A DISCUSSION ON BODY AND SOUL
The best description we have of God as he actually is can be found in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’:- ‘Everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.’ I had no difficulty in realising that I was made up of a body, even before I learnt the catechism. But trying to understand that I had a soul as well as a body proved to be more difficult and has remained so until today. This is why I decided to have a go at composing this sermon. How can we understand that we are body and soul?
The Bible emphasises this. Let us look at a few examples:-
Joshua called upon the people to ‘love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.’ (Joshua 22: 5)
Jesus told his disciples:- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10: 28)
Jesus also said: - “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22: 37)
Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians wrote: - “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 23) 2
Our senses which make us realise that we are composed of flesh; bone and blood do not help us to accept that there is another element to our existence i.e. a soul. We look at ourselves and each other, we take photographs, and we shake hands and embrace. We cannot see or touch or photograph the soul. The human body is a biological unit to be studied medically, scientifically – it is weighed and measured, x rayed and scanned by ultra sound to see what is beneath the surface. The microscope enables us to see the make up of cells that form our organs, our bones and even the blood in our veins. We have doctors and hospitals to heal our physical bodies when something goes wrong. No camera, x-ray, scan or microscope will show us what the soul looks like. This is also true of what I was taught about God, that he is Spirit. No camera or scanner or artist can illustrate God. A 9 year old girl wrote a letter to God:-
‘Dear God, I have pictures of all the famous people, yours is the only one I don’t have.’
However I’m sure of God’s existence as a powerful, wise and good Creator because of the existence of the universe. I cannot accept that life and the universe came into being by chance without the existence of a Planner with the ability to create. The first edition of ’On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin was completely sold out on the first day of publication, October 24th 1859. Therefore we shall be celebrating the 250th anniversary of this historical, indeed revolutionary publication this year. Although I’m a great fan of Darwin I cannot accept that his theory of evolution is sufficient to answer every question about life in its many and varied forms. Even Darwin himself did not make that claim. As far as I’m concerned accepting a universe without God raises more difficult questions than a universe with God. Also I am totally convinced that the Creator is a loving Father because we can clearly see this in everything that Jesus said and did. Following we have his most important request that we in turn love God, and our neighbours as ourselves. This is absolutely necessary for us to foster and secure every relationship.
In March of last year an important measure was discussed in Parliament – a measure to update the 1990 act which set out the framework for fertility treatments and embryo research. The measure has since been passed. The recommendations were hotly debated, bishops and scientists on either side. The Cabinet was divided like the population at large. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland said that the measure was a vicious attack on human rights and dignity that would lead to Frankenstein experiments. The bishop of Lichfield said that the measure undermined a key part of the Christian Faith, reverence for the 3 human embryo. Lord Winston, an expert in the field accused the Cardinal of lying and being misleading. Professor Colin Blakemore, the former head of the Medical Research Council, denied that the measure would lead to the creation of monsters and that it undermined the sacredness of human life.
Religion, politics, medicine and morality were locked in a fierce debate. The ‘Independent’ newspaper published a striking picture of a human embryo on its front page – a cluster of cells with an underlying question: - ‘Is this a clump of cells? Or a living being with a soul?’ The question is still relevant for us having grown up. Are we simply a cluster of cells that have differentiated to form organs, nerves, blood and bone? Or are we human beings with a soul? The ‘Independent’ said: - ‘It is the dispute that lies at the heart of the controversy over the Embryo Bill and it is as fundamental a difference of opinion as it is possible to imagine.’ This is true, without what I learnt from the catechism when I was a child we would simply be a cluster of cells. Although that catechism went out of use years ago the ‘Times’ newspaper has a weekly section entitled ‘Body & Soul’! Of course it is true that we are physically made up of clusters of cells that relate and co-operate to form a biological physical unit. Saint Paul in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians wrote: - ‘Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.’ (Ch. 12: 14) ‘If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (Ch. 12: 19-21) ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ (Ch. 12: 26) Paul also emphasises that God is responsible for this: - ‘But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.’ (Ch. 12: 18) Once we accept that God is responsible for the evolution of the body it is reasonable for us to accept that there is also a spiritual component to our existence – that we are body and soul.
But what about the soul? What is it? Surprisingly I haven’t come across anyone who doubts its existence.
Julian Baggini, a philosopher defines the soul as the ‘non physical core of ourselves, that bit who makes us who we are or if you like that exists after we die.’
We read in the 116th Psalm, v. 7-8: - ‘Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death,’ 4
James wrote in his letter: - ‘… whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death.’ (Ch. 5: 20)
Some refer to soul as the breath of God within us. It is that which connects us to something more than ourselves. It is the moral and emotional part of human nature. To others it is the source of intellectual and creative energy. The saying ‘soul mate’ is familiar to us, meaning deep, strong, close and enduring friendship. We read in 1st Samuel 18, v. 1: - ‘After David had finishes speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’ This is an excellent definition of ‘soul mate’.
What is the relationship between body and soul? The philosopher Descartes regarded the human body as a material, mechanical, biological unit. The soul is what makes the body conscious of itself as a knowing, thinking individual.
We are indebted to the soul for our relationship to God, for true friendship, for science, poetry, music, art, sculpture and architecture – indeed for our creative gifts. The soul makes us conscious of who we are. It is therefore obvious that the soul is a vitally important element of our makeup. Indeed a body without a soul would not be complete.
John O’Donohue died in January 2008. He was a priest, poet and the author of religious books. His first book was Anam Cara, ‘Soul’s Friend’. In it he emphasised that God was closer to us than our finger tips. Indeed he is the very centre of our being. In his book ‘Benedictus’ he tells us that: - ‘we do not need to go out to find love, rather we need to be still and let love discover us. All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul.’
It is so important that we do not neglect our soul. We must keep it healthy and wide awake so that we may realise who we are, why we are here and what we can achieve in this life and beyond. Our soul is safeguarded by the word that was planted in us at the very beginning of life’s journey – ‘God is love’.
‘Praise the Lord, O my soul.’ I can’t think of a better way to start a new year. AMEN
The various wisdoms and thoughts of William White
read more +
GOD has no denomination –
He enters into no category: Catholic, Protestant, Mohammedan or Jew read more +
NEGATIVE PRINT I clench my fist on tender things,
And close my ears to silent wings,
I purse my lips at taste that’s real,
And bolt my heart on all I feel. read more +
READING: PSALM 103 Do you remember the first things you learnt about your Christian Faith? I was probably 3 or 4 years old when I was taught to say ‘God is love’ before a very well attended morning Service. read more +
A DISCUSSION ON BODY AND SOUL
The best description we have of God as he actually is can be found in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’:- ‘Everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.’ I had no difficulty in realising that I was made up of a body, even before I learnt the catechism. But trying to understand that I had a soul as well as a body proved to be more difficult and has remained so until today. read more +
Trust Him when dark doubts assail you,
Trust Him when your strength is small.
Trust Him when, to simply trust Him
Seems the hardest thing of all. read more +