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.

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