Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Will one will…

One of our youth texted me last week- “I got a deep question, when you have the chance.” So on Sunday we chatted, and the question was deep indeed! “Shane, in your opinion, what’s the soul?” This about five minutes before service started. Certainly time for an adequate answer, right?! Well, I tried, but wanted to say more. So I’m writing about it today; I’ll be curious for your responses.

Here’s my two cents: Like a good preacher, my first instinct is, “Let’s do a word study!” (Insert YAWN here- but please bear with me) The Greek word for ‘soul’ is yuch or psyche (pronounced p-sue-kay), which has a complicated history. Mostly, I think people regard it as an invisible, immortal spirit-person living “inside” the body, who goes onto some afterlife judgment or reward, depending on how good that body acted. Some even consider that spirit-person/soul the only important part about us.

But, the eternal question seems to be, how does the soul affect our lives/bodies? Well, if you believe Plato, it’s through our brains, or as he says, Reason. Always battling the emotions, appetites and will (which Plato doesn’t think highly of), in a perfect world Reason controls things, producing the cardinal virtues- wisdom, courage, temperance, justice. That’s the soul doing its job, for which it should receive eternal reward.

Sound fanciful? Maybe…but consider hymn #254 in our Hymnal, Verse 2- “Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.” There’s yearning here that our lives (souls?) align with God’s holiness and virtue, and it’s especially interesting that the hymn identifies “breath” as the way that occurs. In Hebrew (the other Biblical language), the word we translate soul, ruach, is also translated as wind and/or breath. So the Breath or Spirit of God is what moved over the waters “in the beginning” to form order and life; it guided the people to liberation and remains the very life-force of life itself.

Think about it- when living things have breath, we live. When breathing stops, life stops. So breath and spirit (or soul) are related, in this way of thinking, as if breath is the outward symbol of our inner life- our very own tidbit of eternity. How does the soul, then, affect our lives/bodies? Imagine a downed electric wire. When electricity moves through it, the wire jumps and sparks- it’s animated by electricity- but when the current’s turned off, the wire lays flat. Such is another idea about our soul; the animating life-force of life.

On one level, these two ideas aren’t very far apart. But I love the emphasis that the Hebrew vision puts on the body as the spirit’s rightful home, not some temporary holding place. There is no unavoidable war between soul and body; it’s all one. Plato, and the many Christians he influenced (especially St. Paul), were wrong, I think, about the emotions and appetites. Yes, they can be dangerous and manipulative. But so can Reason. Besides, as any lover or musician will attest, our emotional life has much greater opportunity for joy and excitement than our intellectual pursuits. If our soul operates primarily through Reason, Heaven will be a boring place! Even for a philosophy major like me…

Rather, think of our passions, desires, hopes and fears as part and parcel to the human adventure; intended by God to be embraced prudently, not treated as obstacles to overcome. Indeed, maybe it’s in suitably integrating our hearts and heads- not suppressing either one with the other- that the soul’s true affect is found. “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do.”

As for the soul and Heaven, well, here’s where I think Paul’s right on- as you can’t see the glory of a tree by looking at its seed, so we can’t see the wonder of paradise by looking at life now. We’re just convinced it’ll be glorious, because the Breath of life will surround us all from everlasting to everlasting. Glory be to God!

Grace and Peace,

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