What does it mean . . .?
What is a soul ?
In one episode of the Simpsons, Bart Simpson sells his soul to Millhouse. It is a fantastic episode in the way that it shows Bart coming to terms with what he has done and wanting get it back. Apparently somebody has recently done the same thing on Ebay.
My response on that was to say that a soul was a precious, indeed priceless thing to God and nobody could afford one. I have recently been asked, 'what is a soul ?' This is a question which has caused countless books to be written by philospophers and theologians like Plato and Aquinas.
There are many different ways of expressing some very compelx ideas. At the beginning of Genesis in the Bible (2:7) we are told that God breathed life into a human body and the body became a living soul. This expresses the belief that human beings are more than just flesh and bone. Often when I speak with the bereaved, after they have visited the body of their loved one who has died, they will say to me that they were aware that the person is no longer there. The Christian idea of the body being like a shell is significant. There is a sense that a person has left the physical body. This is where the use of the word soul comes in. It expresses the belief that living means more than just physical existence, there is a spiritual reality which is much more important.
The reason why it is important to understand this is not just because we want to go on living after death. If we live our lives denying the spiritual parts, then we cannot be fully alive. If we satisfy only our physical parts then we are just like machines, not souls! It is reported in the Bible that the Virgin Mary once said, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord.' She was expressing the deep satisfaction which she enjoyed from knowing that God was a part of her life. So too the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd, spoke of how God 'restored his soul.' One of the failings of living in a very materialistic society is that often our deepest spiritual needs are overlooked.