[This post is in a weekly devotional series called Everything New. Sign up here if you’re interested.]
So there is one person, with two aspects, but with many functions. Here is where we get a refined view of who we really are. The rich biblical vocabulary about human nature describes the dynamics of our inner life as being made in the image of God. Some passages describe our inner functions, and others emphasize a truth about what we are like.
The biblical word mind refers to the inner life, especially emphasizing our rational, cognitive, intellectual capabilities (Rom. 7:25; Col. 2:18). Heart (Rom.10:6, 8-10, for instance) refers to the deep, inner core of our lives, where opinions and beliefs are formed, where we sense right and wrong, and where our love is centered. The Old and New Testament use of heart (unlike the English use which sometimes refers just to emotion) is inclusive of thought, emotion, and will. Just look for the word “heart” in some of the Psalms sometime, and you will see how Scripture points us to the core so that we will understand the deep place where our very selves are shaped. Will refers to the faculty of choice (Lk.22:42), and spirit is the word used to describe how human beings, unlike dogs and cats, salamanders and oak trees, are persons, made in the image of God, possessing morality, consciousness, creativity, and other godlike characteristics. And soul refers to the human person animated by the living power of God.
None of these are “parts” of the human being. One can no more separate human nature into different components than one can view the attributes of God as the constituent parts of his being.
So if someone were to ask you, “Who are you, really?” a biblical answer would be, “I am part of God’s creation, and I belong to a species that was uniquely shaped to bear the likeness of God. That is why have a sense of ought and ought not, and why I hope to grow in selfless love. That is why I am able to speak to others, why I imagine things that could be, and it is why I worship. I am a creature made of clay. I have a body that processes thousands of responses and reactions an hour, but that is also easily injured and made sick. One day this body will again become the dust of which it was made. But I also am spirit and soul. Inside there is a self-conscious, self-willing spiritual center. At this heart of myself I am constantly combining the thoughts that come to me from the outside, the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to me, and the things I’m telling myself. But mixed in there are also selfish and wicked motives that come from the inner spiritual fractures I was born with and which are amplified by external temptations.”
The biblical answer is not that I am a spirit trapped in a body, and one day when that body dies my true self will be liberated to coalesce with an eternal Spirit. (Those who have believed that over the centuries have thought that the spiritual self is the only true self and the body, like the rest of the physical universe, is a mass of troublesome dirt. This view holds that our spirits are sparks separated from the Divine Fire, that we bear in ourselves a bit of divinity. It also negates the value of God’s creation of physical things.)
No, I am not destined to become a ghost. Nor will I discover one day that I was God all along.
The soul is not, as some have proposed, a dreamy combination of commonly held feelings, thoughts, images, symbols, and memories that have produced the merely cultural phenomena of religions, myths, fantasies, and fairy tales. This view sees human beings as animals who have very vivid dreams and like to share them with each other.
No, the Bible depicts us as creatures almost too good to be true. And that makes the reality of sin and wickedness in our thoughts and deeds the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen.
Excerpt from Putting the Pieces Back Together: How Real Life and Real Faith Connect. Free DVD available now.