For the past couple of days, we've been looking at the body as an object of theology - it is through-and-through a unique part of our creation, specifically ours, knit together just for us by the God who knew us in our mother's womb. But of course, we know that we are not just a body; we are also a spirit and a soul.
You may be so used to hearing these words used interchangeably that it's tempting to believe they are basically the same thing, that it's just a matter of which word you prefer to use. But that's not true. They are quite different things, and it is important to our understanding of both self and God to recognize how.
A member of my congregation recently asked this question, by the way, and our pastor gave a thorough and helpful response to it. It was a response with which I do not disagree and, in fact, mirrors much of my own thinking on the subject, but I will lay it out in a slightly different way here.
Our body, that unique part of our creation that is physical, is the way that we interact with the physical world. It's what God has given us to situate us in space and time. It is through our bodies that we move and breathe and speak and touch and sing and eat and drink and encounter our world and each other.
Our soul is the unique part of our creation that is personal. It's what God has given us to make our hearts beat. Our soul is our passion, our affection, our attitude, our curiosity; it is the very nature of who we are as a being. Our soul defines us in a way that our body does not. You might talk about someone having brown hair or blue eyes when you talk about the body, but when you talk about the soul, you talk about her being artistic or him being affectionate. Our soul is our personality, to put it most simply. It is our love, our energy, our essence. It's the soul that we're hoping everyone talks about at our funeral, our soul that we're hoping to put on full display with our lives.
Our spirit is the unique part of our creation that is spiritual. It's the part of God that dwells inside of us. In part, yes, it's the part of us that enables us to worship, but it's much more even than that. It's the part of us that bears most the image and the heart of God. Our spirit is actually...His.
When God formed the first man from the dust, He formed a body - a physical creation. He put into it a soul - a personal creation that made the dust into Adam's dust. And then He breathed into it a Spirit, His Spirit - a spiritual creation that made the Adam dust His.
So when we talk about what the difference is between a soul and a spirit, a quick response is simply to say that my soul is me and my Spirit is Him. Together, they make me a being created in the image of God in my body.
That's why when Hebrews said that the Word separates even unto soul and spirit, it means something. It means that the Word of God separates who I am from the Spirit God has given me. In other words, it convicts me in the places where my passion, my fire, my attitude, my personality have run amok and reminds me that I am not God; He is not me; but He is, and I am His. The Word sets us back as we were created by setting our souls right before our Spirit.
It is, of course, more complicated than such a simple explanation makes it seem, but this is enough to get you started thinking about some of these ideas. And think, you should, because it's really a neat concept to consider. God has the coolest ideas.