding out one of the most important organs, our cloak of skin. A ballerina lady kneeling gracefully. A man perched on a horse, holding out both his brain and the horse's. Three men playing poker, one of them cheating, and one of them with lifetime-smoker's lungs, black as night. A woman swinging by her feet from a trapeze. I felt reverent and a verse came to mind, "I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."

Aside from the cadavers, glass cases throughout the room held various organs which cemented the fact that Gunther von Hagens's main desire is health education. A healthy, compact brain seated next to a separating, creviced Alzheimer's brain. Female reproductive organs both healthy and cancerous. A slice of an obese man revealing his weight's toll on the inside. Slices of a stroke victim's brain. Kidneys. A 21-week-old human fetus curled up, an even more profound reminder of abortion atrocities. These were also vivid reminders that my health-nut pursuits are not as silly as they might seem. We cannot escape death nor am I trying to, but I do believe we have a responsibility to take care of the glorious bodies God gave to us in order to better serve Him and others. And I was convinced that this exhibit is not merely sensational; it is truly a valuable health lesson for those inclined to visual learning.

I understand that viewing cadavers is not for everyone, but I do not believe Body Worlds 3 is evil. If it is, then so is work on human cadavers for health research or a mortician preparing the deceased for a funeral. I personally do not like open caskets at funerals, but it doesn't make it wrong. We Christians are not defiled by touching dead bodies any longer thanks to the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, those types and shadows having been fulfilled in Christ. Obviously I did not touch the cadavers, but my support of the exhibit is Biblically permissible. I do think Gunther von Hagens has a responsibility to use human cadavers for good and not morbid purposes, and I believe he succeeds albeit with a creative flair. The creativity was beautiful, but let me stress it was not an art exhibit. It is housed in The Houston Museum of Natural Science and not an art museum for a reason. His creativity did nothing but glorify the body made in the image of God.

The worst part of the exhibit were black pillars emblazoned with red lettering reading such virtues as Dignity, Integrity, Awareness; and quotes imprinted on the wall by Sartre, Kant, Nietzsche, Epikurus, and other pagan philosophers. To von Hagens's credit he included "what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" from Psalm 8, but the other literature is probably proof that he holds a humanistic view of the body. Too bad for him because any Christian who is interested enough to view his life's work will realize we did nothing to deserve our bodies, our health, or our preservation. A friend once told me about Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." She said that "workmanship" in Greek is poema, a poem. We are living poems, written with dust, given life first by the breath of God, and born again in the perfect body of our Lord Jesus Christ. I for one would love to see the Body Worlds cadavers fuse back to life at Jesus's return for His beloved. What a sight to behold.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Jenni, I think it looks fascinating, and I might even come to Houston to see it.