A gracEmail subscriber asks: “What is your understanding of the human being as body, soul and spirit?”
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The Bible is not crystal clear about this topic although the dogmatism of some teachers might suggest otherwise. For that reason, I like to begin with the scene described in Genesis 2:7, which says: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”
If we close our eyes and visualize this little story of 26 words, we get the picture. We watch as God scoops up clay from the ground like a potter. Next he shapes it into the form we recognize as a man’s body. Then, bending over the face of that lifeless clay form (“body”), the Creator infuses his breath (a synonym for the word usually translated “spirit”) into the clay man’s face and the clay form becomes a living being (“soul”).
This language is not philosophical or scientific but poetic. It does not explain as much as it impresses. It addresses our hearts more than our minds. It reminds us of our relationship to the rest of creation and of our total dependence on God. This story portrays a human as a clay body animated by breath of life. A person is (not has) a living “soul.”
The Bible sometimes describes a person’s death as a “soul” dying (Num. 23:10; Ezek. 18:4, 20). We would not know it by reading most English translations, but to the author of Genesis a “living soul” can be either a human being (2:7) or an animal (2:19). As “living souls” we are part of this creation, with bodies made from elements of the earth, enjoying life second-by-second through the Creator’s gift of living breath.