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.
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.