Thursday, October 28, 2010

Biblical Anthropology: Part V

This will be the last in a 5 (6) part series (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part IVb) that has discussed how the Bible treats human beings.  I have argued that in general the Bible sees the human as an essential unity, not as a collection of separate parts, i.e., Body, Soul, Spirit.  It is not that the Bible does not use such words as body, soul, and spirit, but it does not use these words like the Greek philosophers did. There is not a duality of nature in the humans in the Bible as the Greek's had constructed.

So, what are the implications for viewing the human as an essential unity?  The first major implication that comes to mind is that it leads one to be less compartmentalized.  Growing up with an understanding of the human made up of separate parts (body, soul, spirit), I was taught that things that fed the spirit/soul were good and things that fed the body (not literally) were bad.  I had essentially the Greek view that the goal of life was the eventual liberation of the soul/spirit from this body.  Therefore, what I did that was not "spiritual" was either a waste of time, or at worst, destructive to my soul/spirit.  This led to attempts to "spiritualize" my life.  How should I go about this?  By doing more spiritual things of course. Read my Bible more.  Go to church more.  Pray more.  Have quiet times more.  Give more money to the church. Go on more mission trips.  Preach the gospel more.  You get the point.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the way to become more spiritual is by doing more spiritual things and crowding out non-spiritual things. So what is the problem with that?  All of these things are good, right?  Of course they are.  But there are other good things in life as well, right?

What began to happen is that I was made to feel guilty about doing "non-spiritual" things.  Watching sports.  Reading "non-spiritual" books.  Watching "non-spiritual" movies/TV shows.  Listening to secular music.  All of these things were seen as neutral at best, i.e., a waste of time, or detrimental to my spirit/soul at worst.

For me, I could actually live within such a system since my job, my vocation would be considered "spiritual."  I am a college professor and New Testament scholar, so my job consists of teaching and studying the Bible.  Wow, I must be really spiritual.  Yet, what about my wife, who is in marketing?  Is she any less "spiritual?"  Is her job a "waste of time" because she does not spend her day feeding her spiritual side?  That goes as well for probably 95% of people whose job/vocation is not in the ministry.  Are they less spiritual.

Having a view of the human as an essential unity is a great boon to most people who do not spend the majority of their time doing "spiritual" things.  In this system, any action can be done "for the glory of God."  My wife glorifies God by doing the best job marketing her company's products that she can.  She glorifies God by putting her full force of creativity and brilliance into her work.  The same goes for a doctor, or lawyer, or computer designer, or janitor, or fast food worker.  All jobs can be done to the glory of God.

Beyond the topic of jobs and careers, other "non-spiritual" things can also be done to the Glory of God.  I can glorify God in appreciating good music, good art, good television or movies, the beauty of nature.  I can glorify God over a good meal, or at a sporting event.  Living life, as a human ought to live, is in itself glorifying to God.  Jesus, the "son of man," the one who was fully human is our model for living this way in the world.  In being conformed to the image of Christ, we do not seek liberation from our flesh or bodies as in the Greek system.  No, we recognize that the "Word became flesh and lived among us."

Related to this is the larger affirmation in this system that this world, while subject to the fall, is still a good world.  This material reality is not evil.  We live in a world that God created "good" and can enjoy that world and seek to make it better. We can and should be good stewards of this world.  We should not treat the world as though it was an obstacle or barrier to overcome.

In the end, I have no problem with speaking about humans using different language.  I think that the concepts of soul, spirit, heart, mind, gut, etc. when speaking about our human nature can be helpful.  Yet, I think it can go off track when we make the divisions between these different "parts" of us too stark.  We are, imho, unified.  These parts of me are not fundamentally at war with each other.  We can be at peace.

I end with a quote from James Dunn who summarizes Paul's view of the human, complex, yet unified.  Dunn writes:
“As Embodied beings [soma, body] we are social, defined in part by our need for and ability to enter relationships, not as an optional extra, but as a dimension of our very existence.  Our fleshness [sarx, flesh] attests our frailty and weakness as mere humans, the inescapableness of our death, our dependence on satisfaction of appetite and desire, our vulnerability to manipulation of these appetites and desires.  At the same time, as rational beings [nous, mind] we are capable of soaring to the highest heights of reflective thought.  And, as experiencing beings [kardia, heart] we are capable of the deepest emotions and the most sustained motivation.  We are living beings [psyche, soul] animated by the mystery of life as a gift, and there is a dimension of our being at which we are directly touched by the profoundest reality within and behind the universe.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. 78).
 So, what do you think? 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your statements Dr. Reich. I have also grown up learning that the body has separate components such as the body mind and soul. I agree with your statement that whatever one does with their life, they can still glorify God by working at things as if working for the Lord and not for man (Colossians 3:23-34).