How does one describe something that cannot be seen, cannot be touched, makes no sounds, and yet is said by some to be a part of every human being that ever existed? What is this “something?” This something is called our soul!
I believe I was near a soul once. While working in a hospice unit and giving a patient his bath, something strange happened. I had to turn him on his left side for about three minutes. The patient had always been lucid and talkative, but he became very quiet. When I turned him back, he was smiling. He said, “It was really nice looking down on you as you worked. The sky was so blue. I enjoyed every minute of it.” Two days later my patient died and I believe he died for a few minutes the day I took care of him. While I did not see anything, I truly believe his soul had left his body for a few minutes.
Let us go searching and try to find out what this “soul” is all about. First, let us go back in history, second let us review the Bible and then after these investigations, we need to know what our modern-day world has decided about the meaning of “soul.”
The earliest known mention that I can find about the soul appears in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc (pg 1083). Supposedly around 1380BC, a list of Aran gods was formed between the Hittite emperor and the king of Mitanni. At this time there were many gods. Then around 1083 BC, a reformer came along named Zoroaster. Zoroaster was a wise priest of that area that founded the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. While Zoroastrianism did have many gods, “it does represent and original attempt at unifying … one supreme god,” In Zoroastrianism we find a fight between good and evil and man’s free choice. And we find in this belief that because man has a “capacity of free choice, he does so with his soul and body.” In history, the word “soul” seems to come alive.
Time marchers on and we find in Search for the Soul, Search of the Unknown, “a balding and venerable philosopher…Socrates”. The year is 399BC in Athens and we find Socrates is condemned to death. His community thought he was corrupting the youth with his philosophy of life. On the day he was to die, it states “a young Athenian aristocrat named Plato” listened to Socrates. Socrates talked about an afterlife and was “convinced that death was just the release of the soul from the chains of the body.” Thus the existence of a soul began to surface again and Plato ran with it. According to the article, “Plato…taught his disciples mathematics and the natural sciences—but philosophy, including arguments for the immortal soul—was the centerpiece of study.”
Plato had opposition from his former student, Aristotle. Aristotle’s belief was that everything living has a soul--trees, animals, etc. His philosophy “sees the body and soul as one.” At first, the existence of a soul was just part of a religion. Even today, as in the time of Plato and Aristotle, confusion exits. The Bible, that is said to be the most published and read book in the world, may have an answer. Let’s check.
In the Old Testament in Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” So here we have an inanimate form that comes to life because God wills it. Here are two separate parts, the clay form of a body and the separate form, the invisible breath of God that makes that form alive. Is that breath of life also our soul?
In The Dictionary of the Bible, many references are taken from the Old Testament that denotes the separation of the soul from the body.
1. In the Bible, Wisdom 3:1, “but the souls of the just are in the had of the Lord, and not torment shall touch them.” This verse does touch upon the after life, as these souls were those of martyrs.
2. In 1Kings17: 2, Elijah prays, “…O Lord, my God let the life breath return to the body of this child.”
3. In Ezekiel 18: 20, “only the one who sins shall die.”
Again in Dictionary of the Bible, we find specific references taken from the New Testament.
1. In Luke12: 22-23, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you wear. For life is more than food and body more that clothing.’ Is not Christ speaking of the soul in heaven after death?
2. In Matthew16: 25-26 we find these strong words of Jesus, “For whoever wished to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life.”
3. In Mark8: 36 we find, “what profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
4. The strongest words come from John12: 25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
While it seems perfectly clear after reading ancient history, and the excerpts from the Bible concerning the resurrection of Christ in regard to our soul, one would think that the belief in a soul existing after death would be no problem. However confusion exists.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language describes the soul as, “the principle of life, feeling thought, and actions in man, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body…the spiritual part of man as distinct from the physical.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “in sacred scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, which is of greater value to him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man.”
A summary of the early beliefs and from the Bible of events that truly happened, one might state, “It is evident that we have a soul!” However, the search for the meaning of the soul is still up in the air. In Newsweek: “Body and Soul-Far from Heaven,” the article states a belief in a soul that “after death a soul returns to earth in another body.” Is this what the present day scholars call immortality of the soul? Would Socrates laugh? What would Plato say? What about the writers of the New Testament? These questions are still one of the biggest faith issues of our day just as they were centuries ago. However, there is some good news.
In articles in Newsweek, “Science finds God” and “How the Heavens Go,” we find that after centuries of debate over the essence of the material body, and the question of the existence of a its soul after death, is being looked at through a strong microscope. And at last, “religion and science are beginning to talk,” to each other. The article tells us that scientists, after trying to duplicate a world and man by their own hands and failing, are beginning to believe that the world did not just happen and that there may be a higher power. Also, Pope John Paul II, when studying evolution “endorses evolution as part of God’s master plan.” Here two great powers are coming together. I have my own thoughts.
The experience I had years ago is still strong in my memory! While I could not see it, I believe my patient’s soul left his body. My soul-searching is over and I believe we all have souls. While the existence of one’s soul is truly accepted by many today who have faith in God, there will always be those who are soul-searching.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. “Zoroastrianism and Parsiism. ” The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol.29, fifth Edition, Printed in USA, Vol.29 Pge1083.
Russell B. Adams “Mysteries of the Unknown.” Search for the Soul, Time-Life Books Inc.1989, Pgs, 42+50.
Stephen J. Hartdegen O.F.M., S.S.L. and Christian P. Ceroke S.T.D. “Genesis 2:7” The New American Bible, The Catholic World Press, November 7, 2000.
John L. McKenzie, S.J. “Soul,” Dictionary of the Bible. A Touchtone Book published by Simon and Schuster. 1995. Pg836-839.
Jess Stein (Editor in Chief), “Soul.” The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Random House Inc. 1969, Pg. 1359.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Imprimi Potest). “Soul (No. 363)” The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Liguori Publications, 1994. Pg. 93.
Liza Miller. “Body and Soul--Far from Heaven.” Newsweek. Newsweek Inc. New York, NY. April 5, 2010. Pgs 55-57.
Sharon Begley. “Science Finds God,” Newsweek. Newsweek Inc. New York. NY,July 20. 1998. Pgs 96-51.
Copyright 2011 Deloris T. Sambol