Archive for May, 2006

Never Mind?

May 11, 2006

I had a conversation the other day with someone who was making the point that we have to use our spirits and not our souls to know things. At one level, I agreed with this person about that. In case you aren’t familiar with the distinction, I should clarify that I run in circles where folks distinguish between a person’s spirit and his/her soul. The distinction is biblically based, although I see no regularity to how different New Testament writers use these two terms in relation to one another. There are a few instances where the two seem to be equated, and there are other instances where they are spoken of as separate things.

Unfortunately, the Greco-Roman roots of our heritage predispose us to think, like Aristotle, in terms of parts or substances when we turn inward to contemplate the age-old question, “What is Man?” So when we think about the difference between soul and spirit, we think about two separate parts or substances of ourselves (which are not so easily separated from one another) in addition to our physical substance (our bodies). In case you’re interested, a person who subdivides human nature into three parts like this is called a “trichotomist.” Aren’t we all glad there’s a name for it!

To illustrate my point, you can check out how some of the greatest writers along this line interpret Hebrews 4:12, where the writer says that the Word of God can penetrate to the division of soul and spirit. Grammatically, this verse simply says that both soul and spirit (i.e. the deepest reaches of our selves) are laid open by the discerning movements of God in our hearts. However, many of my favorite writers have argued at one point or another that this verse teaches that our soul must be separated from our spirit in order for God to do His deeper work in our hearts. Much is made of this separation, and one is left with the impression in the end that our spirits must be active while the rest of ourselves must somehow be uninvolved.

But just try to imagine any meanigful activity within our hearts that does not involve the rest of us. It doesn’t actually work that way. Our minds and our emotions and our wills are involved in every interaction between God’s Spirit and ours. I’m not saying that they are completely indistinguishable; in fact I’d argue (as I have elsewhere before) that it’s important for us to understand some kind of a distinction between our spirits (which are not dependent upon our brains or hormones or other natural faculties) and our souls (which are the product of those things). But believing in a distinction between soul and spirit does not necessitate that we divorce the one from the other as if one were legitimate and the other were not. To do so would unnecessarily restrict life to a fraction of what it should become.

I think our minds, emotions, and wills need to be engaged in our relationships with God and with each other. Personally, I find that if I neglect my mind for long periods of time, I eventually experience a disconnect from which it is difficult to recover. I periodically move into this strange kind of detachment from my own spiritual life, I guess similar to an out of body experience, in which I’m outside of myself looking down upon myself wonder what all the fuss is about. I wonder if anyone else has had a similar problem. What I’m saying is that my mind needs to be engaged in my spiritual life or eventually my spiritual life will grow to become irrelevant to the rest of my life. And that just won’t do.

For the record, I still believe that my spirit is the only thing that can access the things of God. My spirit is made to interact with God’s Spirit, and my spirit is something over and above my natural faculties (intelligence, passions, determination, and senses). I must never conclude that simply because I have engaged my brain or my emotions I have therefore done a spiritual act. But on the other hand, I cannot conceive of a spiritual activity without the necessary involvement of the rest of me.

So I will follow what I believe is the Lord’s guidance into seeking, searching, and questioning things as they arise in my life. I will not suppose that to pursue these things as the drive to do so compels me will somehow draw me away from my spiritual life. On the contrary, I find these things eventually settle me back into the arms of the One that made me a curious person to begin with. He is patient with His children, and He knows what makes us tick. He will use these things to bring us ever closer into the center of Himself.

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