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God created us, Christ redeemed us and the Holy Spirit dwells in us to help us live the Christian life in bodily form.

But when it comes to living out a true theology of the soul and body, Indian Christians are often left confused by two opposite errors. 

On the one hand, there are deep and ancient Indian belief systems. These hold that the body is an unworthy shell that houses the immortal soul. This prompts many to pursue spirituality and undervalue the body.

On the other hand, post-modernism now taking root in new India, denies the existence of a soul. It cheers an unbridled celebration of bodily appetites.

India is now enthusiastically embracing both wrong views. And, Christians are at risk of being lured away from the wholesome Biblical theology of body and soul.

Developing an understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s robust theology of body and soul has become more important than ever. 

The First Unbiblical View: Disembodied Soul

The ancient Greeks believed that the immaterial soul was the noblest part of humanity. They thought the soul was the spark of the divine that was immortal. The body was seen as a temporary prison that enclosed this bit of divinity.

This idea was not unique to the Greeks. In the East, Hinduism and its offshoots like Buddhism and Jainism also valued the soul as the ultimate. 

Thus, in these religions, the soul or consciousness (atman) is the highest part of humanity that is held within the husk of human flesh which is unreal and an illusion (maya). 

This is why such worldviews give rise to asceticism as the highest ideal to purify oneself.

The practical outworking of such a worldview is seen in the fact that things such as sexual relationships are seen as something shameful rather than something created by God to be enjoyed in a marital relationship. 

This also results in ordinary physical pursuits like going to the gym being seen as mere vanity.

However, something like yoga, which puts the mind over matter, and stresses the soul through acts of physical concentration and spiritual meditation, is highly esteemed.

The Second Unbiblical View: Disensouled Body

The diametrically opposed view to this is a materialistic view of man that states that only the material body matters. 

Spurred by the Darwinian view of evolution, the idea of a soul is seen as the mere imagination of primitive religion, with no scientific basis.

This view of the body alone as real implies matter has no meaning. Since matter is all that is, and since the matter is nothing more than atoms, questions about the dignity and sanctity of human life can never be answered. 

Often, Christians wrongly understand redemption as being blissfully floating white ghosts in the life after, much like Casper the friendly ghost.

As Nancy R Pearcey observes in her book, Love Thy Body, this leads to disposable humans. “In reality, it (this view) places a low value on the material world as purely particles in motion with no higher purpose or meaning.”

The outworking of such a worldview is seen in casual sexual relationships and the hook-up culture. Here, each other’s bodies may be used merely for satisfying one’s lust and sexual drives. 

In this worldview, any spiritual activity such as going to church or praying is seen as irrelevant for it feeds a soul that does not exist. 

Instead, value is put on the external such that beauty and physical appearance.

Not surprisingly, this worldview is driving public glamourisation and objectification of the outward self.

The Consequences of  the Two Wrong Views

Ultimately, both these diverging errors dehumanise men and women made in the image of God. They do this either by reducing humans to merely the soul, or only the body. Both errors deny the true worth of the human being.

Both worldviews also create a culture of death by justifying sins such as abortion, euthanasia, and pornography.

Sadly, such harmful worldviews have also permeated the church in India. 

The popularity of the prosperity gospel—which redefines the gospel as a mere fulfilment of health and wealth—celebrates body over soul.

Mankind is an embodied being and not a ghost in a shell.

Likewise, the liberal social gospel and its many offshoots are merely concerned with issues of social justice and the upliftment of victims. They ignore the justice of God against the sin in every human’s soul.

On the other extreme, a truncated view of the gospel that defines it as merely the salvation of the soul undermines God’s creation design for our bodies.

Often, Christians wrongly understand redemption as being blissfully floating white ghosts in the life after, much like Casper the friendly ghost.

How the Bible Trumps Both False Views

Contrary to these views, the Bible holds the distinct soul and body in holistic unity. Mankind is an embodied being and not a ghost in a shell.

The Bible posits at the beginning that God created man and woman in his very own image (Gen. 1:26-27) and he blessed them. 

Thus, human beings—body and soul—find their source in God who makes all things good.

As Nancy Pearcey explains, “we are made…to reflect God’s character, both in our minds and in our bodily actions. There is no division, no alienation. We are embodied beings.” 

Scripture sees the body and soul together, but with different functions. The soul relates to an inner invisible disposition of reality. The body engages to an outer visible disposition of reality. 

Thus, in the Psalms, we encounter the two used together:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:2)

“My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps. 84:2)

In the Bible, we also observe an integral relationship between the soul and body.

When David remained in unrepentant sin, the guilt of his soul caused his body to waste away (Ps. 32:3).

Conversely, the book of Proverbs repeatedly speaks of how godly wisdom refreshes the soul (Prov. 3:22) and brings health to the body (Prov. 3:8, Prov. 4:22). 

What we do with our bodies matters to God as much as what we do in our souls.

Wise and gracious words bring forth healing (Prov. 12:18) and are “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24).

This integral wholeness to humaneness reflects God’s original good design.

This is why God calls us not only to worship and serve him with our souls alone but to love him with all our being (Deut. 6:5; Luke 10:27). 

What we do with our bodies matters to God as much as what we do in our souls.

Disembodiment is a Curse

Disembodiment is not part of God’s created order, but rather a curse of sin. 

It is the result of sin that the body and soul are separated at death. The body returns to the dust from which it was taken and fashioned into life by the breath of God (Gen. 3:19). 

Thus, there is but a brief intermediate state where believers will exist “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). 

This provisional state, in the presence of the Lord Jesus, is called paradise (Luke 23:43). It is not the final state of humanity.

The fact that God’s integral and holistic design of soul and body can be so violently disembodied at the moment of death reveals the true insidious horror of sin. 

Sin has splintered humanity down to our deepest core. We are marred and tarnished even in our essential being.  

However, this cursed disembodied state is never to be our identity or our final end.

The Embodiment of God in Jesus

God in Jesus took on flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. The eternal Word became flesh to dwell among us—people of flesh and blood (Jn 1:14). 

Thus in Jesus, as the apostle Paul says, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. 

There can be nothing more revolutionary than the doctrine of the incarnation. This establishes that the human body is not some useless external wrapper, but something of utmost worth like the soul.

The resurrection of Christ’s body on the third day indicates that the body is integral to God’s plan of restoration.

Jesus in his body suffered death upon the cross. In doing so, he condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3).

Jesus’ naked and mutilated body suspended, between heaven and earth, bore all our shame and our sin’s dreadful effects, culminating in death.

The resurrection of Christ’s body on the third day indicates that the body is integral to God’s plan of restoration.

Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:14). His resurrection grounds our eventual resurrection (1 Cor. 15:22).

Jesus is now physically risen and has physically ascended to heaven. He will once more be physically united with his people. There, in the new Jerusalem, we will be made whole—body and soul as the fitting bride for Christ our groom. 

As we long and await that future day, God has given us the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This reminds us and fills us with hope and courage that even sin and death cannot destroy God’s creation. 

Thus, when we partake of the broken body of Christ in the bread, we are reminded that God’s grace is making us whole again even now through the sacrifice of his son.

God cares for the whole person—body and soul and so should we.

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