By Hannah Thuku Kolehmainen, Ph.D.
“Jesus saved my soul,” we claim. “Bless your soul,” they say. “He’s a wretched soul,” we might accuse.
What on earth is a soul, anyway? The basic understanding of it is a life, for example, we might read that ten souls perished in the inferno. Beyond that is a deeper, seemingly mysterious definition. Asking many Christians what their soul is leaves them stammering for answers and scratching their heads. Welcome to a clear and concise description of it. In this article I will define the soul scripturally, I will unfold the premise of the soul, and then tackle our calling to align it with God.
Understanding your soul can dramatically transform you and how God works in your life. We must grasp it so as to comprehend what we are in essence. Numerous Bible passages refer to the soul. 1 Peter 1:9 claims that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls. Peter refers to Jesus as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls in 1 Peter 2:25. Jesus admonished, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Matthew 10:28.)
To understand the soul, let’s pan out to the greatest commandment, upon which all others hinge, based on Deuteronomy 6:5.
When asked, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Defining the Soul
Western culture views the heart as the center of emotions, the soul as entirely fuzzy and best sidestepped, and the mind as the brain. How does Scripture define these terms? Review God’s greatest command. To love Him is our top calling. We are to do so with 3 aspects of our being: the whole heart, the whole soul, and the whole mind. Unraveling these concepts is a feast! Let’s use Strong’s Bible Dictionary to guide us.
- The heart, kardia, is the center of all physical and spiritual life; the fountain and seat of the passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors. It is the faculty and seat of intelligence, the will, and character. It encompasses our emotions.
- The soul, psuche, is the breeze or breath of life that animates men and animals. Furthermore, it is the seat of feelings, desires, affections. It is the heart. It is a moral being designed for everlasting life and is not dissolved upon death.
- The mind, dianoia, is the faculty of thinking, understanding, imagining, feeling, and desiring.
Note how tightly woven this trifecta is. Just as God started the greatest commandment in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one,” the heart, soul, and mind are one and the same thing at their core. This is where the mic drops! It is so simple. It is so deep.
The scriptural outlook is much meatier than our western view. Heart, soul, and mind are synonymous with each other. We can define any one of them as the will, the intellect, and the emotions. I use the simple acronym W.I.E. to remember them. Are you ready for the second mic drop? God has a soul too. He has a will, an intellect, and emotions. Animals also have a soul and it is easy to see these three aspects of the soul in various animals, especially those higher up in the animal kingdom.
Unfolding the Soul
In this section, we will explore the three aspects of the soul – the will, the intellect, and the emotions. View the article titled The Senses as the Gateway to the Soul.
- The will.
The Google dictionary defines the will as the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action. Other words to describe it include resolve, determination, purpose, motivation, and drive.
- The Intellect
In this context, I refer to the intellect as executive brain function. Click here for my list of the various intellectual elements. Can you think of any that I missed? Please email them to me or note them in the comments section. As you reflect on these, you see that God also has an intellect, as do many animals.
Elements of Executive Brain Function
Planning/organizing (short, mid, and long term)
Accomplishing a task: initiating, maintaining, and terminating
Logic and reason
learning – processing, comprehending information
Memory – storing, and/or retrieving information
Inhibition and the capacity to resist temptation
Empathy for people and animals
Culturally-specific social appropriateness
Motivation (anticipation, desire, drive)
Judgement/discernment – hindsight, insight, and foresight
Abstract concepts (the ability to make a leap from the symbolic to the real world)
Understanding different points of view
organizing – categorizing, generalizing, discriminating, grouping
- The Emotions
Emotions refer to feelings or sentiments. They are a natural instinctive state of mind based on one’s circumstances. Numerous emotions wheels have been developed. Click here for one of my favorites: Emotions Wheel : Glenn Trigg. You can also download one for yourself from that site.
Aligning the soul with God
Our goal then becomes to align your soul with God’s soul. He is as the docking station my Roomba vacuum cleaner docks itself to when it is done cleaning. Better yet, he is our true North to which we are to orient ourselves moment by moment. Consider your will. How driven are you? What motivates you? How does that align with God? He desires for us to live passionately driven lives for his purposes. What is your purpose? What are you pouring your short life into (and it is short even if you live to be 130 years old)?
Next, peruse the intellectual functions again. Pick five and compare them in your life to the same function in God’s life. What am I constantly focusing on? Am I paying attention to what he is paying attention to? Is my humor aligned with his? Am I submitting my plans to his plans as disclosed in Scripture? Is my imagination pleasing him? Are my priorities in line with his? How am I faring in the area of judgment?
Now behold the emotions. Do I respond emotionally as he does? Am I happy and celebrating what makes him happy and celebrate? Does what makes him angry make me angry? Again, pick five items off the emotions wheel to study. Ask him to reveal how yours line up with his. Are you filled with his joy and peace?
In closing, look again at the greatest commandment to love him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Consider that to “love is to welcome.” From this regard, welcome his will and bend yours to fit his. Welcome his intellect and mold yours to his. Welcome his emotions and yield yours to his. What a fantastic and grand calling. To do so is to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16) – truly sanctified meaning, set apart. Then we can say with John, “herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world!” 1 John 4:17.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23
I’d love your feedback on this material. Is this new information or were you familiar with it? Please share this article with a friend or with your pastor. Blessings!