In my last letter I talked a bit about the emphasis which Scripture puts upon the unity of man—that he may not be chopped up into separate parts and be considered as a conglomerate of individual pieces. There are some practical considerations that arise from this, and the time has come to discuss some of them.
The relationship between soul and body is so close in man that what happens, to the one affects also what happens to the other. We cannot do something to our bodies without affecting our souls. And nothing happens to our souls without its effect upon our bodies. I think that this is so true, so much a part of life, that we realize the truth of this intuitively. It seems to be so true that to discuss it seems almost to be belaboring the obvious. We simply know that it is true for it happens to us every single day and every moment of the day. Nevertheless, I do think that this truth is often forgotten in particular circumstances and situations; and so we ought to talk about it a bit.
That there are problems here no one will deny. From a very practical point of view these problems arise in the whole area of the treatment of the mentally distressed. As I wrote you a while ago, the trends today in the treatment of mental problems are all in the direction of chemical therapy. The theory is that all the troubles which afflict men are rooted in certain chemical imbalances in the body and brain. Some even go so far as to say that even criminal deviation, such as homosexuality and other sexual perversion, are rooted in physical causes which can be corrected by chemical treatment if only we understand more fully the delicate chemical makeup of the human body. We must, of course, have no part in all this. It is a flat denial of the soul in man. It proceeds from the evolutionistic hypothesis that man is nothing else than a highly developed form of animal life. It denies that the relationship in which man stands to God is the most fundamental of all relationships. And it, therefore, denies the reality of sin. I remember once attending a conference of psychiatrists and ministers in which a certain psychiatrist was speaking about the role of ministers in the helping of the mentally “ill.” In his judgment, the role of ministers was little more than to keep hands off. He made the remark, among other things, that if a parishioner had committed a deed such as stealing money, the worst think the minister could do was to warn and admonish such a person and threaten him with censure if he did not confess his sin. This approach, said the psychiatrist, would only make the person have terrible guilt feelings. It would be much better if such a person were turned over to the care of a psychiatrist so that the fundamental reason for his stealing could be learned. Finally, after a great deal of this sort of thing, one minister rose ponderously from his chair and asked: “Doctor, don’t we believe in sin any more?”
Nevertheless, the relationship between body and soul is so close that there is no denying the fact that “drug therapy” has an effect upon the soul as well as the body. Whether this effect is always, or even once in a while, good is another question. I think that if we knew well how close the relation between body and soul really was, we would understand that there is nothing we do to the body which does not have its corresponding effect upon the soul. It is not surprising, therefore, that various drugs which are used for the treatment of mental problems have effects upon the inner life of the soul. Very little is understood about all this and a great deal of experimentation is still going on. But that the effect is there, for good or for bad, is beyond dispute. There are indeed drugs which are; in the real sense of the word, “mind-altering drugs.”
And, because this relationship is so close, the condition of the body can indeed affect the condition of the soul. Everyone recognizes this. There are, I am told, clinics in this country which treat all mental problems by changing diets. If anyone has mental difficulties and comes to such a clinic, he will be examined physically and certain diets will be prescribed for him in the confidence that these diets will restore his mental equilibrium. Whatever may be the outcome of this all, it remains a fact that the condition of the body has a whole lot to do with the condition of our souls. Everyone knows that if we abuse our bodies and wear them out this can have a profound effect upon our souls and bring us into a state of physical and mental exhaustion. And the mental exhaustion can indeed lead to terrible depression. It is also possible that some malfunction of the body can have such a profound effect upon the soul that, without one knowing the existence of a physical problem, one can become troubled with all sorts of mental problems and difficulties. Any person who has mental problems of any sort ought always to have, first of all, a complete physical checkup to determine whether anything is wrong physically. God has made us one. We cannot separate the two from each other—body and soul—and deny their close relationship.
Yet the fact remains that the relationship in which we stand to God is the most fundamental of all. Scripture speaks of man as having body, soul, and spirit. (Cf., e.g., I Thessalonians 5:23 where all three are mentioned.) I do not want, at this point, to get involved in a long discussion of this whole question of the differences which exist among the three. Let me just say a few things about it so ‘that it may be somewhat more clear what I want to say about the relation between body and soul and our relation to God.
Sometimes Scripture speaks of “soul” as referring to the whole person. You have this use repeatedly in the Bible. Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that when Jacob and his family went into Egypt at the summons of Joseph, 75 souls went into Egypt. (Acts 7:14). In the narrative of Paul’s shipwreck we are told that 276souls were on board the ship. (Acts 27:37). This expression, in one form or another, abounds in Scripture. It is usually interpreted as a figure of speech, a kind of metonymy, so that Scripture simply uses the word “soul” for “person” or “souls” for “people.” And this is true. But Scripture does not use figures of speech as mere rhetorical and literary devices. There is always a good reason for a figure of speech. It may be that in all these passages the word “soul” is used to emphasize some idea of man as a rational and moral creature, but the fact is that the whole person is referred to.
But in other passages the word “soul” is used to indicate that spiritual substance of man which is the seat of all his thinking, willing, and emotions. Man is created as the only one of God’s creatures with the powers of mind and will and emotions. And these powers reside in the soul.
I do not believe that the word “spirit” in Scripture speaks of yet a third substance in man, different from the soul and body, with its own special powers. It seems to me, rather, that the word “spirit” simply indicates the “soul,” but now from the viewpoint of the relation in which man stands to God. Man is a spirit, for when man dies, then the dust returns to the earth as it was, but the spirit returns to God Who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7). And Jesus committed His spirit, not His soul, to God when He died on the cross. The soul indicates, therefore, that man is a rational and moral creature, endowed with mind and will. The spirit indicates that this man stands related to God.
And this relationship is fundamental. This relationship, finally, determines the whole of a man’s life and the kind of life which he lives.
Certainly this is true in a very general way. All the pain and misery and trouble with which man is afflicted has come into the world because man rebelled against God and turned away from God’s commandments. The sin of our first parents brought sin and trouble into the world. All trouble and all sickness is the result of sin. God did not punish man’s sin with afflictions of the body only; nor did He punish man with troubles of the soul; but all trouble stems from sin. It is also true, in a general way, that the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked while He blesses the habitation of the just. (Proverbs 3:33). No one will deny that blessing and cursing from God are the most important things in life. Cursing means God’s hatred. Cursing brings unhappiness, trouble, despair, hopelessness, and, finally, death. Blessings brings happiness, joy, serenity, peace, hope, and, finally, everlasting life. These are very real. It is not without reason that Solomon speaks of God’s curse in the house of the wicked. It is there, in that most important place of his life. It is there to stalk him when he sits down and rises up. It is there in the food that he eats and in the life that he lives. It is an ever-present and all-pervading reality. But so it is also with blessing. It is in the habitation of the just. It is a real experience for the man who is just before God and walks in the consciousness of His righteousness before God. But this blessing and cursing from God determine the relation in which a man stands to God. That, and there can be no question about it, is the most important relation of all life.
There are many other aspects to this unity of man. We could, for the sake of interest, point out a few such items. Think, e.g., of the fact that a man’s character is often reflected in his face—especially in his eyes. He may be mean. You can often see it. He may be shifty and untrustworthy. It often becomes apparent. He may be unhappy. You can tell it in his face. Stop on the corner of a busy intersection and watch the people go by. How many of them are really happy? You can find very few happy faces among the throngs. But you can also see in a person’s face when he has learned peace and serenity and happiness. He radiates with it and it shows in his whole appearance. Yet cruelty, dishonesty, unhappiness, and the like are conditions of the soul—as are peace and happiness. They are all, however, reflected in the body.
Think also of the fact that a man’s individuality or personality is reflected in and impressed, upon his whole body. It extends to the tips of his fingers, for every man’s finger prints are different. It shows in the markings of the soles of his feet, for there are not two footprints alike. It is indelibly stamped upon every cell of his body, for each man’s cells are different. It appears in his voice so that even identical twins have different voices and a mother who knows her twins well can tell them apart by their voices and mannerisms. Whatever a man is in his soul is reflected completely in the whole of his body.
But we must stop for now.