We were talking in our last few letters about the unity which is man, how God created man with body, soul, and spirit, and yet in such a way that man constitutes a marvelous whole, the parts of which cannot be separated from each other, and with each part functioning together. We pointed out ways in which the life of the body affects man in his soul and how the soul of man affects his body. We talked also about how the fundamental relationship in which man stands is his relationship to God, for man possesses a spirit and by this spirit he stands in an inescapable relation to his Creator.
We have to discuss this somewhat more in detail in this and the following letters. It may seem as if all this takes us somewhat far away from the practical aspects of pastoral work, but it is well that we lay a good foundation first; for only in the laying of a solid foundation will it be possible to erect a sturdy structure which will be of value to you in your labors as pastor among those who have pastoral problems.
We must say, first of all, a few words about the body more specifically than we have up to this point.
It is not of interest to us for the moment to enter into a detailed discussion of the physiology of the body or even of the nervous system which is our main concern here. There are others who are more qualified to discuss this from a technical point of view than I am; but it is not immediately important as far as our discussion is concerned. We must keep before us- our interest in the relation between the body and the soul.
I mentioned in a previous letter that the soul of man is the seat of all man’s thinking and willing. It is in the soul that God has set the mind and the will. But this mind and will cannot function apart from the body. The soul has the potential for thinking and willing, but unless it has “material” with which to work, it will not be capable of acting. In some respects there is an analogy here between the soul and the eye, e.g. The eye may have the potential for seeing, but unless there is something to see, the eye cannot function. Put a person in a totally dark place and the eye cannot function at all. So it is with the soul.
And so God has created the body and soul in such close relationship that there are “doorways” to the soul which are present in the body. These doorways are the five senses of the body: the eye, the ear, the sense of taste, of touch, of smell. These doorways of the body are the means through which the things of the outside world pass into the soul.
There are a couple of truths here which we ought to stop to notice. In the first place, each sense shows us only a certain part of a particular creature in God’s creation. If, e.g., we are examining a rose, the sense of smell would give us only the odor of the rose; the sense of touch would give us only the feeling of velvet texture of the petals and the general shape of the flower; the sense of taste, if we would put part of it into our mouths, would give us only what the petals tasted like; the sense of sound, in this case, would be very little because the rose itself gives forth no noise; the sense of sight would tell us the color, shape, size, etc. of the rose. But, although each sense gives us only a certain aspect of the whole rose, our minds are able to put all these different things together and give us a complete picture of what that rose is which God created.
Now there are two problems which arise in this connection which have long been disputed by philosophy. These problems are: 1) How can we be sure that our senses give us an accurate idea of what that rose really is? and, 2) Is there perhaps something about that rose which we can never know because our senses are not adapted to learning it? This latter question especially is an important one in our day, although from a slightly different viewpoint. You know that there is a lot of talk going Around nowadays about extrasensory perception, a certain “sixth sense,” certain powers which people have which are not explainable in terms of the knowledge which we receive from the senses. These people are supposed to have a certain sense perception which goes beyond the powers of our five senses and which gives to people power to know what is happening far away from them, what will happen in the future, what certain cards of a deck are before they can actually see them, etc.
Although these two problems may have troubled philosophers over the centuries, they really ought not to trouble the child of God; We believe, and must believe, that the whole of God’s creation is available to us through the five senses, that there is no other way to know the things of the creation except through the five senses, and that our senses give to us an accurate and complete knowledge of all that God has revealed in His creation.
The key word here is, “revealed.” We believe, on the basis of Scripture, that God reveals Himself to man. We believe that the Christian is able to know God both through the creation which His hands have made and through the Scriptures which He caused to be written by the Holy Spirit. And because God reveals Himself through all these things, we may also believe that man is created in such a way that He can indeed know the creation and the Scriptures with the senses which God gave Him. It would be foolish for God to create things in this world which reveal Him to man but which are unavailable to man because man’s senses cannot “reach” them. That would defeat the whole purpose of the creation as the revelation of God to man. Supposing, e.g., that I wanted to tell my dog something about a new baby which was born into our family. Supposing also that I knew that the dog could not distinguish between different colors. I do not know whether a dog can tell the difference between colors, but supposing for the sake of the illustration that it could not. I wanted to give that dog some information about the new baby by means of a photograph. It would be foolish of me to be careful that the photograph contained the right colors of the baby’s hair and eyes if the dog could not distinguish between them anyway. A simple black and white photograph would be sufficient. So it would be foolish for God to put into the creation certain things which we could not even perceive with our senses.
We must, therefore, on the basis of the truth of revelation, conclude that we can, with our senses, gain an accurate and complete idea of what God’s creation is like. .And we must not believe all this nonsense that there is a certain aspect to the creation, a certain “sixth side,” a certain other facet which can be known only by people who have a sixth sense or some extrasensory perception of one sort or another. It is not impossible, of course, when people give themselves over to the power of Satan, that Satan can give to people certain powers which seem to us extraordinary. But this is something else, something which lies beyond our discussion.
Now the reason why this needs to be emphasized is that all our knowledge of God comes through revelation. God does not put some knowledge into the hearts of His people automatically, directly, immediately, from within. He never works that way. There are certain mystics in the Church (and they always have been present in the Church) who believe this. They speak of direct revelation, inner light, a subjective knowledge of God which comes to man directly and from within and is completely apart from objective revelation. But we must not believe any of that stuff. All the knowledge of God that we have comes to us through the things which He has created.
This is, of course, true also of the Scriptures which are the central way in which we know God. Scripture is a book, a part of this creation, a creature also which we see with our eyes and handle with our hands. In fact that is just the point which the apostle John makes concerning Christ Himself: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you . . .” (I John 1:1-3).
All of the knowledge of God which we have, therefore, comes to us through the revelation of God. And this revelation comes to us through our five senses. This is why we often speak of the preaching as the gospel for our ears, and the sacraments as the gospel for our eyes.
This is, however, a marvelous thing. The senses in our bodies are connected with the brain by means of the sensory nervous system. The brain and the nervous system have often been compared with an elaborate and intricate communications system. The central “switchboard” is the brain, and all the sensory nerves bring to the brain the messages of the senses.
And yet this is not by any means the whole of man’s wonderful creation. For the messages which the brain receives are also somehow transmitted to the soul. There is here a very great mystery. Even though we ourselves are involved in this great mystery, we cannot understand it. The body is, after all, earthly, material, made of the stuff of this creation. The soul is a spiritual substance which is not fashioned of material which you can weigh in a scale, dissect with a sharp knife, and examine under a microscope. It is a substance which no examination with the tools of medicine and science will ever uncover. The proof for the existence of the soul lies not in the laboratory of the scientist but in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, even though the body and the brain and the nervous system as a part of the body are material, and the soul a spiritual substance, there is some kind of bridge between the two. What exactly it is we cannot tell, and, though philosophy over the years has attempted to describe this mystery in one way or another, the attempts have always been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, that such a bridge exists is beyond doubt. The messages which come through the doors of the senses, travel along the sensory nerve, and enter the brain are messages which find their way into the soul. For they become the “material” with which the soul functions in all its thinking and willing. How the brain and the soul are united we cannot tell. We cannot even tell very well exactly the point where the dividing line (if there is one) between the soul and brain is. We cannot tell with precision what of thinking belongs to the soul and what belongs to the brain. All is a mystery. But that it is true we know. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
And the wonderful part of it is that, because of all this, we are able to know God through Jesus Christ His Son, and knowing Him have life eternal.
Fraternally in Christ,