During my talk last Sunday I considered a few theological cans of worms that Mark opens up in Chapter 8, including the soul. I’m very much an amateur Bible languages nerd, but I did recently do 15 hours of Hellenistic Greek over a week at the Kinsler Institute with Dr. Bill Richards and a six hour Old Testament Overview Day Retreat in which Dr. Jim Getz sprinkled in some Hebrew and Aramaic. Thinking about life and the soul got me deep into the Blue Letter Bible to see what Mark is trying to convey about what Jesus may have meant when talking about life and the soul in Chapter 8:34-38.
Life and the soul…are they different? How did Jesus mean it? How does the Holy Spirit want to use our musings about it? I think a lot people would take “life” here to mean either simply the state of not being dead yet, or (going a little deeper) our intentions according to what we’re discipling ourselves to (a way of life, etc). “Soul” probably means the part that lives on after we die. I’m not so sure that they are different, and I’m not so sure Jesus was talking about the Sweet By-and-By.
Unfortunately, I think the film Ghost (trailer here) explains our basic (dominant US American, aka mainstream) cultural understanding of what the soul is. While I don’t think I’ve ever watched the film without crying, it teaches some weird stuff; like after we die our spirit walks around wearing the clothes that we died in. It also teaches that your soul is the part of you that never dies and that sooner or later your translucent self gets dragged away by scary animated shadows with scary music, or the light beams as you walk towards the violin remix of Unchained Melody. I think this is nice and simple and all, just not really from Jesus via the Gospel of Mark.
People have considered what the soul means for a long time. The big-time Greek philosophers still influence our thinking – and definitely the Church’s after Jesus. Christians over the centuries have argued over ideas like “soul sleep,” “soul death,” or the “immortal soul.” I want to share something I’m learning from Jesus in Mark to hopefully help us relate, not just debate.
The Shema and the Great Commandments help guide my thinking. After all, out of the three NT Greek words to describe life (zoe, bios, psyche) we translate the same word psyche to mean both life and soul in the above passage. Here are a few poetic definitions that I pulled from around the internet dictionaries about the soul: It is our inner being, the immaterial breath of life, the activity of the will or mind, the seat of emotions and passions, the vital force animating the body and showing itself in breathing, or an essence which can differ from the body and may not be dissolved in death.
I think we understand it most simply when considering what sucks our souls. What sucks your soul? What postures, circumstances, behaviors, or attitudes would you describe as soul-crushing? We rattled off a few the other night. For me, impersonal and/or indirect criticism jumps out. So did doing math homework when I did not understand why I was doing it.
If we can understand how our soul gets depleted, we are on the way to understand how to plete it…wait, that’s not a word…how to keep it healthy and full. We all know some behaviors, postures, attitudes, practices, disciplines, and habits that build our souls. Let’s share stories about them.
I think Jesus said that your soul will get depleted. Do you want to ultimately drain it way down by following unhealthy non-harmonious impulses or will you walk with him into abundant life and eternity? What ephemera, what fleeting satisfaction, what flare up, what power, what lifestyle would be worth losing your basic inner health?
Following Jesus means getting depleted and filling up. He makes a way to lose your life and turn it into abundant health. It’s the kind of life that begins now and stretches forward. We get tempted to make it about eternity only, like the pious and affluent man in Mark 10 looking for how to inherit eternal life (zoe). Jesus tells him to redistribute his money and then follow him. Soul health may be a lot simpler than we want it to be, and a lot closer. How is your soul being spent and replenished on your Lenten journey?