The Anatomy of a Soul
After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin and death spread like wildfire throughout their world. Every new human being who would enter into this world would be sinful and mortal. They would be unable to please the LORD through their own efforts; for the LORD is Holy. There is great potential for good in the human heart, but sin displeases our perfect Creator. It begins in our secret thoughts…the ones we feel guilty entertaining.
The origin of every evil deed is the very thought of it. After eating from the Knowledge Tree, human beings gained the ability to contemplate mischief and wickedness. We learned to entertain terrible whims on a regular basis and act upon them. For instance, we often imagine retaliating against people who annoy us, entertain jealousy, lustful thoughts, greed…etc. Perhaps we might succeed at chasing those thoughts from our minds, but that often happens after we relished them (even briefly). Now consider people who actually act upon their impulses to lie, cheat, steal, or worse…kill. They are prime examples of how thought always precedes action. Before someone tells a lie, he or she first thinks of the lie and figures out how to deliver it. Likewise, whenever someone steals, their imagination always precedes the act.
Surely we have heard stories of people who “lost control” or “snapped”, and behaved disgracefully as a result. Their actions began as thoughts.
In a few moments, we will follow the account of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s most well known sons. Before we get there, however, I would first like to explain the difference between the brain, the mind, the spirit, and the soul because it is very important that we understand what they are and how they interact with one another and with our world. Understanding those aspects of ourselves are fundamental to comprehending human beings as they were designed.
The brain itself is the physical organ that transmits and translates information to the body and receives information from environmental stimuli. The average human brain processes about 400 billion bits of information per second! Although we know that our brains are powerful, somewhere deep down, we also know that we are not our brains. We do not consciously regulate our body temperatures, heartbeats, nor even the smallest automatic processes within our bodies. We (as in our consciousness, awareness, and identity) exist alongside the brain.
The terms brain and mind are often used interchangeably but there is a big difference between them! Simply put, and for the purpose of this particular chapter, the mind is nonphysical: It encapsulates the entirety of thought, consciousness, personality, conscience, and identity. The mind is not the brain, but it is the brain’s computing power harnessed and combined with the awareness of the spirit. It is what the Bible often refers to when it describes the innermost desires of the “heart”; this heart is not the physical beating organ in our chests. Although the mind can influence it (as when a guilty conscience causes the heartbeat to accelerate), the heart as it is figuratively used, refers to the mind.
Our bodies are some of the most advanced machinery that have ever been designed! Though most often, people associate one’s identity with the body that they can see, just as we are not our brains, neither are we the body we occupy! We are instead, spirits dwelling within flesh. Thus our spirits are like the driver of a car who wills the vehicle to move by pressing the gas pedal.
The spirit of a person by itself is the innermost consciousness. It is the real you and just like everything else, it originated from God. It is highly influenced by the environment and activities that it is exposed to the most. For instance, if it is mostly exposed to evil, it tends to become evil; good, it will become good; wisdom, it will become wise; and if it is mostly exposed to confusion, it will be confused. This is why our spirits though they are from God, develop distinctly. A spirit that seeks God approaches Godliness. A spirit that seeks out sin, remains unapologetically sinful.
Our will is the committed intention of our spirit. Our actions are the manifestation of the will executed by our bodies. Our spirit interacts with a physical world by first communicating with the brain. Recall that the brain and spirit interaction is what we refer to as the mind. The brain is merely a processing unit. If the will of our spirit is to throw an object, the brain’s job is to calculate variables such as direction, trajectory, and environmental forces like wind. The mind (or spirit-brain) can then be considered as a single unit that desires or plans to throw an object. From there, the brain transmits electrochemical signals to the physical body to achieve it’s objective. The eyes see the intended target. If the target is moving, the brain continues to compute possible scenarios. The arm and hand that holds the object get ready for an impulse from the brain. Once the mind commits, the object will be thrown in accordance to one’s will to throw it.
Now the soul is the combination of brain, mind, and spirit. It can –depending on context–include the body as one complete being, but the invisible qualities, the hidden desires, unspoken thoughts, habits, mannerisms, etc are what we often include in our idea of the soul. It is the byproduct of a bond between the breath of life (the spirit which is from God) and the flesh:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. – Gen 2:7
The soul consists of the intangible (and sometimes tangible) aspects of a creature. It can grow and change with time and through each decision it makes.
Decisions are like tree branches that divide into infinite possibilities. As time passes by, we generally become more fixed in our ways, much like a grown tree which has become less movable. Each soul develops distinctly because of the different decisions that one can make as well as the results that follow each choice.
As an analogy, when we identify a tree, we can tell it apart from other trees (even of the same species) not only by the type of fruit it bears (if it is fruit-bearing) but also, by how it has developed. For instance, trees can grow to be different heights, different widths around their trunks, have different amounts of branches, leaf counts, fruits, etc. These distinctions are similar to the unique growth that each soul experiences.
Contrary to popular belief, the “soul” can be seen in it’s all encompassing context! It expresses bitterness, stress, sorrow, etc. as the countenance upon one’s face. The soul is also the ultimate decision maker. It either chooses to act upon the impulses of the brain or to override them. When I decide to do something, people see my body doing it. Deep down, they know that it is not just my body performing the action, neither is it merely a brain but an invisible consciousness (a spirit within me).
A common misconception of psychiatric approaches to human behavior, is that the brain makes our decisions. The brain is merely the sensory interaction center and processing unit. It computes, transmits, and receives information. Therefore, suggestions sent by the brain can be overridden by the greater consciousness. For instance the brain can tell me that I am hungry, but I can choose to fast; if I choose to fast, my soul, (my entire being) overrides the impulses of my brain that beg me to eat. My brain continues to remind me that my body is hungry, but my soul as the decision maker, decides when to act in order to satisfy my want for food. My soul takes into account the hunger signals sent by my brain, but make no mistake, the brain does not make us eat. Only the soul, the mix of flesh and spirit, can decide either by agreeing with the flesh, overruling the flesh, or submitting to it. In other words, both might agree that it is important to eat at a given time, one might overpower the other, or one might just get out of the way amd submit.
During decision-making, the brain transforms the soul’s will into physical action. Here, we can see that the soul (spirit-body duo) can communicate its will to the body (via the brain). If the desired outcome requires physical influence on the environment, then the brain will translate the will of the soul to the body and it will act appropriately. This is how an intangible spirit interacts with a tangible environment.
The brain is one big control module for transmitting and receiving information. The flesh which has a vast quantity of sensors (visual ones, auditory, olfactory, haptic, etc.), carries hundreds of billions of bits of information per second to the brain for processing. It computes and organizes light, shadow, colors, volume, bass, treble, pressure, weight, wind speed, humidity, and much more! When it has finished processing the data, the soul (or the entire consciousness in question) “sees”, “hears”, “feels”, etc.
Thus far, we have established that the soul not only transmits information to the brain, but also receives from it. In this manner, the brain is an intermediary between the spirit and the body. To summarize, it is literally a central processing unit, within the flesh- covered machine.
The words “soul” and “spirit” have often been interchanged just as brain and mind often are,. but they are not the same. The spirit is the predecessor of the soul. Before God breathed His spirit into Adam, Adam was an inanimate sculpture. The breath of life was the final ingredient needed to bring the human being to life. This “breath” animated his body and caused the man to become a living soul (according to Genesis 2:7).
The word “animate” comes from the latin “animatus” the past participle of the verb “animare” which means “to fill with breath” or as we better understand it, “to fill with life”. Breath itself translates to “spiritus” in Latin, the root of words like “respire” (to breathe), or more obviously, “spirit”! Therefore, animating mankind involved God filling us with spirit!
The Bible tells us that the spirit is from God. It is the “breath” that returns to Him when people die (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Therefore, the spirit is akin to a conscious battery of some sort. After all, man did not come to life until the battery and its consciousness were installed. For the spirit contained the power needed to spark and sustain life.
The soul is complex. It is the same essense that we call the spirit of a creature, and yet it is also the creature’s entire form (depending on the context). The soul is the spirit that God specifically assigned to inhabit a fleshly body, while also being an interface of spirit and body. In other words, when God breathed into man’s nostrils, man became a living spirit inhabiting living flesh. Such a spirit dwelling in flesh is called a soul. Man in his entirety of body and spirit also became a living soul because man is not spirit alone. Therefore, the entirety of a human being’s essense also considered his soul because the human entity is not just a spirit, but also flesh, bone, and blood.
An excerpt from the sequel to “The Serpent’s Lie” by Miguel A. Valembrun Jr.