Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is a soul?

It occurs to me that if I am going to talk about souls, I would do well to be clear on what I mean by "soul." There are two points which require clarification.

First, I believe that the Bible teaches, and logic dictates, that human beings are comprised of two parts: a body and a spirit. The body is the physical component, encompassing all those functions which are traceable to physical processes, including much (but not all) of what we think of as "mind." The spirit is non-physical, representing the free-will of man. It is the part of us that recognizes and responds to God, and is the source of our moral sense. As Lewis puts it, the spirit is the necessary origin of "ought." When I use the word "soul" in this series, I am referring primarily to the spirit, but would also include that part of us that is more ambiguous. By this I mean the place where body and spirit interact, those aspects of our personality and nature that cannot be traced easily or definitively to either the physical or non-physical. All of this together is what I mean when I speak of the soul.

Now, if you had searched inside my thoughts to determine what the phrase "creation of the soul" meant to me before a couple of days ago, you probably would have found something along the lines of this image: when the time came for God to create a new person, He would reach into a jar of "soul-stuff," pull out a handful, pat it really good, and stick it inside the body. Not that I would have expressed it in this way, but that is more or less the image I think I had. But once I began to consider the subject more intentionally, I understood that this is woefully inadequate. You see, this picture makes the soul a mere add-on to the body, stuck in to "animate it," and introduces a division between body and spirit that is not present in reality. Although I spoke of body and spirit as two parts of a human person in the previous paragraph, I do not think they are two separate, symbiotic entities. Rather, they are the two inseparable components of a complete human. This is why Paul speaks so unambiguously of a physical resurrection: man is both body and spirit, so when God creates a man, He creates both components fit together to make the whole. And when God resurrects a man, He will resurrect both, bringing an whole man into eternity with Him.

In light of this, then, a much more reasonable image of creation would be God carefully crafting the soul and body together into the shape and form that He desires. He designs the soul as the seat of the humanness of the created person, and builds into the soul all the possibilities that He sees for that person. The body is designed to facilitate the soul reaching its fullest potential within the lifespan that God has measured for that body. This is a much more creative and loving act than I would have considered until now. It is in this act of creation that God first expresses His love for the individual that He is creating.

So that's it. The soul is the non-physical (or spiritual) component of a human. It is created uniquely and specially by God to be the true expression of His love for that individual. Even these simple facts have profound implications. We shall investigate them in the coming days.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Souls and the sovereignty of God

As a long-time evangelical, I have not thought much about the creation of souls. I would imagine it was probably a topic of interest to the early church fathers, and may still occupy theologians of one stripe or another. It has not, heretofore, interested me. This all changed for some unknown reason several days ago, when I awoke thinking about the implications of the fact that souls are created by God.

I remember from my theology training that the question of the pre-existence of souls is one that occasionally pops up in Christian theology, but to me there is little to discuss. A simple syllogism summarizes it all: Primary Premise: God alone is uncreated; Corollary: everything else must be created; Secondary Premise: all things are created by Him. Conclusion: all souls are created by God.

Back to the main subject. My first thought on subject (I am going to move slowly through all the ramifications as I try and think through them all) is that the fact of God's active creation of souls implies that God exercises sovereignty over the structure, nature and disposition of every soul that He creates. This implies that He knows the soul - its capabilities, limitations, and potentialities - from the very moment of its creation. This does not constrain the actual freedom of the created soul; God may know it well yet still grant it real freedom to make choices (however, see my post on choice for more on this). For example, I know my children very well, but they still have the capacity to surprise me. God knows the details of a created soul to a much greater extent, and deals with that soul from a position of both love and power.

This may all sound either like silly philosophical nonsense or trivial tautologies to you, but I believe that it has profound implications on a number of subjects having to do with God's sovereignty, human freedom, and the nature of salvation. I intend to explore these implications in coming posts.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I believe that man has a free will. If forced to pick, I would choose to come down on the side of Arminius, but I believe that the real answer to the question: "Is God sovereign or is man free?" would be "Yes." Not just because I love to answer "either ... or ..." questions with a "yes" or "no" answer, but rather because I believe the question is too simple to capture the complexities of the issue.

However, I have another thought on the subject of man's free will. Personally, I think we have a good many fewer truly free choices than we realize. I believe that the combination of our created nature and our upbringing (nature and nurture) determine the vast majority of our actions. There are situations in which we theoretically have control over our choices, but in reality, the experiences we have already lived through have so shaped who we are that our actual behavior is effectively determined.

I wonder if, when we look at our lives from the perspective of eternity, if we won't be surprised to see that we made, not thousands of decisions, but maybe just 2.

OK, 3.