Chapter One: Why do I do what I do?
Have you ever wondered why you do what you do? Sometimes it’s intentional, but then there are times when it’s not what you really want to do, but you do it anyway. Perhaps our decision is more outcome driven and as result, inconsistent and at times irrational. A good example of this is when we discipline our children. Often we’ll start out with a rational and controlled method of correction to accomplish our end. But, when we’re not successful in our correcting what we know needs to be corrected, we become frustrated and take a different tact and whether intentional or not, we resort to yelling and threatening. Suddenly, we’re angry because we did the right thing in the first place, yet it failed. Then it becomes an ends justifies the means strategy.
Then there are those times when we truly don’t know what the right thing to do is. We may pray, seek the advice of others and at the end of the day, we’re no more convinced or convicted of what to do next than when we started. The real hard decisions are those Ethicists call “Ethical Dilemma’s” or the “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” decisions. You could debate all day if ethical dilemmas really exist, but so what? The problem still exists and you need to make a decision, you need you act. Now you may choose to walk away and ignore the problem or just continue to do what you’ve been doing. But by not making a choice or decision, haven’t you already made one by default? God gave us free will, the ability to make choices, but is it a blessing or a curse? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
If you think about it, if God gave us free will, the ability to make choices, wouldn’t he also have given us whatever we need to make the right ones? By the right ones, I mean those that would yield the best outcome both for us and for others. Also, he would have given us the ability to choose those outcomes that God would have us to make; after all, we were created in his image. So what’s the problem and more important, what’s the answer to this obvious dilemma which is shared by all of us?
If you have ever watched old reruns of the 1960’s TV series, “The Twilight Zone,” you may have caught one of several episodes about a man whose life was a mess in some way; then all of a sudden the Devil show’s up and tempts him into selling his “soul” as a solution to his problems. The devil always appears in human form and is very persuasive, offering a sure fire way out the subject’s dilemma. The victim’s soul is always sold for fame and fortune or extended life, but inevitably the seller discovers that in the end, his choice was foolish and a very bad decision. I bring this up, only because of the subject matter, the existence of the human “soul.” It’s not something that’s often talked about and even when it is, its existence is either something of fable or myth or undefined and mysterious. So why do I mention it? Because it will help us answer the question, why do I do what I do? The human soul is real and at the very center of the choices we are compelled to make. We may not be able to see it, but it is there; inside of all of us, placed there by God at creation. It’s what separates us from all else God created and helps to explain what is meant by mankind having been created in the Creator’s image. The bible has several names for the human soul. Sometimes it’s referred to as the heart or our spirit (not the person of the Holy Spirit), yet in every reference the bible is identifying and confirming the existence of the human soul. Now the soul may be hard to define and even harder to understand, after all it’s both invisible and of divine origin, but its existence is as sure as God himself. The question then is not one of existence but one of value, purpose and function.
One way of valuing the human soul is encapsulated in those old “Twilight Zone” episodes, in that Satan’s greatest wish is to gain control of both yours and mine. In doing so, Satan has a much better chance of our making choices that further his agenda and frustrate God’s. One of the more interesting accounts on the subject is found in the New Testament; Matthew, chapter four. Here we find Jesus, weak from over a month of fasting, led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Now remember, the bible refers to Jesus as both the Son of God and the Son of Man, which in this context should remind us that as a man, Jesus could and would be tempted while on earth in human form. Satan approaches Jesus and attempts to entice him with fame and fortune; those things Jesus knew he would not enjoy while on earth. Sure, Jesus became known by a few friend’s and even a few crowds eager for a hand-out or some heavenly wisdom, but in the end Jesus knew he would be mocked and murdered for who he claimed to be, by those he came to save. So what was Satan really after? Satan’s desire was to control the very soul of the man, Jesus. If he could separate the man Jesus, from the divine Christ; Satan believed he could win in the struggle for the souls of all mankind.
Well, Satan obviously overlooked the fact that Jesus was not only the Son of Man, but also the Son of God. Satan offered Jesus complete control over all the earth and its inhabitants, all Jesus needed to do was to bow down and worship him. In other words, all he wanted was his soul. However, all those things that Satan promised, Jesus already possessed, in fact as the Son of God, everything was already under his ultimate control. Satan’s proposition was completely self-serving and his argument no match for the Son of God. Jesus replies to Satan’s argument with this rebuke, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Away from me, Satan! Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus knew that the next time he came to earth, on his final visit; he would deal with Satan once and for all.
This mighty but fallen angel named Satan values your soul, second only to the Son of Man’s. Had he been able to capture the soul of Jesus, Satan wouldn’t need to go after yours and mine; they would all be his, by proxy. But since he wasn’t able to sell the deal, Satan has to pursue us and our soul, one at a time, and will do so with whatever time he may have left on earth.
What is it about the human soul that makes it so valuable, so highly prized and sought after? Probably, the soul’s most noteworthy intrinsic value is that it’s eternal. The human soul, because it came from God and bears his likeness, has no beginning and no end. It has no date of manufacture or expiration date. It is the one part of us that will never die and will live on after our earthly death. It’s like an antique, in that its value is in its provenance. If you ask most professional antique dealers, what is the most important quality of any antique; is it age or condition? They will tell you, it’s the provenance. What this means is that you can track and document who originally owned it and then follow its history; furthermore, any documentation must be reliable and able to withstand intense scrutiny. Being old and beautiful is important, but not near as valuable as knowing from whence it came and how it got to where it is today. The soul has infinite value because it came from God, is the very essence of God, and will live on as part of our very being. The soul may not be rare in number, but it is invaluable by its very nature.
Another measure of the soul’s importance and value is the length to which God would go to save it. Understand that although the human soul, the very essence of our being, will live on for eternity, the issue is whether or not it will remain with us or be separated from us for eternity. Now my understanding as to whether the soul can actually be destroyed, as a result of our sin, or will simply live on in either heaven or hell, is unclear. But I like the way Jesus explains it by way of two questions, “What good is it for man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul (Mark 8:36, 37).” Jesus was simply telling his friends and the rest of the crowd, that whatever they may gain by listening to Satan’s lies and then reaping his rewards here on earth; they will lose, along with the opportunity to enjoy eternal life with God. You may gain a temporary feel good result from your sin, but it will be gone in a blink, leaving you with nothing; nothing of value in God’s economy.
The answer to Jesus’ second question provides the solution to the human dilemma and the answer is; we can do nothing to save our own soul. All we can do is trust in Christ and what he was willing to do on our behalf, on a cross, some two thousand years ago. And then rise from the grave conquering death so that we might live forever with him. How valuable is the human soul, enough that the God of the universe was willing to sacrifice his only Son to cleanse and preserve us for eternity. Again let’s turn to the very words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last (eternal God). I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (hell).” Revelation 1:18
Another indicator of the value or worth of the human soul is seen in the serious consequences of its loss. All around us there are people losing their reputation, their wealth, their health, not to mention their friends and family. We often grieve for them, as well we should, but when was the last time you grieved for someone you were convinced had lost their eternal soul; eternally separated from God to face whatever that place Jesus calls Hades has in store for us? How often have you seen a news story about a missing mother or a disappearance of a child? There is a public outcry and often a regional or even nationwide search is mounted. But once the woman or child is found dead on some abandoned road or field; did any one cry out in anguish, “what about their soul, is it safe?” This may sound rather callous or even ridiculous, but the truth is that as precious as that women’s or child’s life was, it was only temporary and could be measured in years or decades, not centuries or an eon of time. The decisions we make here on earth about people, places and things may seem important at the time and they may very well be, but the decision we make concerning Christ makes them all seem trivial by comparison.