Orcs and Sinners
By David B. Smith
It’s a fascinating reality that the human race doesn’t fully understand its own nature. What unique blend of metaphysical essences makes up a person? Just a body? Body plus soul? “Spirit”? All of the above? We walk around town breathing and thinking . . . and even we don’t know!
In the hugely successful book/film franchise, The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien invented a new, loathsome being called Orcs. They were short, squat, powerful creatures created fully grown for one purpose: to fight and march obediently into battle. Their feeble minds were held captive by dark lords like Sauron or Saruman. Their “natures,” if they had one, were definitely fallen and enslaved.
In contrast, the Bible is optimistic about the human race, describing us as God’s crowning creation, fashioned in His own image. We’re meant to be noble and God-like — “little-g god,” as some writers put it. Adam and Eve and their descendants were intended to rule and wisely exert dominion over a virgin world.
Scripture sometimes does refer to a person’s body and soul as two distinct entities (see Matthew 10:28), but even in the Creation account of Genesis 2, we read that when God breathed into Adam the breath of life, “the man became a living soul.” In the Old Testament, Hebrew writers used the expression nephesh (755 biblical occurrences) to denote a soul or a complete person, a living being; in the New Testament, the Greek word psuchē is regularly translated “life,” “breath,” or “soul.”
The theological interpretation of the church I attend,* considering the weight of all the Bible’s uses of these words, is that a person does not have a soul, but rather, is a soul. A soul is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit — including a conscience, and “life principle,” or breath of life as given by God. Not once in God’s Word is the soul described as a conscious entity that can survive outside the body or float free in a state of immortal awareness when a person dies. (More on this topic in Immortal Dad).
The Bible shares two crucial principles regarding humanity. First, we are — and always will be — freewill creatures. God has given us the power of choice. We can obey or rebel, worship or turn away. No other created beings on this planet have that divine gift.
The second reality is that, because of the rebellion by our first parents, all of us have now inherited a sinful or fallen nature. We still have the power of choice, but the default mode within us is to lie, to be angry, to lust, to disobey instead of to display loyalty. Paul writes: Through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). Later: The carnal mind is enmity against God (8:7).
The Hebrew language has a word, ‘awon, that describes this inner twistedness, the downhill gravitational slope that tugs us into wickedness. All of us who are parents and grandparents see that even toddlers have innate rebellion in their DNA. We notice this in others, not ourselves, of course! But let’s face it. Selfishness, pride, greed, sexual excesses — these all come naturally. Worship and sacrifice and holiness feel like alien things; it takes work to be obedient and upright. Our “souls,” whether they’re separate or hard-wired to our tissues, have an unnatural bent to them.
The wonderful news is that God still embraces us in our broken state; He has pledged to redeem us, create “right spirits” within us, and restore the edenic perfection that was the first holy Man and Woman.
* David B. Smith worships with a group of Seventh-day Adventist Christian believers.
David B. Smith writes from California. (7 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay