My earliest concept of the human soul was framed by my first grade teacher, Sister Bernadette Marie.
I remember visualizing the soul as an actual entity, like a spirit or apparition. When we were behaving and free from sin, our soul was pure, white. But when we did something wrong, we added a stain on our souls. Creating black marks, blemishes on eternal life.
As we prepared for confession at the age of eight, we were taught the power of confession. And forgiveness. How we could take our soul in for a wash and come out sparkling white again, no matter how dirty we had gotten.
In some ways, my soul became a scorecard. The place where God kept track of my sins, and where Jesus would apply his loving eraser.
And when we died, our souls would live on… in heaven or hell… depending on how it looked on our final day.
At least that’s what I remember.
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Spending some time this week before God, I am trying to focus on my soul… to love God with all of my soul. And it doesn’t quite feel like a scorecard.
One student of the bible writes, “Quite often in everyday language, men get it right about the soul, whereas Theologians miss the mark. Such expressions as.... ‘the poor old soul’... or ‘hundreds of souls perished’ readily convey in the true sense that the reference is to people.
The author continues, noting that the international distress signal, SOS, which some translate as SAVE OUR SOULS, is not a plea to rescue something which is invisible or intangible, but rather to rescue the whole being—that those concerned might hold on to life and be restored alive to loved ones.
Wikepedia also notes that definitions vary within Christian circles.
Other Christians reject the idea of the immortality of the soul, citing the Apostles' Creed's reference to the "resurrection of the body" (the Greek word for body is soma σωμα, which implies the whole person, not sarx σαρξ, the term for flesh or corpse). They consider the soul to be the life force, which ends in death and is restored in the resurrection. Theologian Frederick Buechner sums up this position in his 1973 book Whistling in the Dark: "...we go to our graves as dead as a doornail and are given our lives back again by God (i.e., resurrected) just as we were given them by God in the first place.
Hmmm. More to follow…