Here at RisenReviews we plan to talk a lot about the resurrection of the body. The position of the church on this issue has been unified and well-documented since Jesus ascended. But the soul does get a lot of attention these days among Christians, and even in Jesus’ time it was a topic of conversation. What should Christians believe about the mind/body problem? Do all humans have an immaterial soul? Here are some things Christians believe about the soul.
The Soul is Not the “Real You”
Human mind and body are created by God to be a unity, and never to be separated. The death of the body is a very bad thing, and the mind is incomplete without the body. The body plays as much a role in identity as the mind.
The Soul is Not Immortal
Most Christians throughout history have believed in a soul that survives the death of the body and awaits resurrection. However, this isn’t to say that the soul possesses inherent indestructibility. God created the soul just as much as he created the body. The soul is not in the same category with God. God is the eternal creator, and the soul is a created thing.
The Bible Never metaphysically Defines the Soul
The Bible uses a few different words that English translations render “soul” or “spirit.” However, it uses these words in the context of a person’s mind or total personhood, and never stops to define the scientific and metaphysical nature of the mind in the way that philosophers try to do. What the Bible makes clear is that God created human beings, body and mind, in his image.
Not all Christians Believe in an Immaterial Mind
It is important to note that some Christians, especially recently, think that the human brain as created by God explains the phenomenon of mind in human persons. They usually think this because of advances in neuroscience. It is true that these believers are in the minority in their opinions, but they are not heretics. Especially because . . .
The Definition of the Soul is Less Important than the Resurrection of the Body
If you think about it, the fact that we argue about whether or not we have immaterial minds is funny. How would we know?
Anyway, immaterial or material, we all use our minds to engage in the discussion. What we do know is this: Jesus rose from the dead. His body came alive, with neurons firing and heart pumping. And the same will happen to us. We will all be complete and whole, body and mind. So I guess the only real concern in this discussion is the intermediate state between death and resurrection.
The Intermediate State Is Not the Best
Either Christians will be disembodied with Christ, or they will be unconscious until they rise again. Neither option is as good as life. Being dead and knowing nothing is bad, but at least it would be over pretty quickly (from the dead person’s perspective). Being with Jesus sounds nice, but being without a body sounds very bad. In either case the resurrection is coming, when we will live with Jesus in our healed, sinless bodies.
But what do I think? I cautiously affirm the existence of an immaterial soul, mainly because it has been such a common belief and confession among Christians throughout history. To be honest, I don’t see any philosophical advantages, and I don’t like the idea of an intermediate state without a body. So I’m rooting for team physicalism, but I think team dualism is probably right.
Let me know what team you are rooting for in the comments!