Posted by: dacalu | 2 January 2009

The Soul

The word soul seems to have lost out in the culture wars. I almost never hear it and it sounds rather antiquated and, dare I say it, superstitious in our modern, scientific, and materialist culture. What is a soul? How much does it weigh? Where does it go after death? What’s the point? All interesting questions, but somewhat silly. I am going to tell you a new thing, so open your ears.

            Soul is you. It has no complexity, no ambiguity. When you talk about your body, ask whose body. When you talk about your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, ask whose mind, whose body, whose feelings. Anytime you put a “your” in front (or a “his” or a “her” or a “my”) someone possesses the thing, someone inhabits or owns it.

            In a materialist culture, we tend to think of our bodies as ourselves. I am the physical presence. We know that is not so. Our language denies it. I talk about my body, my hands, my feet, my head. I never simply say “me.” If I lose a limb, I have not become less of myself than I was before. Intuitively, even viscerally, you know it to be true. You transcend your body.

            Here we risk getting into trouble, so I need to say something about the physicality of souls. I will tip my hand a bit and say that I believe in the physical resurrection. I have never been convinced that souls exist without bodies—nor do I find such a belief consistent with scripture. When I say that you transcend your body, I mean that your soul is not your physical incarnation. They are not the same thing. It may well be that all souls are incarnate. It may not. In either case, there is a core you that will persist and, as long as your body is alive, it will possess a whole, simple, and complete soul. More about life after death later.

             The difference between body and soul, between body and self has given Christians great courage over the centuries. We have survived persecution, torture, even death, knowing that the life within us can persist, even persist joyfully despite great physical hardship. We know that our decisions are our own. They cannot be coerced by physical abuse, drugs, or genetic programming.

            I find this to be profoundly good news. I make choices. I exist as a soul that transcends my body and operates with it. Never will I be so much at the mercy of any power that I cannot make up my own mind. Never can anyone else force me to abandon compassion or faith.[1] I am. My soul exists in and of itself, and it is that very self that chooses. It may be sorely pressed—indeed it often is—by circumstances. Torture and drugs and genetics challenge me, they make me tend toward certain decisions. My body affects my soul in profound ways. Through this, though, I always have a choice. Torture I can endure. Drugs I can give up. Genetics I can overcome. Christians believe, and have always believed that we choose our own actions. We can will good or evil. I write these words because I know you can choose good. I ask you to.

            Another virulent strand of thought denies that the soul is the self by equating the soul and mind or equating the soul and the will. My disavowal of “soul equals body” may have led you to think that I fall in this latter camp. It is not so. With many Evangelical and Reform Christians, I vehemently oppose the idea that the choices we make define the essence of who we are. No matter how far I travel, no matter how greatly I harm myself and others, no matter how much I try, I can never deface my soul so much that it ceases to be. I am not in control of my own existence and I can never go away from myself.

            That last bit can be a bit scary at first. We live in a culture that tells us our choices define us; power comes from choice and control. This is false, and that too is very good news. It is good news because many of us feel helpless. Many of us have not been given the choices we want or the power to do the things we think are good. You are no less for that lack of power. Your soul abides. It is complete and whole and simple. You are still you. No power can take that away, even if they take away your choices. No imprisonment is so confining, no government so oppressive, and no economic system so crushing that the single human soul ceases to be whole and perfect. Even you cannot forfeit this great gift.

            This then, is the first truth I have to share. You exist. You have a soul that will never be less (at least not in this lifetime) than it is now. Rest in that truth. It requires no action and demands no reinforcement. You are. That is the truth of the Christian soul. Don’t try to weigh it; it has no mass, for it is not of the body. Don’t try to measure it, for no amount of effort by you or anyone else could make it grow or shrink. It simply is. You are not solely the product of your environment, your parents, or your biology; you are soulfully a human being.[2]

           


[1] In theory, God could force a change in my soul, though I doubt God does so.

[2] created in the image and likeness of God (I’m getting there, I promise)

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Responses

  1. Lucas,

    Very positive and uplifting commentary. It’s very interesting that as one experiences difficulties and challenges throughout life, there is that “center” part of us that is always there, sometimes acting as confidant, sometimes acting as concience and moderator of our thought processes and feelings, but never taking away our choices, never making them for us. I would love to chat with you about resurrectional physicality and gaia.


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