I often try and arrive at the domestic airport early if I have a flight to the Eastern states.
I do this for two reasons. I don’t want to miss the flight and I also love to go browsing in the airport bookshop. On my last loiter around the bookshop I noticed a number of books with ‘soul’ on the title on the cover page. I think I picked up five such books. I thumbed through them to get the drift of the content and also checked the index at the back to see if Jesus, the greatest soul healer, got a mention. To my disappointment all the authors seemed to ignore the greatest spiritual teacher ever, Jesus the Galilean. One author did mention that in his office he had quotes on his walls from Gandhi, the Dali Larma, Buddha, Mohammed, Freud and Jesus. But when I scoured the content of the book and I couldn’t find any acknowledgement of the teachings of Jesus. I find it fascinating that “the soul” is being thought about and written about in this post-Christian, secular culture. Money and material things, sex and success are not enough to fill our God shaped hole. For decades most people seemed to have concluded that there is no such thing as a soul. We have a mind and a heart, and maybe a spirit, but surely not a soul. We have largely rejected the old Greek idea of the immortality of the soul and we have also been put off by those within the Christian community who speak of ‘soul winning’. God after all, is interested in the whole person, every part of us, even the hairs on our heads says Jesus. We need to view people holistically rather than with a narrow focus on the mysterious ‘soul’. It is therefore understandable that Christians feel uncomfortable talking about the soul. Should we just let go of the idea of the soul and leave it to the practitioners of ‘New Age’ spirituality and pop psychology to explore this part of the human condition?
I think not. Scripture has a great deal to say about the soul. I love the words of the twenty third psalm where it say “God restores my soul”. Moreover Jesus warns us to beware of those who can kill the soul (Matt 10:28) and in speaking of Christian discipleship he reminds us that gaining the world is meaningless if in the process with lose our souls (Matt 16:26). Is the word ‘soul’ better translated ‘life’, thus demystifying it. What is clear from Scripture is that its authors have an integrated view of human nature. The Bible does not see we humans as the sum total of different departments, body, soul and spirit. Rather there is a ‘psychosomatic unity’ of the human person, that is the interdependence of body, mind, soul, spirit and emotions. It would be wrong to think of ourselves as owning a soul as we would a suitcase or umbrella as the Greeks seemed to. The New Testament Greek word ‘psyche’ that is often translated ‘soul’ meaning life or personality. It reminds us that we are spiritual being with eternal possibilities. Human life is more than bodily appetites for food and sex. When we become a new creation in Christ there begins a work of the Spirit of God to bring more harmony in us, as whole humans, body, mind, soul and spirit. To love God, according to Jesus involves all that we are, not just one part of us. Christian ministry used to be referred to as ‘the cure of souls’. This suggests we may be only interested in the spiritual dimensions of people, their prayers and their worship. This would be un-Jesus-like. Jesus above all other religious leaders and teachers lived out the wholeness and holiness of God in his love and concern for every aspect of the human condition. As followers we too are to be concerned with the whole healing of the self, in all its components, and in the healing of society and culture and the transformation of the world.
It feels like Christians need to be part of the ‘soul’ conversations that are emerging. Maybe it’s time for a Christian author to write a book about this topic that would be found alongside the new age literature in bookshops. I live in hope.
Steve Francis, Moderator