How Does One Love God with the Soul? (Part I of II)
Dear Father John, Jesus talks about loving God with all one’s soul. How do we do that?
THORNS CAN CHOKE the growth of the good seed of God’s grace, but shallow, rocky soil can wither it altogether. Jesus warned us of this, too. He used the analogy of bad soil that impedes a seed from putting down deep roots. Under the scorching sun, the plant simply withers and dies, because its shallow roots fail to find the moisture it needs for life under harsh conditions. The image describes the sentimental Christian, whose faith only goes as deep as his or her feelings:
The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away (Matthew 13:20—21).
Feelings, emotions, sentiments, and moods, along with psychic and biological drives, passions, and needs, make up an essential dimension of human experience. When Jesus commands his followers to love him with all their soul, he is referring to this wonderful, confusing, rewarding, and troubling dimension. If we fail to integrate this human richness into our loving relationship with God, sooner or later it will trip us up, and our desire for God and a deeper communion with him will wither away.
In the Old Testament, for example, King David failed to integrate healthily a natural and passionate attraction he felt toward a woman who was married to another man. This failure led him into the destructive moral chaos of adultery and murder. In the New Testament, we see how St. Peter’s natural and understandable emotional fears, improperly acknowledged and channeled, led him to commit the most shameful deed of his life when he denied that he even knew Jesus (see Matthew 26:69—75).
The two-thousand-year tradition of Christian thought and experience has produced a deep, nuanced, and accurate understanding of these various facets of the human person. Becoming more aware of them frees us to be more intentional and effective in our journey toward spiritual maturity.
X-Ray of a Soul
Soul can be a confusing word. People often ask whether their dog has a soul. The answer often comes back as a simple no, which is disappointing, because people really want their loyal, beloved pets to be with them in heaven. But how can a dog get to heaven if it doesn’t have a soul? We will set aside for now the theological question of whether pets join us in heaven; suffice it to say that if you need the accompaniment of a beloved pet in order to be absolutely, completely, infinitely happy (that’s what life is like in heaven), you will not lack that pet.
Philosophically, though, we can give a better answer to the question of whether dogs have souls. Yes, they do have souls, but their souls are different than the human soul. Specifically, the soul is the principle of life in a living being. Anything alive, then, has a soul. But the different forms of life will have souls with different characteristics. Plants have nutritive souls that allow them to grow and reproduce, but without the power of locomotion. Animals have what are called sensitive souls. These add new powers to the nutritive souls, especially the powers of locomotion and sensory perception. These powers allow the more complex animal species (dolphins, for example, are more complex than spiders) to experience certain degrees of emotion, sense memory, and sense knowledge.
Human beings have rational souls, with the even greater additional powers of intellect and will, abstract thinking and free choice. These are spiritual powers shared in a certain way with the angels and with God himself. This is one reason why the Bible speaks of God having created the human person in the image of God: “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). These spiritual powers that go with personhood, integrally united to the other nutritive and sensitive powers still present in the human soul, are the root of human dignity. They show us why it is morally okay to kill a bothersome mosquito, but not a bothersome toddler.
- In Part II, we will examine the problems with the philosophical distinction called a soul and how the soul is beloved of God.
- This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: Poem of the Soul — The Flight of the Soul, Louis Janmot, 1854, PD-US, Restored Traditions, used with permission.