Solomon writes to us in Ecclesiastes 3:14, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”
Solomon’s comment applies, of course, not only to the Word of God, but to all of creation.
“How does that ‘endure forever’ thing work out?” you ask. Perhaps you’ve hung on to a piece of fruit a bit too long and noticed it had started to get soft and squishy. That didn’t last forever, did it?
Or did it? Let’s look at that peach from a slightly different perspective. The fruit was made of parts called molecules and atoms. When were those parts created? While we’re not specifically told in the Bible, I would venture to suggest they were created at the beginning — when God created everything else. Those parts — the atoms and molecules — have simply been re-used over and over to make all kinds of things. (Ships and strings and sealing wax and cabbages and kings.)
And that particular peach? Its bits are on their way to getting reprocessed (probably through some creature’s digestive system) into something new. Perhaps a moth or some piece of digital equipment.
John writes in Revelation 21:1 “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and the first Earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”
That suggests to me the re-cycling of parts will continue in this world until the point in time when everything is made new. New atoms, new molecules etc. That means my new body will be made out of new stuff and not pre-owned, used materials. I understand that body will work a lot better than the one I’m using now.
Am I suggesting something like Hindu reincarnation? Not at all. So far I’ve only talked about the visible, physical parts of things. We living things have invisible parts too. Minds and spirits for example. Each invisible part is a unique creation and once created, continues on forever. In that way, each of us is unique and permanent and the knowledge of that permanence is imprinted on each of us humans.
Solomon also writes in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
God has set eternity in our hearts — so we are vaguely aware that we are going to live forever (we see that especially in teenagers), but don’t really get it. We’ve all experienced death in one way or another. So we know that everything falls apart sooner or later. But in the case of living things, that only applies to the visible, material part — not to the immaterial, invisible part. Another way to say that is, in this world, the visible part and the invisible part must be together. If they are separated, the visible part (the body) dies while the invisible part continues to live.
There are some very specific definitions for a few terms that I like to use because I think they help to explain things better. The terms are: mind, body, spirit and soul. All familiar words, but they get used in a variety of ways. I prefer to have them be a little less wiggly. I have described these terms before, but I’ll do it again with a bit more detail.
Human beings are made in three pieces: body, mind and spirit (rather like the Holy Trinity – see Genesis 1:26). Only one of those pieces is visible — the body. The other two are invisible — the mind and the spirit. Note: If any of these parts is left unexercised it will atrophy and become virtually useless.
I use the word spirit to only mean a human being’s individual spirit. (I’m not talking about the Holy Spirit here which in-dwells all believers. So don’t confuse my discussion of spirit with Holy Spirit.) Further, I use the word spirit to only mean that part of our invisible self that is able to communicate with God. Everyone has a spirit and everyone’s spirit is capable of such things as prayer and worship. It is also the part of us that is held responsible for sin. For each of us, our individual human spirit is meant to be alert, strong and in control of our person.
I use the word mind to mean only that part of the invisible aspect of a creature that controls the animal. It is the life-force of the animal and allows it to communicate with other animals, find food, avoid danger and make little animals, etc. All humans and animals have a mind — the apostle Paul calls it, in humans, the “flesh nature”. A mind, on its own, has no knowledge of God and cannot therefore, consciously act contrary to Him. Because of that an animal is not capable of sin.
I define the word soul to mean the entire invisible aspect of a creature — the sum of mind and spirit — which, in any creature other than mankind ends up being only a mind — they have no spirit. As such, they may possibly be eternal but have no concept of God and no interactive communication with Him.
I like these distinctions because, as near as I can tell, human bodies are made of the same warp and weft as other animals — particularly mammals. The real distinction between a human and any other mammal is the possession of a spirit — the ability to communicate with, react to and worship God.
Sin can happen in humans when the soul is in disorder. That is when the spirit is not in control and yields control to the mind (the animal or flesh nature). When a human spirit is not in control, that human being will function a lot like any other animal — a very intelligent animal, but not a very wise animal.
For a human being to be “born again” means his/her spirit is sharpened, strengthened and put in control of the mind which, in turn, controls the body. The effect, in that case, is the human will act more like a spiritual being and not so much like an animal.
Because the mind is naturally strong there is constant tension and struggle for dominance between the mind and the spirit. However, the mind is more easily kept in subjection when the spirit becomes stronger. The strengthening of the spirit is called, in theological terms, sanctification.
It is the invisible part — the soul — that is eternal and each soul is a unique creation. (I also suspect that every atom in the universe is unique, but I have no proof.)
So, you (sitting here reading this) are the only soul like you that has ever been and the only one who will ever be. I guess, that makes you valuable — one-of-a-kind. I’d like to know you better.
I realize this discussion may have taken you down the road a bit toward a more existential interpretation of Christianity. The road can be a little bumpy so you may have felt somewhat uncomfortable. I’m sorry for that, but I live down that road and I love my home. I invite you to come a visit me. It’ll be fun. If you let me know if you’re coming, I’ve got some nice existential sandwiches and …
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