Mere Humanity: We Must Care for Soul and Body
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body,” George MacDonald once said. The literary master, at this point, was simply theologically wrong. We are both our body and our soul.
We don’t have a body any more than we don’t have a soul. We are both. It’s who we are. Our body and our soul is us. That’s what it means to be human.
That’s why all our problems cannot be reduced to the spiritual. There are physical realities as well. And these physical realities are not circumstantial, accidental, or incidental, but central to God’s design.
You Are More Not Less Than Your Body
You are more, not less, than your physical body. Any philosophy that reduces humans to purely spiritual beings misses the biblical description of what it means to be human. To be human is to be both body and soul.
This forms the basis of the greatest command, does it not? We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul. You can burst a blood vessel in your brain trying to categorize which parts of this command are physical and which are spiritual due to the poetic nature of how the Hebrews described the whole person. The point is simple enough though, we are to love God with all of our being. That includes the soul and the body.
Saint Augustine describes the relationship between the soul and the body this way:
“We are composites of soul and body . . . If we should define a human being such that a human being is a rational substance consisting of soul and body, there is no doubt that a human being has a soul which is not the body and has a body which is not the soul’.”
So, what are you? Who are you? You are body and soul. You are a human. Just like everyone else. Don’t reduce life, or spiritual growth, or ministry, to one or the other.
We Must Care for Both
Why does this matter? It matters because we have to care for ourselves as whole persons and care for others as whole persons. We cannot reduce ourselves or others, the lives they lead, the issues they face, to one category or the other. We are both physical and spiritual. Our issues are both physical and spiritual.
To tell someone that they have no physical problems, only spiritual ones, is like what James described in the New Testament as telling people to be warm and well-fed but offering them no real clothing or food. We must care for ourselves and others by addressing our physical and spiritual needs. This is not a choice between one or the other in Scripture. To the extent that people make it a choice, they are moving beyond biblical categories.
This is the way God created us and it is the way he cares for us. He meets our physical and spiritual needs. C.S. Lewis reminds us of this in Mere Christianity, “God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this is rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
God made humans to love him body and soul, to live in his presence with his provision. In Eden, before the fall, we saw a picture of what it looks like to really be human. But now we live in a fallen world, with fallen bodies. Through Christ our souls can be redeemed and progressively conformed into the image of Christ. But this doesn’t happen in some detached, ethereal, disembodied way.
Living and Longing for New Bodies
One day God will give us new bodies that no longer suffer from the effects of sin, our own and that of others. One day there will be no genetic disorders. One day there will be no hereditary predispositions. One day there will be no more memories of abuses done to the body. One day there will be no eating disorders. One day there will be no addiction. One day there will be no anxiety. One day there will be no depression. One day.
But until then, let us encourage one another, as humans with bodies and souls, with all of our complexities, with all of our brokenness, to seek to press on towards the great command of loving God with all of our being. Let’s not treat each other as less than human or adopt ministry approaches that deny fundamental aspects of our humanity.
Let’s not reduce our issues to the physical or the spiritual. We are both. In eternity, with a new body, we will still be both. We are human, body and soul. And what God has joined together, let not man separate.
I write more on this topic of what it looks like to live in a fallen world in my book Life in the Wild.
Life in the Wild: Fighting for Faith in a Fallen World came out last week! I could use any help that friends and family want to offer in helping to promote the book this week on social media. Here’s an update you could copy/paste into Facebook or Twitter if you are so inclined:
Check out this new book “Life in the Wild: Fighting for Faith in a Fallen World” by my friend @dandewitt (amzn.to/2DGRuhu)