The soul (or heart) has rightly been the emphasis in our theology. Here Scripture gives details that we could never see apart from God’s revelation to us. In the soul, we know God and turn toward him or away from him. Look for obedience or disobedience, faith or unbelief, and you will see the soul in action. The body, on the other hand, is our material being — muscles, bones, neurons, and all things seen.
I received a call at 10:30 one night from the hospital where I was working. A 52-year-old man had been admitted earlier in the day so he could be prepared for a relatively minor surgical procedure scheduled for the next morning. And now he was crying uncontrollably — absolutely uncontrollably, with loud groans that traveled through the hospital wing.
As I drove to the hospital, I reflected on the brief time I had with this man only six hours earlier. It was the first time I ever immediately identified someone as a man’s man. He was affable, kind, tough, muscled from work. He had once cut off most of a finger on a bandsaw, finished the project, and then picked up the finger and drove himself to the hospital, telling his wife that he “had to go out for an hour or so.” I didn’t expect him to be wailing at the thought of a morning procedure.
By the time I arrived, the wailing had largely passed, but the sobs persisted. When I tried to get some idea of what he was experiencing, all he could say was, “I don’t . . . know why . . . I’m crying.”
Why Am I Crying?
What was causing this grown man to weep? A sedative that he was given at 9:30 that night, which was standard procedure for the hospital at that time. After a few hours, he was back to his normal manly self, though a bit embarrassed.
Here is why this is important for us. The brain can disrupt our emotions and thoughts. In this case, medication had temporarily altered an otherwise healthy brain, leading to unpredictable emotions. The brain can change our emotions such that those we express do not match our real concerns or lack of concerns. We could state this another way: the brain, when it is a little off, can make us feel and think in ways that are untethered to the condition of our souls.
This, of course, is a time for theology to be put to work. And the relevant piece of theology is that we are embodied souls.
Unwrapping Soul and Body
Most of us would agree that we are body and soul. The first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism includes, “I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The Philadelphia Confession of Faith declares, “The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them” (32.1). The apostle Paul wrote, “Though our outer self [our body] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). We are created as two substances that belong together, though in death they are capable of separation. The challenge is to unwrap the implications of this for daily life.
The soul (or heart) has rightly been the emphasis in our theology. Here Scripture gives details that we could never see apart from God’s revelation to us. In the soul, we know God and turn toward him or away from him. Look for obedience or disobedience, faith or unbelief, and you will see the soul in action.
The body, on the other hand, is our material being — muscles, bones, neurons, and all things seen. It mediates rather than produces the intents of our soul. In other words, if the technology were available, we could see both idolatry and faith rendered in the physical activity of the brain, though we would not say that the brain caused either one. (In terms of Aristotle’s four causes, the brain is the material cause while the soul is the final cause.) The body and brain have not been tasked with our moral and spiritual direction, though the brain directly affects our capacity to think, plan, and feel. Watch the body in action, and you will see strengths and weaknesses, health and sickness, pain that wants relief.