Thursday, October 06, 2016

Body, Soul, and Spirit

We believe in the Holy Trinity. It's not an easy concept. It is not natural to the mind. Three persons; one God. Not three gods (tritheism). Not one god in three phases (modalism). Not a "becoming", where God inhabits Christ (panentheism). No, a trinity where there is one substance but three "persons". Very difficult concept. So we come up with ideas to illustrate it. There is the popular triangle -- one shape with three corners. There is the egg, consisting of egg, yolk, and (Can you name the white part?) albumen. But when examined very closely they all break down. And, I'm fairly sure, this has to be the case because, after all, God is One. There is no other. He is an absolute one-of-a-kind.

My favorite example of something approaching (but, as I've already indicated, not actually achieving) tritheism is the human being. This would be fitting if it is true since we are made in His image. As such, we should retain something "God-like" in our make up. I think this is at least part of it. I think we are sort of trinitarian in our existence. How? Well, Scripture lists three components of the human being. We all know the body part. We are physical bodies. But no one (almost no one -- certainly not Christians) doubts that we are more than "meat suits". What other components does the Bible list? One of the clearest spots for this is in Paul's first epistle to the church at Thessalonica.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:23)
There are three pieces there -- "spirit and soul and body". All three need to be sanctified completely. All three will be sanctified by God Himself.

There is disagreement among Christians about that "spirit and soul" part. Many -- even some for whom I have a great deal of respect -- argue that we are dual in nature, not three. They hold that "spirit and soul" are one term, one concept. One reason is that Scripture often uses these terms interchangeably. The other reason is that there are those who, believing that spirit and soul are distinct, use this distinction to produce an unbiblical, even heretical condition where you can be what they call a "carnal Christian", where you are saved "in the spirit" (not the Holy Spirit), but it can have absolutely no effect on your soul. In order to combat this heresy, they eliminate the distinction. But we read in Hebrews,
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12)
So I believe that, while the division is perhaps difficult, it exists.

So, we know what the body is. That's the physical part. We know what the spirit is. That's the metaphysical part. That's the "essence". What is the soul? First, remember that the Bible often uses "spirit" and "soul" as interchangeable. So you may find references to "soul" that do not provide a distinctive to "spirit". As such, for instance, both are used to describe the animating principle -- what we call "life". We use it this way when we say, "There were 30 souls on board." Living beings. But that's the spirit. So assuming there is a division between soul and spirit, what is it? Well, the soul is often used to express desire (Prov 23:2; 1 Sam 1:15; Psa 42:1-2), volition (Isa 26:8-9; Prov 21:10; 2 Sam 3:21), and emotions (Isa 1:14; Jer 13:17; Psa 42:5; 1 Sam 1:15). Thus, the soul and spirit form the real life of the body -- the real person -- but the soul and spirit differ slightly in that the soul would constitute the mind, will, and emotions of the person. And we get this in our view of humans. There is the physical person that we see and know, but we all understand that there is a "real you", an underlying personhood that is formed of how you think and feel and what you choose. That's the "real you". Some people have "beautiful souls" with ugly bodies and others have beautiful physical appearance with "ugly souls". We get that. The spirit, then, is the bottom line, the absolute essence of human life.

Note, then, that the three are one. One being. Not three beings. They are three "parts" of one person. It is possible for the body to die, but the person isn't gone. The spirit lives on. The soul continues. And, in the end, the body is restored as well. A sort of "trinity". (Remember, no human representation of the Divine Trinity is completely suitable.) If this "trinity" is in the image of God, it would follow that each component corresponds to some component of God as well. And it does. We have, at our core, a spirit. In the Triune God, there is the Father. Closely tied and barely distinguishable to the spirit is the soul -- the mind, will, and emotions of each of us. In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is generally referenced in terms of the mind, will, and emotions of God. And, of course, we know that Christ is the physical manifestation of God just as our own bodies are our own physical manifestation.


Now, feel free to take all this with a grain of salt. I'm not offering dogma here. It isn't "agree with me or be found a rank heretic." I'm offering a parallel, an illustration. I think it makes sense. Further, I think it helps sketch out the Divine Trinity by finding an image of it in the creation of God that is in His image. All form one being. Each is distinct but not separate. All have one essence. I think it works. If it works for you, warts and all, you're welcome to it. If not, feel free to discard it. I think I'll hang onto it (lightly) for awhile.

4 comments:

David said...

I actually reverse the Father and Spirit. The Father is the soul, the driving force, authority of the Trinity. The Spirit and our spirit is the part that is able to communicate between the natural and supernatural. I come to this from our spirit being dead. It's not the Father that regenerates us, but the Spirit. Jesus did as the Father commanded, not the Spirit. The Spirit is left behind to communicate between us and God.

Stan said...

Well, then, you'd be wrong, infidel! No ... kidding.

The reason I link the Spirit to the soul is because Scripture refers to Him in terms like "Don't grieve the Spirit" (Eph 4:30) (emotions), speaks of "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16) (mind) and how the wills of men were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) (will). It seems like the mind, the will, and the emotions of God are expressed to us through the Spirit. Further, the Father is central (spirit -- core), but the Son became flesh and the Spirit inhabits us. In the same way, the body and the soul are more "out there", interacting. But you may be right. Besides, as I said, no parallel is perfect.

David said...

When it says "Don't grieve the Spirit" is it in reference to making the Spirit sad or is it causing a grievance between us?

Stan said...

I assume it is the same sense of grieving the Holy Spirit that Jesus expressed when He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34).