In 1804, 18-year-old Bernard Weyer, a young trapper, went looking for a missing trap in Virginia’s central Shenandoah Valley. In the process of searching for his trap, he stumbled upon a cave opening, and upon further exploration, he found it was a vast cavern system with vaulted domes of gold and brown, massive pillars of stalactites and stalagmites, spiral limestone stairways, and vast solitary chambers. Outside, on the surface, nothing gave a clue to the majesty that lay just beneath and would become known as Grand Caverns, this nation’s oldest continually operating show cave. Likewise, beneath the exterior of our lives, there lies the buried life of the soul, with all its little-known wonders. We often forget that life is there. Sometimes it’s hard to remember we even have souls because our souls lie quietly beneath the busyness of our lives. Yet in order to remain spiritually healthy, we need to understand what our soul is and how to care for it. So, to begin, here are some qualities of the soul:
1. The soul is part of and yet more than our minds and bodies.
It is the essence of who we are. In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard says, “What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being.” This “life-center” is often described with the phrase “heart and soul” in Scripture. It is the part of us that is connected to God and devoted to Him. Jesus said we are to love God with all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” These aspects are separate and yet connected.
2. The soul is priceless.
Picasso’s painting Seated Woman with Red Hat was considered lost for 50 years before being found in the basement of an Indiana museum in 2012. It had been mislabeled and put there because someone thought it was painted by another artist who had been inspired by Picasso. It was deemed of little value and was actually worth $40 million! This find enabled the struggling museum to begin operating in the black. Just like this painting, we often forget about our souls, stowed away in the basement of our lives, because we are in such a hurry to take care of all the things in our lives that we deem important—health, career, family, etc. Of course, these aspects of our lives are important and need attention, but we should not forget our souls in the process. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
3. The soul is eternal.
Almost everything we consider valuable is temporal—it doesn’t last. A good friend of mine went to his first baseball game in years. He said, “I don’t remember it like this.” Well, the reason was that the stadium was new. The environment was different. Buildings, clothes, possessions—even our physical lives—are temporary. Our souls are not. In Revelation 20:4, John tells us, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God.” Those who had been beheaded had experienced the destruction of their earthly bodies, but their souls were still very much alive.
4. The soul is complex.
The soul is hard to explain or define. You can’t control or measure it in the same way that we do our bodies and our minds, yet it is subject to many different states. The Scriptures tell us that the soul can “rest,” “rejoice,” and be “refreshed.” It can also be “troubled,” “sorrowful,” “grief-stricken,” “thirsty,” “downcast,” and “longing.” Jesus even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
These states of inner peace, desire, and even pain are more than just being frustrated, stressed, or happy because the soul is the place where we seek and encounter God—our place of connection with Him. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.”
So, we need to be aware of the condition of our souls. We need to listen for our cries to God and His responses to us from this “life-center” of ourselves. How do we do that? I’ll address that in my next post.