by Al Maxey
Issue #836 -- December 31, 2021
The self holds both a hell and a heaven
that rationalism, far too confident of the
powers of reason alone, never penetrates.
Lewis Mumford [1895-1990]
The novelist Saul Bellow (1915-2005), who won both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize in 1976, provides the following insight in the Foreword to his work The Closing of the American Mind, "In the greatest confusion there is still an open channel to the soul. It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown, and some of the wildest thickets that surround it grow out of what we describe as our education. But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest part of ourselves." Both Mumford and Bellow, each in his own way, spoke of the need to provide a channel of access to one's "self" or "soul," which Bellow identifies as "the deepest part of ourselves." Some would characterize this as "our inner man" or "our existential core." None of these words or phrases speak of some separate non-physical immortal life-form indwelling our fleshly bodies that wings its way to another dimension at the moment the body dies. We do not serve as a host to a ghost. These men, as do the writers who penned our Scriptures, simply refer poetically and figuratively to the immaterial aspects of our humanity (emotions, feelings, desires, hopes; love, compassion, anger, anxiety, etc.). This is that marriage of mind and matter, with both comprising the unified whole that is man.
Some have sought to identify the exact location of these non-physical aspects of our being: love being in the heart, compassion in the bowels, bitterness in the bile of the gall bladder, etc. The reality, however, is really rather simple: We are material beings, mortal by nature, yet with the ability to think, reason, and feel a wide variety of emotions. We are complex creatures, multi-functional, yet holistic in our formation as "living beings/souls." In other words, we are not a compilation of two or three different and distinct life-forms. In the words of Abraham, we are but animated "dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27), and one day, when we "breathe our last breath," we will return to dust and ashes. No "immortal soul" will fly off to Gloryland at our body's death to sing with the angels before the Throne. We will be dead, not alive elsewhere! Which is precisely why the promise of resurrection is one of the central aspects, if not the central aspect, of the Good News brought by Jesus Christ to mortal man (2 Timothy 1:10). We will be raised, we will be changed (this mortal will "put on" immortality), and then the victory over death will be realized (1 Corinthians 15) in the new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13).
The biblical teaching on the nature of man is really not all that complicated. What has caused it to be perceived as difficult to grasp is the vast volume of non-biblical teaching that has influenced both Judaism and Christianity for literally thousands of years. Truth has been buried under a heap of theological misinformation and religious misapplication. Wayward tradition has supplanted the Word of God on this (as well as other) topics, and the result is an indoctrination so misguided that otherwise good and godly persons rejoice in the lie of the Serpent and reject the Truth of our Sovereign and Savior. And many of them do so not maliciously, but simply out of sheer ignorance! Even Paul the apostle bemoaned the fact that for a time he had "acted ignorantly in unbelief," and yet he later rejoiced that he was "shown mercy" by a loving Savior (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul could certainly relate to the "wild, overgrown thickets we describe as our education" (to use the words of Saul Bellow) that had served to hide Truth from his view for a time. Yet, the Lord, with His powerful two-edged sword, was able to hack through that clutter to the "deepest part of his being," thus penetrating Paul's heart and mind with the Divine Word that could transform his life! The Jews on the day of Pentecost could certainly understand this, for when they heard Peter proclaiming the Divine Message that day, "they were pierced to the heart" (Acts 2:37, NASB). The Word/Message from above had penetrated through the religious clutter, slicing its way through to the very core of their being.
This had nothing to do with penetrating to some specific, though hidden, location within the fleshly body of man where his/her "immortal soul" dwelt, and then convincing and convicting that "soul" of eternal Truths that would enable it to enjoy Paradise when its host body finally died and liberated it. Rather, it was an appeal to the cognitive aspects of man's nature, not the physical; a penetration into man's mind, into that "place" where God had incorporated an awareness of that eternal realm, so as to draw men to Him. When His Word reaches this deeply into the core of our being, when that Word finds a receptive heart and mind, a transformation begins to take place. The Lord is no longer standing outside the door of our heart knocking; He has been invited inside! Yes, the Word of God has the power to cut that deeply; to slice through the clutter; to penetrate or pierce the heart (our emotions) and the mind (our intellect). It can plumb the depths of our being, redirecting our lives. It is that powerful. We too often overlook the influence of the heart/mind on the body. Nevertheless, we are created in such a way that mind and body are a unified whole: what impacts one, impacts the other. The term "psychosomatic" speaks of this union. It is an adjective made up of two Greek words: "psuche" (soul, being) and "soma" (body). According to the medical literature, this term "refers to the influence of the mind or psychological functioning of the brain on the physiologic functions of the body relative to bodily disorders or disease and the reciprocal impact of disease on psychological functioning." Our emotions, fears, desires, anxieties are all powerful influences on our bodies, just as bodily afflictions, diseases, and disorders can also be a powerful influence on our emotional and spiritual well-being. When body and mind/soul are not in harmony, one's health is affected negatively; when body and mind/soul are in harmony, one's health is affected positively. With this understanding in view, read Paul's struggle with himself and how it impacted virtually every aspect of his being (Romans 7:14-25).
Paul sought release and rest from his conflict with self; from the inner turmoil of conflicting desires. No doubt, he would have gladly penetrated into the very core of his being and "dealt with" the problem decisively, but he lacked the power. He couldn't cut that deeply; he couldn't penetrate to that "spot." Neither can any of us. The channel to our "self/soul" is overgrown. Yes, it can be accessed, and that which can transform us can get through, but our own efforts repeatedly fall short. This is why Paul lamented, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24, NKJV). Is such deliverance possible? Is such a Deliverer available to mankind? Is there some way to cut through the shackles that bind us, and to bring liberty and transformation and life? Is there a way to acquire that blessed rest our Lord invites us to enter (Hebrews 4:1-11)? The answer, of course, is resoundingly in the affirmative! Yes, there is a way out of our bondage to sin and death, and a way into His presence. There is a divine tool that is capable of the task, and it can reach that "place" within us where it can work powerfully upon us! It is revealed to us throughout the Scriptures, but I want us to focus on one particular text in this study, for it has caused quite a bit of debate among disciples of Christ over the centuries. That passage is Hebrews 4:12, which reads: "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (NASB).
Before we get too deeply into the text, we need to notice the context. Verse 12 immediately follows the teaching of Hebrews 4:1-11, which is a fascinating treatise on God's "rest," as well as a charge to believers to make sure they don't "come short of it." It is much too wonderful to miss out on, which one may do if they fail to respond in faith to the Good News of this rest that is presented to them. It also identifies this "rest" with the Divine "seventh day," a marvelous eternal "rest" for the people of God, unless they turn away from this gift by lack of responsive faith. Since one can spurn such a gracious gift, we are given this caution: "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest" (vs. 11a), lest anyone fall short by exhibiting the same lack of active faith as some have in the past. There is much more being taught here in these first eleven verses than many realize, and I would urge the reader to examine my study of these verses in Reflections #56 ("The 'Days' Of Creation: Literal or Figurative?"). For those who may not desire to take time to read this article, let me just include in the paragraph below the final thought from that study:
God gave the people of Israel a special Sabbath rest from their physical labor so that their seventh day could be characterized by a spiritual focus; a day unhindered by physical pursuits and concerns. This would be a weekly reminder to His people of that great eternal Sabbath rest (that eternal seventh "day") to which they would one day be raised to enter and enjoy. Similarly, the Lord's Supper is a continuing reminder of a great promise of His return to take us to that eternal feast. The temporal clearly prefigures the eternal in both cases. Hebrews 4:1 speaks of the promise of our "entering His rest." Those of us "who have believed" will "enter that rest" (vs. 3). Some persons, however, because of their disbelief and rebellion against the Lord "shall not enter My rest" (vs. 3). This "rest" was not the physical promised land (as vs. 8 declares). Rather, "there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (vs. 9). God rested after His work of creation on the seventh "day" (vs. 3b-4), and you and I must "be diligent to enter THAT rest" (vs. 11). This passage informs us that the "rest" which God Himself entered following His work of creation (the seventh "day") is the very same "rest" which remains, and to which you and I aspire to enter! That is a loooong seventh "day." Certainly not a literal 24 hour period of time. If that "rest" (that seventh "day") is only 24 literal hours, then we are all in big trouble! The fact is, however, the seventh "day" is an eternal "day," not a temporal one. It is forever. Thus, "day" (Yom) is clearly figurative, not literal. Is it just possible, therefore, that the first six "days" should also be viewed from the perspective of the eternal realm rather than the temporal? Just some food for thought!
We definitely don't want to miss out on the festivities of that eternal "seventh day," which is GOD's "rest." Imagine!! An invitation from the Creator to be part of HIS "rest." It boggles the mind! Thus, we are urged in this passage, especially in verse 11, to "be diligent" to enter the everlasting joys of that blessed "day." Jumping ahead to verses 14-16, we discover that Jesus, God's Son and our great High Priest, has already arrived. He entered that "Rest" ahead of us; and rightly so ... and thankfully so, for He can now intercede for us (due to our daily failings and falterings). Because He knows intimately our weaknesses, and yet still urges us to "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (vs. 16), we seek all the more diligently to make our calling sure. Yet, like Paul, I know me (Al Maxey) only too well ... painfully well, as a matter of fact. I know me so well that there is a tendency to hope and pray He fails to perceive my true nature, or the full extent of my yielding to my besetting sins, failings that caused even Paul the apostle to view himself as "wretched" (I'm sure each of you can relate). The reality is: "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (vs. 13). Oh, no! We're doomed. There's no way a "wretch" like me is going to make it. He sees everything!! Nothing is hidden from Him; He sees right through us, into the deepest recesses of our being! Which is where our text (Hebrews 4:12) comes in: "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (NASB).
This is one of those "good news - bad news" passages, depending on who you are and Whose you are. No "godless goat" will slip surreptitiously past the Shepherd and through the "pearly gate" into the Heavenly Fold of the Father! He saw right through your sheep costume long before you ever got there!! On the other hand, His precious sheep will be welcomed Home, even though they may be battered and bruised, shaken, stumbling, faltering and falling, mournful over their imperfections, for He sees right through the "filthy rags" into the deepest recesses of our being, and He sees a heart devoted in love to Him, and a heart distressed by how often we were less than we desired to be! "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:25). And then the Good News: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2).
So, what is Hebrews 4:12 all about? Well, for US who are in HIM, it is about the victory of Divine Love and Grace. We are known by Him far better than we know ourselves. He knows us inside and out; He sees everything! Yet, when He sends forth His Word, whether it be spoken or written or lived (as in the Person of "the Word become flesh" = Jesus), that Divine Word - Message - Proclamation cuts straight through all manner of clutter, and it penetrates into our hearts and minds, to the very core of our being. And the Lord then judges us based on what we do with that Word. He doesn't judge us based on how perfect we are, or how much we know, or how "correctly" we worshipped on a Sunday morning ... He and His Word penetrated us to the deepest depths: physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, culturally, financially. He went through it all and penetrated as deeply into each of us as it was possible to go. And it was there that He found (or didn't find) what He was looking for. It wasn't in the "filthy rags" ... it wasn't in the "faltering steps" and the daily "stumbles and falls" ... it wasn't in our weaknesses or doubts. He saw the true nature of our hearts, of our minds, of our desires. He saw us for who we really were (the good, the bad, and the ugly). But then GRACE kicked in!! He saw that we were fallen men and women who were now IN CHRIST JESUS by faith, and thus by grace He counted us as perfectly righteous by imparting to us "the faith OF Jesus." And He embraced us, filthy rags and all, and said, "Welcome Home, weary child ... Enter My Rest!" You see, brethren, it's not about the externals. "But, Lord, Lord, didn't we do ___, and didn't we do ___, and what about ____?!" Nope!! Look again, and more closely, at Matthew 25:31-46. Who are the sheep? Those who loved God and others. Who are the goats? Those who didn't.
I wish we could end this study of Hebrews 4:12 right there. I really do. But, we can't. Why? Because this passage has been used repeatedly by those who seek to employ it as a prooftext for their Platonic perception of the nature of man: i.e., that man HAS a "living soul," rather than the biblical teaching that man IS a "living soul." Some refer to this verse as proving a "human trinity" (in keeping with a "Divine Trinity" - one reader wrote to me saying, "I believe Hebrews 4 speaks to a dual or triune nature of man and God"). If we are created "in His image," they reason, then we must be body - soul - spirit, since Deity is Father - Son - Spirit. This separating or dividing of man into three distinct parts is known as a "trichotomy." The renowned Greek scholar Dr. A.T. Robertson had this to say about Hebrews 4:12, "This text is not an argument for trichotomy" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Robert Milligan (1814-1875), a leader in the Stone-Campbell Movement, wrote, "From the days of Pythagoras (500 B.C.), and more especially from the time of Plato (350 B.C.), the doctrine of a trinity in human nature became somewhat prevalent" [The New Testament Commentary, vol. 9, p. 139]. This, however, is "not a sundering of the soul and of the spirit by the Word of God. The Word never does such a thing even also as the soul that animates our bodies and the spirit are not two entities which something may cut apart" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 143]. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, the editor of The Expositor's Greek Testament, notes that this wording in our text "is an expression which does not mean that the Word divides the soul from the spirit, or the joints from the marrow, but that it pierces through all that is in man to that which lies deepest in his nature" [vol. 4, p. 282]. Dr. F.F. Bruce concurs, stating that the wording used in this text is "to be understood as a rhetorical accumulation of terms to express the whole mental nature of man on all its sides," and that "It would indeed be precarious to draw any conclusions from these words about our author's psychology, nor is it necessary to understand them in the sense of a distinction between soul and spirit" [The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 82].
Dr. Marvin Vincent, one of the leading biblical Greek scholars, indicates: "The living word of God, since it is the word of the living God, has an incisive and penetrating quality. It lays bare self-delusions and moral sophisms" [Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 427]. He goes on to say that the Greek word "merismos," which is translated by some as "division," is "not to be understood of dividing soul from spirit or joints from marrow. Soul and spirit cannot be said to be separated in any such sense as this" [ibid, p. 428]. Dr. Vincent continues, "Attempts to explain (this figurative phrase) on any psychological basis are futile. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the Word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being. ... The expression is expanded and defined by the next clause" [ibid]. That next clause is found in verse 13 - "all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." This is not a dividing into separate parts, but a laying open and laying bare of the wholeness of our being for the inspection of the living Word of the living God. Another noted Greek scholar, Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, agrees with Dr. Vincent, and even quotes him with respect to this text [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2 - Hebrews, p. 88-89]. "In plain words, the Word of God judges the conceptions and ideas of the heart. The innermost ideas and deepest movements of the heart are open before the all-seeing eye of God and before the omniscience of His Word" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 2, p. 451]. The English theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) states the Word of God "penetrates the heart ... piercing quite through, and laying open the inmost recesses of the mind, which the apostle beautifully and strongly expresses by this heap of figurative words; the Word of God is a discerner, not only of the thoughts, but also of the intentions" [Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].
"The Word pierces into the deepest recesses of man's being. It pricks men in their hearts" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21 - Hebrews, p. 115]. "So searching and judicial is the power of the Word of God that it reaches and discloses the inmost depths of a man's consciousness" [ibid, p. 112]. As for some suggesting that this passage proves the "trichotomy" of man's nature, this same source offers this rebuke: "Expositors, in their analysis of the meaning of passages, may often detect more than the author thought of" [ibid]. So true! Dr. Albert Barnes writes, "The design of this and the following verse is obvious. It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God. ... There can be no escape from the penetrating, searching application of the Word of God. ... It is like a penetrating sword that lays open the whole of man. ... The idea is that of piercing or penetrating; and the meaning here is that the Word of God reaches the 'heart' - the very center of action, and lays open the motives and feelings of the man" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "This is not a separating of these things from one another, but laying them bare to view" [The Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary, e-Sword]. "The stress of this passage isn't to spell out a theology of the difference between soul and spirit. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the Word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our being" [Dr. David Guzik, The Enduring Word Commentary, e-Sword]. "The Word of God is unique. No sword can penetrate as it can. We should not take the reference to 'soul' and 'spirit' as indicating a 'dichotomist' over against a 'trichotomist' view of man, nor the reference to 'dividing' to indicate that the writer envisaged a sword as slipping between them. What the author is saying is that God's Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 44].
There is a benefit to the believer himself (or herself) in this deep searching of our being by the Word of God. "God's Word searches the whole of man's nature most rigorously. It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It exercises a critical and separating power upon the thoughts and ideas, opinions and principles, of the heart. And it discovers to men the true moral character of their thoughts and intents, their opinions and principles. The Word of God frequently reveals man to himself" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21 - Hebrews, p. 122]. Thus, the deep, penetrating, piercing exposing and examining of our every thought, desire, emotion, motivation (whether good or bad) is brought to light when exposed to the Light of God's Word and to the eyes of Him from whom that Light emanates. If we take the findings of this deep dive into the core of our being to heart, if we reflect upon what is found and act upon what is found, we benefit immensely. If we refuse to do so, rejecting that exposť, then that Word (and the One who gave it) will judge us and find us willfully wanting. Our text says this Word is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." This is the Greek word "kritikos," which is a "judgment involving the sifting out and analysis of evidence. In 'kritikos' the ideas of discrimination and judgment are blended" [Dr. Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 428]. This wording of our text "brings out strikingly the ability of the Word to penetrate the innermost part of man, either to change him inwardly into a new man or, in case of self-hardening (Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7), to lay bare all his deadly guilt" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 142].
Jesus declared, "If anyone hears My sayings (Greek: hrema) and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive my sayings (hrema), has one who judges him; the word (Greek: logos) I spoke is what will judge him at the last day" (John 12:47-48). It is the Greek word "logos," by the way, that is used in Hebrews 4:12 ("the Word of God"). Although Jesus Himself is clearly identified as the "Word" (John 1:1, 14), nevertheless it is His declarations, which were given to Him by the Father to speak unto men, rather than He Himself, that is in view in our text. "For God's word - that word which fell on disobedient ears in the wilderness and which has been sounded out again in these days of fulfillment - is not like the word of man; it is living, effective, and self-fulfilling; it diagnoses the condition of the human heart, saying, 'Thou ailest here, and here'; it brings blessing to those who receive it in faith and pronounces judgment on those who disregard it" [Dr. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 80]. There are a couple of Bible paraphrases that I believe capture the meaning of our text (Hebrews 4:12) quite well, and I will close this study with their rendition of this verse: "For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are" [The Living Bible] and "God means what He says. What He says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one can resist God's Word. We can't get away from it - no matter what" [The Message].
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Dear Al, Thank you so much for all the Reflections over the years. Because of your influence, I have changed my mind on many topics. You have given my husband and me a "modus operandi" for approaching questionable areas. Good frames of reference have been formulated due to your teachings! We hope all is well with you!
From a Reader in Australia:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Al and Shelly. May our heavenly Father richly bless you and all your family during this blessed season with an abundant outpouring of His matchless grace! With Christmas here, we want to again say a big Thank You for the work and preparation that you do to bring such challenging and insightful messages to us all in each and every issue of Reflections that you write! We love you!
From a Minister in Ukraine:
Dear Bro. Al, Greetings from our homeland of Ukraine. Thank You, brother, so very much for your ministry. I am often encouraged and challenged by your writings! May the Lord bless you as you continue to produce these Reflections. On behalf of our family, and our church family, we want to wish you and Shelly a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May you truly enjoy this wonderful holiday season with your loved ones, and may the Lord grant us all a truly happy new year!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, Merry Christmas to you and your family. Happy New Year. Thanks for the many good Reflections articles this past year! You have certainly caused me to think about biblical topics in a different manner, and this process has changed my beliefs for the better.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thank you for your literary exposť of this subject about the nature of man: "The Myth of Immortal Soulism: A Response to Wayne Jackson's Article in a Recent Issue of Christian Courier" (Reflections #835). Yes, we can indeed be influenced by assumptions, preconceived notions, and pagan philosophies in this area of study! The other thing I don't like is: this view that says God takes lost souls and tortures them without end can easily lead to an insidious doctrine that supposes God will in this same way deal with anyone who doesn't do things "our way." I had a sister who, when confronted with the idea that God was not going to torment the unrighteous forever, said, "So, what is the point then?" In God's mercy, man was not allowed to access the Tree of Life and thus live forever in a corrupted state (a teaching totally at odds with the "torture forever" dogma). Love you, Al. Have a blessed Christmas and New Year.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, you always challenge your readers' intelligence with your diligence in presenting the truth of your investigations. This article on "immortal soulism," as many others you have done previously on this topic, has challenged me to rethink, once again, my former beliefs! May God continue to bless you with the ability to present TRUTH. Blessings to you always for your work, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.
From a Reader in Maine:
Thanks, Al, for the wonderful Reflections of 2021. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2022. As for your last article on immortal soulism, I found your arguments around "the breath of life" most compelling as to the point in time at which life begins. As I read what you wrote, it seemed clear to me that those paragraphs would fit into a discussion of whether a woman of faith, or any woman, could/should have the choice to have an abortion. And not only to have/not have an abortion, but also whether or not to advocate either for or against that right in a "free country" such as ours. The time may come soon when persons of faith will be challenged to work for or against passage of state legislation outlawing abortion if/when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Never having had an abortion myself, I find it hard to relate to the trauma a woman of faith (or any woman) must have when facing such a decision for herself. I perceive from your teaching that you would probably agree that any belief or practice (especially if not specifically addressed in Scripture) should never be required or prohibited just because it has become "the norm" or "default" belief in Christendom or in "our tribe." It is difficult for me to automatically write off abortion as a viable alternative for some women of faith in some cases. I wonder what your thoughts may be on this (and would love to hear from your readers as well). Blessings, brother!
This is a very difficult, hotly debated, and highly divisive issue, as we all know, and I doubt any of us will ever be completely comfortable with our conclusions as to God's will on the matter. I personally don't believe an abortion should be the first option considered for an "inconvenient" pregnancy. Nor do I place abortion on the same level with a birth control pill or device. Preventing a pregnancy is one thing; terminating a pregnancy (especially if the fetus is significantly advanced in its development) is another! Which, of course, brings up the question: At what specific point is that "object" within the womb considered a living being? Is it at the moment of conception? These are united living cells, after all, but does that truly equate, at this early stage, to a living being/soul? I think most would suggest that it does not, with which I would personally agree. Some will affirm that this living "object" doesn't "officially" become a living being or person until it draws its first "breath of life" outside the womb. On the other hand, one can make a case for fetal "respirations" in the womb (blood carrying "good air" to the fetus and removing "bad air" from it) via the umbilical cord. Medical science states, "About two weeks after conception, the umbilical cord and the placenta are sufficiently developed to begin their functions." If there is blood flow to the fetus ("life is in the blood" - Leviticus 17:11), one could make a case for the presence of life, even though significant developmental stages still remain. I don't suppose we'll ever come to a point of complete agreement, even among believers, on the matter of exactly when this womb occupant becomes "a living being/soul." Regardless, however, I find it disturbing that the termination of such a life has become so casual within our "enlightened" society! Millions of these "unborn ones" are being terminated, while the "right" to do so is literally applauded within the Halls of Congress! This bothers me a lot. Yes, I do believe there are legitimate circumstances where an abortion may be "the lesser of two evils," and thus in such cases should be considered. I have dealt with this in my following study: "Aborting the Miracle of Life: Does Mankind have that Right?" (Reflections #155). Some of these same principles may apply to yet another very difficult choice some are faced with: the taking of their own life. I dealt with that in my article titled, "Suicide Among Saints: Is Killing Oneself A Sin?" (Reflections #153). I hope these studies will provide some food for thought as we seek to live responsibly in these difficult times. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Colorado:
God bless you, friend! I am grateful for the work you've done faithfully over the years as a servant to our Lord. You have helped me so much in my walk with Him. You have helped me learn how to drop those legalistic chains that had burdened me for so many years. We will meet one day. Of that I am absolutely certain!! Merry Christmas, Al.
From a Minister/Author in California:
Al, so much "shinola" has been swallowed over the years with regard to the doctrine of immortal soulism. Thanks for reminding us of our mortality.
From a Reader in West Virginia:
Your study "The Myth of Immortal Soulism" was excellent. I was starting to wonder when you were going to resume treatment of this topic!
From a Reader in Wyoming:
Thanks, Al. "The Myth of Immortal Soulism" is an excellent article with which my own study fully agrees!
From a Reader in Arizona:
The human soul is not immortal - Correct. Annihilation is biblical - Correct.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I always look forward to some free, sit down, deep read time with you, Al. I just finished your deep, precise, and detailed commentary on Wayne Jackson's view of the immortal soul issue. As I expected, it was excellent. Brother, please take a look at this short, fast-paced, related item and evaluate: "The Truth About Death" - it's a nine-minute YouTube video put out by Amazing Facts Ministries in Canada.
This video is excellent, and it states exactly what I believe the Scriptures teach throughout the OT and NT about the nature of man. My thanks to this reader who shared it with me after he had read my most recent Reflections article. I would encourage everyone to watch this video. I put the above link to it on my Facebook page (and several church pages as well), and it generated some good discussion. A dear friend of ours who was a member of the congregation where I preached for eight years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, wrote: "Thanks, Al, for sharing this on Facebook! I agree with what it says. Also, you did an excellent job years ago in Santa Fe teaching this subject." My most recent class on this, which was recorded and placed on a CD, is "The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny." Details on how to order a copy can be found at that link. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader/Author in Florida:
Al, what a GREAT article on the subject ("The Myth of Immortal Soulism"). I've read most, if not all, of your Reflections articles on this topic, but things finally "clicked" while reading this one! Thank you, and God bless!
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, thanks for your thoughts in your article "The Divine Shellfish Sanction: Are Christians Required to Abide by Ancient Jewish Dietary Restrictions?" (Reflections #834). What I find interesting is that many theologians become defacto Universalists as they age (and grow wiser?). If God is unwilling that any should perish, and that all might come to repentance, as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9, then does He allow those in final judgment to repent prior to being tossed into eternal destruction? I agree that the extent of God's grace will surprise many in the final analysis, and I am with you in that we should be acting as Jesus did: embracing the lost and encouraging them to seek and find God in their lives. I am at the point where the "sheep & goats" account of final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) resonates the most with me. "Sheep" take care of people, "goats" do not. There is no mention here of methodologies or lifestyles or doctrine/dogma. There is love for others versus indifference! I believe this story should scare us the most, and cause us to ask: how do we take care of others and show God's love in our lives? Again, Al, I really appreciate your fellowship and your insights. Have a great holiday season. Love ya'll.
From a Reader in Alabama:
I also am an "annihilationist," and thus I do not believe in the immortality of the wicked. They will be annihilated, destroyed, and will not be tortured forever. But, I struggle with something, and I would like your opinion. The righteous and the wicked of the OT were kept in Hades until their resurrection at the end of the age in 70 A.D., at which time they would receive either their reward (eternal life) or their final sentencing and annihilation. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is probably a picture of their state until that time, and the wicked are seen as being aware of their surroundings, and even of their own death. Also, Jesus went in the spirit and preached to the spirits in prison (the wicked destroyed in the flood) during His three days of death. So my struggle is that it appears that the wicked of the OT lived on after death in some way, aware of what was going on, so why were the wicked (like those killed in the flood) not annihilated when they died in the flood? I guess if someone thinks the parable of the rich man and Lazarus does not really show that the wicked are aware of their surroundings after death, then he/she might not see my logic (as would someone who believed that the wicked just "soul sleep" until the resurrection, and then are annihilated). I would like your thoughts on all this!
I can appreciate this reader's struggle. Escaping from one's religious indoctrination is not easy, and we
have all struggled to some extent as we leave traditional "truths" to embrace ultimate Truth. This reader is in the midst of that struggle, having
accepted the biblical doctrine dealing with the termination of the wicked, yet still holding on to a Platonic misunderstanding of the nature of man.
For example, does the Bible teach "souls" are kept in Hades until their final disposition? No, it does not. Man does not "have" an undying life-form
trapped inside a physical body that is freed by the death of the body. That is a pagan myth. Those who died in the flood were not all kept somewhere
in a Hadean world where Jesus centuries later went and preached to them for three days. I would urge the reader to examine what the Bible actually
teaches regarding "Hades," insights I have provided in Reflections #44 ("The
Hadean Realm: Truth or Tradition?"). Jesus did not hold a "Gospel meeting" in Hades for the "dead" who drowned in the flood. He was
dead, as were those who drowned. I have dealt in some depth with this misunderstanding in my study titled "Preaching to the
Prisoners: A Critical Analysis of 1 Peter 3:18-20" (Reflections #83). Also,
if Jesus was NOT truly and completely dead, this leads to some very, very troubling implications, which I have pointed out in
Reflections #152 ("Paying the Debt for Our Sin: Was the Crucifixion of
Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin?"). This is an extremely important point, and it must not be overlooked!!
As for the account of the rich man and the poor beggar (Luke 16:19-31), there is sufficient evidence that this was merely a parable. In fact, it appears
to have been a rather common story of that time which Jesus used (and perhaps modified somewhat) to make a point to the Jews about God's
expectations for us in this present life. I have presented that evidence in my article "The Rich Man and Lazarus"
(Reflections #28). This reader also spoke of the resurrection and the end of the
age as happening in 70 A.D., which leads me to believe that this reader has accepted at least some of the teaching of Preterism, which
I personally believe to be a doctrine inconsistent with the Scriptures. It most certainly is inconsistent with some of the foundational teachings about
the nature of man and his final disposition. I have dealt with that inconsistency in my article "Preterism and Eternal Punishment: Is Preterism
Compatible with Conditionalism?" (Reflections #721). I hope these few
thoughts and references will help in clarifying some of the confusion felt by this reader from Alabama.
As for the account of the rich man and the poor beggar (Luke 16:19-31), there is sufficient evidence that this was merely a parable. In fact, it appears to have been a rather common story of that time which Jesus used (and perhaps modified somewhat) to make a point to the Jews about God's expectations for us in this present life. I have presented that evidence in my article "The Rich Man and Lazarus" (Reflections #28). This reader also spoke of the resurrection and the end of the age as happening in 70 A.D., which leads me to believe that this reader has accepted at least some of the teaching of Preterism, which I personally believe to be a doctrine inconsistent with the Scriptures. It most certainly is inconsistent with some of the foundational teachings about the nature of man and his final disposition. I have dealt with that inconsistency in my article "Preterism and Eternal Punishment: Is Preterism Compatible with Conditionalism?" (Reflections #721). I hope these few thoughts and references will help in clarifying some of the confusion felt by this reader from Alabama.-- Al Maxey
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