28.06.2008 -Aircraft flying inverted.When most Christians mention saving a soul, they likely mean some part of the person in the future part of his/her life, often termed “eternal destiny.” Once that’s secured, the soul gets no further consideration. It’s “saved.”

People can then turn attention to earthly living, preferably in a Godly life-style, but nevertheless as a kind of throw-away. In fact, it’s common to hear Christians say, “Life is temporary.”

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s permanent.

From the biblical perspective, a person’s life is one single, ongoing continuum. Some of that life is lived in the physical realm on this physical planet; some of it isn’t. The biblical paradigm says that physical death doesn’t end anyone’s life. (And if I read resurrection passages correctly, the majority of one’s eternity is spent in physical form. But I digress.)

Also from the biblical perspective, personhood consists of a mind/intellect, a heart/will/spirit, a body, and a social/relational context. I think of the soul as the overall “auto-pilot” that continually manages input and produces output in the form of behavior and relationships. It does the best it can to synchronize each aspect of personhood into a functional, cohesive whole. But it can’t do it on its own. It needs God’s help.

I realize it’s a rudimentary analogy. Human beings are more complex than even the most sophisticated auto-pilots. But the soul is simply the total person, greater than the sum of its parts. And a soul never stops living once it starts. It isn’t something you have; it’s who you are. It isn’t a piece of you; it’s all of you, the essence of your being.

In bible-speak, when that’s torn and jumbled, it’s ruined. When it’s mended and whole, it’s restored. Perfect. Complete.

So when Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul,” he means “with your total being.” When he says that God has the power to “destroy” both body and soul in hell, he means that no part of the person will be overlooked when God fully confronts his/her sin and ruin.

Subversive Ideas

I used to think that overcoming evil with good was about overpowering it with brute force. But suppose it happens by subverting it from within, from the inside out with love. Suppose evil is destroyed in an individual when input and output synchronize as God designed, and the whole soul harmonizes with its Creator—mind/intellect, heart/will/spirit, body, and social relations.

What might happen if this idea spread through the ages, person by person, as more and more people became less abusive, less frightened, less insistent on their ruined ways, and more desiring of complete good for themselves and others? Wouldn’t it be a lot like yeast working its way through the whole batch of dough? (Mat. 13:33)

Now suppose that God plotted all along to overcome evil this way, like an unstoppable dawn swallowing the night. How valuable, then, might you be as God’s partner in paying attention to your own soul, the essence of your being?

God is always about completeness, thoroughness. Jesus therefore proclaims a comprehensive salvation for the whole world that addresses the total person for an entire life. His idea is that everything about that life moves increasingly toward love—that is, the desire to promote and contribute to good—now, later, and always.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love enemies. Be good to those who hurt you or make your life a pain. Why? What’s the point of listening to Jesus? Well, at first, for your own well-being. Whatever you wish upon someone else, you wish upon yourself. The measure you use will be measured to you (Luk. 6:38).

So, if for no other reason, you wish for their good, unless you’re a masochist who likes double the aggravation. Once that isn’t such a foreign concept to you, you can do it for other reasons. It’s right. It’s blessed. It overcomes evil. You get a beaming wink from God.

Beginning next week, I’ll re-post a six-part series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he outlines step by step how to subvert evil and make room for love, goodness, and blessed well-being for the soul, individually and collectively. It’s actually pretty simple, but was such a radical concept that the religious experts of Jesus’ day declared him to be straight from the devil. He was crucified for blasphemy and subversion. They got it exactly backwards and upside-down.

Many Christians today unknowingly treat him similarly. They don’t actually believe that unconditional love is possible or a priority, much less right and good. It doesn’t seem right to give up their “righteous” anger, precious payback, or wounded spirits. I don’t say this critically; I speak from experience.

But that’s okay. Experience is knowledge, and knowledge is the beginning of repentance. Everyone starts from where they are, not where they will be.

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An blue icon with a graduation cap and tassel.

An blue icon with a graduation cap and tassel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eve came from Adam’s rib; Adam came from the earth; and the earth came from God. Through marriage, Eve reunites, or goes back, to Adam, her origin.

Jesus also said that he came from the Father and would go back to the Father. As first-fruit, he’s the first of multitudes to follow. The Christian faith came from Jews and spread to Gentiles. And through unity in Christ, mankind goes back to God, our origin. He invented marriage to foreshadow this glory.

Mankind is God’s child, and, despite sin, we’re already like Him in many ways. We’re creators with a lower case “c”— inventors, dreamers, builders, artists, healers, and child-bearers like our Father. We’re rulers and providers, like our Father. We’re persons in community, just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a triune Person in community.

God doesn’t reveal every detail of eternity, but He does reveal what we need to know about it right now. And I’m sure He delights in keeping many juicy surprises in store for us!

Therefore, once we get past the idea that heaven is (1.) strictly a destination after death, and (2.) a holding place where the righteous dead wait or sleep while God does something to the earth and humanity, we can get involved in what God is doing with them.

We do know that God wants His children with Him—not to float around or sing perpetual hymns, but to be co-creators with Him, just as we are now on a smaller scale. We’ll be very much alive and active with meaningful, exciting work on a huge scale. It’s why ruler-servanthood with personal virtue like Christ is so central to eternal living.

We also know that God will share His happiness and put those He can trust in charge of much more on the renewed earth. “Well done, my good servant! Because you’ve been trustworthy in a small matter, now take charge of ten cities.” (Luk. 19:17) Or ten acres, ten schools, ten sunrises, or whatever you can imagine and have a knack for.

If that sounds far-fetched, remember that people who are considered worthy (prepared) to take part in that age will be like angels, according to Jesus; and angels are always in charge of something because their will matches God’s. For example, four angels have charge of “the four winds of the earth.” (Rev.7:1)

God doesn’t want to control us; He wants to set us free so He can trust us to do what we want to do. It’s the grandest, most outrageous idea ever. But it isn’t safe or sound until we’re more like God, and what we want to do aligns with what He wants to do.

Therefore, Jesus, the Master of life, is happy to teach us personally. One life at a time, through this partnership, Adam and Eve transform into noble ruler-servants who don’t create the disasters we do today. The day is coming when we really shall not kill, lie, covet, steal, manipulate, consume, or harm. If even Sodom will be restored (Eze. 16:53), nothing is impossible in God’s ongoing adventure with mankind.

If God removed limits, what would you like to be in charge of? What would have to change for you to be trusted with it, and what would you practice to help the change along?