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What Is The Soul?

Updated on March 31, 2013

"What is the soul" is, of course a question that profound thinkers, theologians, and philosophers have attended to since the beginning of souls. We can see and feel our material form, our bodies, but we know 'we' are inside, we know there is some 'self' that is more than the muscle and tissue composition we move around in - we know our bodies are containers. What exactly it is that they contain is, of course, the question. What are we, how do we come by this notion that we are an invisible being inhabiting a material container?

Certainly a recognition that while the body operates as a tactile apparatus, moving us about and handling items in our material world, etc, there is a thinking component, an administrator, a supervisor or director of the body, can be agreed upon. Now, that thinking component could be simply another feature of the material body, the 'operating procedures' feature of the physical system of the body - except, the thinking component doesn't merely operate the body, it contemplates and dreams, it knows fears and hopes, it enjoys fond memories and is anxious about the future, etc. There is something more inside our bodies than merely a headquarters of bodily operations.

A Christian View

My own understanding of 'the soul', what and why it is, I gain from my Christian faith. "Christian faith" means that I accept God's point and purpose in all that is as good and right, my confidence rests not in my own intellectual capacity to discover and comprehend all things, but in God's willingness to reveal to me what He determines to reveal to me. God has given me a good working mind and He calls on me to use reason, so I'm not suggesting that anything I hear from any source asserting to be 'the word of God' I uncritically adopt as my own view - I'm saying that as I consider things, as I collect evidence and examine ideas, I count God to be the authoritative source of real truth . . . so that, if the whole world says 'A', and I've always thought 'A', and 'A' seems the sound thing to me, if God asserts 'B' then I will count 'A' as the way things apparently seem and 'B' as the way things factual are.


Of course the trick to holding this position, as we consider the nature of 'the soul', is that God doesn't explain to us just what the soul is - in fact, what the Bible does talk about is that while man is a union of body, soul, and spirit, man is unable to even distinguish between the soul and the spirit. But God does provide us with some thoughts to consider. In the Genesis account of creation, God reveals these two specifics regarding His creation of man; first, God tells us that "God created man in His own image". Now, we're confident that this is not suggesting that we look like God, that our material form resembles a material, physical divine being. Instead we understand that our likeness to God refers to the fact that we are not merely conscious but are self-aware, that we have a cognitive not just instinctive thinking process, that we can observe, gather, and process information (we see & hear, etc, the world around us and we draw conclusions about what we observe), and that we own a capacity to make real and consequential choices regarding the world we exist in, etc. This all, again, suggests a 'self' beyond or inside the material body we exist in.

"Man Became A Living Soul"

Next, Genesis gets a bit more specific, telling us "the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul". For me, this passage sets-up my general understanding of what the soul is. "Formed from the dust" suggests to me the material stuff of our physical body - part of what we are is material existence. The word "breathed" of "breathed into" is the very word often used in Scripture for 'spirit', so I take this phrase to suggest that God's own Spirit is what imparted life into our body - part of what we are is living spirit. The "became a living soul" is, of course, the telling statement . . . it seems to me God is here telling us that, when a material form is brought to life by a living spirit, the union of material & spirit, body & life, the visible & the invisible, that merger, or fusion, creates the unified being we call 'a soul'. Because man is not merely an instinctively functioning body (like a rose or a trout) and is not exclusively a disembodied life-force, but can observe and process information (see & hear, etc) and has consciousness of his existence and owns a capacity of free volition, because of these distinct but united together features, man is not just a functioning body and not just a dynamic spirit - man is a living soul.


Now, for me, this raises a very compelling question; does God have a soul? God identifies Himself as the invisible God, the infinite and eternal spirit not contained in a material body - yet, in the fullness of time, God took upon Himself human form, He was born of a woman, begotten in the flesh. When God stepped out of eternity, into His creation, and became the man Jesus of Nazareth, did the very nature of God change . . ? . . when the Spirit of God united with a material body in the person of Jesus, did God become a living soul? The Bible tells us that one of the defining features that makes God the God that He is, is that He is unchanging - but did God so love the world that He stepped out of His eternality and into time in such a manner that He, in time, altered His own eternal nature?

A Cautionary Conclusion

I know we cannot answer this question and I don't think we should fiddle with the idea too much at all - my point in even raising the question in my own mind and sharing it here with you is that we ponder the wonder of what God did in taking upon Himself human nature to save His people from our own corruption . . . that we contemplate from time to time that great step that God took to rescue us from our rebellion against Him. We can't know exactly what that step was and how great a step it was, we can't know the nature or consequence of that most remarkable step, but we can adore, worship, and thank Him for taking it.

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    • prey profile image

      prey 

      6 years ago from places you should hope we never meet

      kisses I'm gone but keeping prey for fun

      hugs too

    • profile image

      Sueswan 

      6 years ago

      Hi Mickeysr.

      "There is something more inside our bodies than merely a headquarters of bodily operations."

      If we are made in God's image then I would say he has a soul.

      Voted up and awesome.

      Take care :)

    • profile image

      David Petersen 

      6 years ago

      Good reading your thoughts on the soul. Like many others, I wonder at an amazing thing. Even more amazing is that God choose us to be in an awesome relationship.

    • MickeySr profile imageAUTHOR

      MickeySr 

      6 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      Julianna,

      I can't thank you enough for giving such attention to this, I really appreciate it . . . and the vote and sharing as well. May I ask you; I sometimes fear my writing is not very accessible . . . I write just like I talk, I can't figure any other way to write, but I'm not sure if I'm concerned that I get too far out there, too deep, or too abstract, or just too wordy and confusing, but I sometimes feel I get too something. Do you regularly see anything glaring in my 'voice' that might hinder people from even considering giving their time to my stuff?

      (I know I ask your council too easily and frequently, but I trust you'll be straight and I respect your view)

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 

      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I had to take my time when I read this hub just so I could grasp all that you were saying. Our soul is immortal and the Bible does not clearly explain what a soul is. This hub is clearly understandable if everyone who reads it, takes the time to grasp what you are saying then I would not foresee any arguments. Voted and shared! :)

    • HeadlyvonNoggin profile image

      Jeremy Christian 

      6 years ago from Texas

      I have an alternate take that I've been discussing with various people during my time here on HP. I had considered asking you after reading some of your stuff as I felt you might have some interesting insight. This hub actually treads relevant territory.

      For as long as I can remember I've been trying to reconcile my faith in God and my fascination with science. A little over a year ago I had a kind of revelation that made a lot more sense to me than the 'traditional' view. This is the bit that first sparked it...

      Gen 6:1-3 ...

      1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the 'sons of God' saw that the 'daughters of humans' were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

      Now I've heard many interpretations of what that means, but none that felt right to me. This statement that humans are mortal and only live 120 years comes just one chapter after showing that Adam and his descendants lived for centuries. This to me means that Adam and his bloodline were something more than mortal, and something separate from mere humans, meaning other humans were on the earth during Adam's time. This would help explain the 'others' that Cain feared in Gen 4.

      I believe the humans created in Genesis 1 were early humans (homo habilis, erectus, neanderthalensis, sapien). Early humans did exactly what the humans in chapter 1 were told to do. They populated the planet, subdued it, and established themselves as the dominant species in the animal kingdom globally, all by 10,000 BC.

      Then Gen 2 gets much more specific. While the humans in Gen 1 were told exactly what to do, and did exactly what they were told, Adam was only told what not to do. If early humans had the same free will as Adam they never would have accomplished what God commanded of them, just as the rest of the bible illustrates. This is why I believe Adam was not the first human, but rather was the introduction of free will into an already populated world.

      Gen 6 states that God's spirit 'will not contend with humans forever'. Subsequent chapters illustrate a gradual decrease in lifespans. Then the story shifts its focus to a particular bloodline.

      These specific chosen people are given 613 laws that all have to do with keeping what's referred to as the 'holy seed' in Ezra 9 pure. Specific laws that detail how close to keep procreation in the family without getting too close. What foods to eat. That sort of thing.

      Through the old testament, only children of Israel are referred to as 'God's sons'. Like in the message God conveyed to the Pharaoh of Egypt through Moses, or in the message God conveyed to David through a prophet.

      Luke 3, new testament but before Jesus' crucifixion, everyone from Joseph all the way back to Adam are referred to as 'sons of God' by way of their forefathers.

      But, after the crucifixion...

      John 1:12 – But as many as received him [Jesus Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.

      Romans 8:14 – For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

      1 John 3:1 – Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.

      This, in my mind, gives themes found throughout the bible regarding the flesh being of the earth and weak, and the idea of a holy spirit, more weight. This also helps explain the flood, why God would find it necessary to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the exodus, the 40 years in the desert, all of that. These were actions to protect the chosen bloodline that Jesus would ultimately come from.

      I only have 2 hubs so far, and both are about this, if you'd like more detail. One illustrates how Gen 1 accurately describes the history of the earth with a from the surface perspective, the second more details this idea.

      Anyway, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 

      6 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Excellent hub, MickeySr! Voted up, interesting, and beautiful. I'd have clicked 'awesome' but that's reserved for Father! Hey, great photo view of the disappearance of unnecessary hair! I can identify with it. Have a great day!

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