Connected upward, yet pulled downward.
That is the battle within your soul.
But it’s for a purpose. And it’s good.
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[Combat Zone is the foundational post for soul basics. The original article was created/posted in 2009, but for easier reading divided into three posts in 2020. Judaic scripture number references used with Christian numbering in parentheses, when it’s different.]
SUGGEST READING THIS NEXT. COMBAT ZONE SERIES: PART 2—RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Italians might wish a newborn “benvenuti alla luce”—welcome to the light—but whenever I see a baby, one of my first thoughts is “Welcome to the battlefield.”
The dynamics have begun. Within that little body lies a great commission . . . its soul’s journey, purpose, identity.
That journey can be anything but easy because the soul-body matrix will engage in a no-holds-barred tug of war vs. resting in a holy balance.
I know that battle well. More than likely, you sense it too. It is, after all, the stuff within all of us residing on this side of heaven.
Some say that each of us is given a word . . . a word that keeps popping up through our lives. If that’s the case, my word is soul, which is intrinsically linked to my longtime subterranean awareness of God.
My earliest recollections of God’s presence, hearing Him on some level, and my deep desire to be with Him (and return to Him) started around age 4. I’d think of Him, spend time in quiet places outdoors seeking Him . . . and would sometimes lie across the bed in the afternoon for a nap, asking if I could go be with Him. But every time I’d wake up from those hoping-to-be-with-God naps, there I was. Still here. I’d get sad and cry because He hadn’t taken me.
I believe that was my young soul reaching for what it instinctively hungered: Him. But it’s been a long and w-i-n-d-i-n-g soul road since then—with a hiatus or two (or more) from that earlier panting for Him. A seriously real spiritual battle had pulled my soul in various directions. Trying to eclipse Him.
But then . . . He stepped in. And the deep-dive into the soul and Him began—again.
Here’s a look at what’s behind the scenes of your soul battle and mine.
WHAT’S WARRING WITHIN
Your soul is breathed from God. It holds the identity of what God made you to be in Him vs. the illusion that whispers to you from the world and other sources.
An unseen God and an unseen soul. Both real, tangible in a unique and mysterious way. Both hidden, yet sensed, felt, and evidenced in this physical world.
Your God-breathed soul is called upward to Him—but its visible vessel, the body, is made from the earth (dust to dust) and is tethered to this world. Like in a theatrical production, the moment your soul-body unites, both players move downstage: The power struggle begins. The soul’s battle-heavy glory work ignites. And a cast of characters muddle your soul story—many opponents on many soul-body battlefronts, spiritually and physically:
(1) the world—earthly, mundane, carnal, temporal pursuits
(2) your DNA
(3) outer impacts—cultural/environmental
(4) relationships—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, congregant members, etc.
(5) life encounters/experiences
(6) your since-the-beginning-of-time adversary, satan
And let’s not forget free will . . . complete with your two-sided inclinations (good guy/not-so-good guy): a drive toward doing/choosing things that are good, yetzer tov (יֵצֶר טוב), and a drive toward doing/choosing not-so-good things, yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הַרַע).
So it doesn’t take much to stir up a war—instead of
doing what the soul-body matrix should be doing.
Stirring up its entire being to love Him.
DISSECTING YOUR SOUL
Philosophers from Homer to Plato and Socrates and onto the Hellenistic period and beyond have peered into this mysterious soul relationship with many conjectures. But this post focuses on God’s Word—with Scripture numbering per the Tanakh/Judaic Bible and the Christian numbering, where different—to share and explore the foundational Judaic dichotomous view—the soul-body interplay—and how the soul’s intriguing dimensions are revealed in our daily life.
Earlier Israelites as well as those in the second temple period—including the first century with Jesus (Yeshua, his Hebrew name)—embraced this soul-body perspective. Same with rabbinic teaching today.
And because film/literature can help visualize the human-soul story, I later on (in a linked post) lightly explore a character in a Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria, via this soul lens. An unconventional approach, yes. But hey, it’s how my mind rolls—I’m a theatre/English major.
So the first stop along our Judaic-Messianic bridge: three Hebrew words used interchangeably for soul, which reveal the nuances of the soul.
Those three words show us that the soul . . .
is breathed from God
is unseen like a breath or wind
can rise (to the things of God) and descend (away from His goodness)
houses understanding and thought
has a desire to cleave (negatively or positively)
has an awareness of self
shares responsibility with the body for its actions/decisions (thus one of the needs for a bodily resurrection—more on that in another post)
Soul Nuance #1: Breath of life, soul, attached to God
Neshama [neh-shah-mah ]—soul, God’s breath of life [nishmat chayim נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים] that God breathed into Adam per Genesis 2:7. That breath animated, enlivened the body and sparked the soul’s dimensions. It gave Adam’s body—as it does yours and mine—life.
Think of it. That breath is your closest contact with God, His soul to your newly breathed soul. It’s His holy breath (nishmat) actually residing within you. How miraculous. A profound, loving gift from the King of Kings, the Ruler of the Universe. The One who sits High and lifted up on His mighty throne.
Soul Nuance #2: Wind, breath, spirit
Ruach [roo-akh] rises and descends—designed to move (like the wind) with the flow of God’s divine presence dwelling within [His Shechinah שכינה]. You hear the wind, feel it, but can’t see it. The word ruach is also used for feelings/emotions. The question is, willyou hear His voice and follow Him, drawing the entire soul-body upward, surrendering to Him and His leading? As a person’s life goes this way or that, upwardly seeking Him or not, so this Soul Nuance (spirit/wind/ruach) rises, descends.
Soul Nuance #3: Life force, soul, self, a person, rested breath, living (breathing) being
Nefesh [neh-fesh]—when the breath of life (neshama, Soul Nuance #1) first animated the body, it became a living vessel (nefesh). Since nefesh is enmeshed with the body, it is often linked to blood (Leviticus 17:11), hence the prohibition against eating blood. The word nefesh is used for the inner breathing soul-substances of a person. It’s taken from the Hebrew root nafash meaning to rest per Exodus 31:17, where God rested after six days of creation. Likewise, the breath of the soul (neshama, Soul Nuance #1) rested (nafash), as in Genesis 2:7.
The nefesh is often translated as self in certain places, suggesting it has an awareness of the physical world and of the body. It also has a yearning, a desire, appetite, and a cleaving (attaching itself either negatively or positively), per some rabbinic thinking. That self-factor is an important characteristic. Especially if the soul (nefesh) cleaves to things/desires mirroring those of the downward-focused body . . . which can up the ante of the battle and block the soul’s upward call.
Add in what Rabbi Pinchas Winston (a lecturer/author on Torah philosophy) basically describes about the nefesh—in his teaching of Exodus 35:1 – 38:20, referred to in Judaic circles as parshah Vayakhel: it sets out to control and manipulate its physical surroundings in an attempt to “create a sense of self-reliance and security.”
No wonder that globally-and-generationally-known rabbi (who was so much more)—Jesus/Yeshua—taught this about dying to that negative self and turning your soul and body to God, surrendering to Him, serving Him, loving Him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”—John 12:24
Consider this poetic image of those distinct-yet-interactive-and-similar Soul Nuances from Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (my inserts in red):
Like a glassblower, God’s action of exhaling a soul
is like the breath [neshama] leaving His lips,
traveling as wind [ruach/spirit],
coming to rest [nefesh/nafash] in the vessel [your/my/everyone’s body].
THE BODY FACTOR
Unlike the soul breathed from God, your earth-derived body has a different agenda. It has an appetite and cravings for our physical world/natural realm.
As noted by the highly regarded Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz—teacher, author, and famed for his edition of the Talmud: “The body is blind . . . it has the physical power but doesn’t have the understanding, the inner side . . . the soul, on the other hand, has all understanding [it is not visible, but sees spiritually—my note for clarification], but it doesn’t have the physical power to do it.”
Steinsaltz says the soul-body combination is very powerful, being able to do everything: feeling, thinking, saying. But it’s not that simple. He says with the creation of man, a lump of matter, of earth, God inserted a soul. That resulted in two different and separate entities whose usage later is far more complex—and in daily life takes on a more “symbiotic coexistence of two elements.”
Symbiotic, says Steinsaltz, in that the soul and body are working together and influencing each other . . . creating a type of combined entity.
You, me, today: This soul-body matrix (union/fusion of sorts) can cause the holy mission of the soul to travel a rigorous obstacle course. The question is, will the soul gets its earthly partner to look upward—or will the God-breathed soul be duped or falter and be pulled downward, eyes off of God and His ways?
Introducing perhaps a more familiar term: In Judaic fashion, Jesus/Yeshua used the terms “soul” and “body”—as in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
But New Testament writers later called the body’s world-tethered component the flesh—referring to the physical body and its self-driven characteristics.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submitto God’s law; indeed, it cannot. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit [of God] is life and peace . . . Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” —Romans 8:5, 6, 8
And that brings us to part two of this series. COMBAT ZONE: PART 2—RULES OF ENGAGEMENT