Roseann, thank you so much for investing in your High School students. You are making an investment there that will have a long-term impact in a lot of lives well into the future. There were a lot of seeds planted in my life at that age that later really blessed me. Cameron and I have a lot of fun recording Thinking Out Loud and it is fun to hear that others enjoy thinking along with us. Actually, the question that Gabby asked would make a good future podcast episode!
I don’t have what John Lennox said in that session in front of me, but let me offer a few broader thoughts and how we got there. In passages, like Psalm 1, scripture will use a phrase like, “and on his law he mediates day and night” to mean “all the time.” Other Psalms use phrases like the heavens declaring the glory of God, “Day and night…” they pour fourth speech. Sometimes scripture uses opposites,or extremes, or lists, to mean ‘all the time.’ We often refer to one thing by listing parts of it (I think technically it’s called a merism). The opposite of this is a synecdoche when a total thing is represented by one part of it. For example if someone looks at your car and says, “Hey, nice wheels!” They aren’t really just talking about your tires, they are talking about the whole car. Or if we say Jim is a jolly old soul, we mean all of Jim, not just a metaphysical reality. The other way, back to Merism, is to list parts to refer to an entire thing or idea. When Jesus says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, I don’t think he meant only love God with those four elements of your self, rather it is more in line with “Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me praise His holy name.” He is speaking about a fullness and a totality- all that is within me-all of me praise the Lord. The great thing about this is that we can individually ponder and speak about heart, soul, mind, strength, spirit on and on, as individual elements of humanity that can be studied, but to be fully human none of them by themselves is sufficient. The Christian doctrine of creation teaches that humans are an integrated whole unit, we aren’t intended to be divisible. We intuitively know that all of this is connected. If I’m feeling grumpy, a little exercise might perk me right up (emotions connected to body). If someone is depressed, that could be spiritual and it could be chemical. We believe in the power of prayer and in modern medicine. Being a fully integrated human allows us great insight into who we are, but also doesn’t allow us to quickly simplify and reduce humanity into neat categories. Now, as this relates to heaven, the biblical teaching of the physical resurrection is really important. Our whole selves (heart, soul, mind, strength+) will be renewed and will go to heaven. It is interesting that in Revelation 6:9 you see the souls of martyrs seemingly detached from their bodies in heaven. HOWEVER, they are crying out “How long Sovereign Lord…” So spiritually they are in the presence of God, but are still longing for the final justice and fullness of God’s total plan to come to fruition. They will be raised in the last day with physical bodies that are fully integrated into a unified whole in the way God intended. Sin and death separate, God unites and integrates. Satan kills, steals, and destroys. Christ came that we may have life and have it to the full. The New Testament translates the Greek word for Soul most often as soul, or life, or self. The term for spirit has an even wider range of meaning, from breath, to animating life force, to personality, to non-bodily being. That isn’t to say that important things can’t be said about each of these, but in order not to get too deep into the weeds, for the purpose of Gabby’s question we can say that A) there is some flexibility even with scripture about what these terms mean and B) the purpose of all parts of all of us is to glorify God, which is the example Jesus gives us C) to be a soulish creature is part of the beautiful complexity and integration of how God designed humanity (There are real spiritual creatures that don’t get to have bodies= not humans). As far as the part that will eternally reside in the unification of heaven and earth, the ultimate answer is “All of Gabby.” In the mean time we wait, and groan along with all creation (Ro 8) as we anticipate the redemption that God intends when he takes the fragments we have made of ourselves and our world and correctly orders them. In the past some philosophies have separated body and soul, in a soul/spiritual=good, body/physical=bad type system. As Christians, we dare not slip into that. God created a physical world, called it good, and though it is broken will one day physically restore it again. The physical resurrection of Jesus gives us this hope.
Feel free to ask a follow up question if this doesn’t address the heart of what she was asking.