Where Resides the Soul?

John Calvin referred to the Psalms as “an anatomy of the soul.” In our modern age, it would seem that the existence of the soul itself has been called into question. Following is an essay I wrote some months ago shortly after beginning the infamous course: Gross Anatomy.

Where Resides the Soul?

The student interrupted as his professor was about to begin the dissection of the cadaver, “But sir,” he asked, “where resides the soul?”

This is an interesting question. Where does the soul live? Is it in the brain (the thinking part)? The heart (circulator of the life’s blood)? The kidneys (cleanser of the body)? The lungs (remember that God “breathed” life into Adam)? The liver (got to have it to live, hence the name)? Where does the soul reside.

As I stood aside the body I’d named Chickering Smith, one thing was for certain. It did not come very close to resembling a person. A person’s body? Yes. A person? No. It wasn’t even close. This was a far cry from a person. A person’s personhood is no longer present in the lifeless vessel of a dead body, the thing we call a cadaver, an “it,” the thing I gave a name. It is a far, far cry from being a person, from being a “him” (or a her as the case may be).

Where resides the soul? This is proof, to me at least, that a person is not purely physical, but “soulish” as I will describe one (or all) of us. But where does it come from? And where does it go? Its there. Does it die. So what if… where is it? The body dies and we have remains. Shouldn’t there be remains of the soul? Something to show that at some point there was something else to what you see than, well, what you see. It was a person. What happened to the personhood.

For thousands of years questions of the body and questions of the soul were not at all separate. They were linked at the most basic level. An ancient Greek would never consider the body without considering the soul. If doing a dissection (which, as in the manner in which dissections are carried out today, was illegal then), of chief concern would be the residence of the soul. Would it live in the “spirit pump” as the brain was called? Or elsewhere. Was it a physical thing that died along with the body or did it “go” somewhere.

The enlightenment rolled in one day and physics and metaphysics were separated, as they remain to this day, for the most part. Philosophy and medicine are seen as 2 distant fields, both requiring scholarship, but having little if anything else in common. The student of the body, be it for medical or purely scientific motivation, would never ask the question “Where resides the soul?” A question such as this is immaterial. We wanted to move forward in our understanding of how the thing worked, not what made it tick. And so we, humankind, divorced the two questions, those of the workings of the life of the body and the workings of the life of the soul. The superstitious ideas of the soul were thrown off, and the body was worshipped.

Scientific searches for the soul have come back to some extent today, but lack the weight that they once carried. The people who delve into such matters are dismissed as foolish while we knowledgeable scholars carry on without a care to something as unimportant as the soul.

But consider for a moment American culture’s way of indicating oneself by body language. It is our way to point to the middle section of ones chest to indicate “myself” or to ask “me?” Does this lead us to believe that the soul resides in the chest? Consider the common Japanese technique of pointing to one’s own nose (which I have observed numerous times) to indicate self. Does the Japanese man’s soul reside in a different part of his body than the American man’s soul.

Consider this. A man can loose an arm, and continue to live. Can a man loose a limb of the soul? Is this possible? What could the dynamics of the soul be? Is consciousness the blood of the soul. Is this consciousness circulated by the brain, or by a metaphysical part of the mind, enabling the soul to live on? How does the soul work, anyway? Is the soul undying and unending? If so, is it necessarily unresting? Or consider for a minute the birth of the soul. The body is born and then decays, but if the soul cannot decay, then is it ever actually born? Interesting questions indeed, none of them posed or considered by our medical student who questioned his professor on the residence of the soul.

If we are to consider Christian doctrine, and I believe that we surely must on questions of the soul, then we are to find that there certainly is a part of the person that is not the body. For there are some who can kill the body, but after that are powerless, and then there is God who, after killing the body, has the power to put the soul into some type of hell, the specifics of which we can only guess, but it is most certain by the words spoken of it in scripture (whether metaphorical or not) that hell is most certainly a horrible place for a person (or a soul) to reside.

Maybe the soul resides not in the body at all, but in some other dimensional space. Maybe.

It is clear (to me at least) that the soul is real and that it will survive after the death of the body. It will dwell forever in enjoyment of God or in torment separated from God, except to be exposed most brutally to his wrath. It is also clear that God cares about the well-being of the soul. The question is why do we, as biological scientists treat it so flippantly or ignore the concept.

In all this I believe that we can be for sure of one thing. I think that the search for the soul is more of a search of what the soul is and what state it is in that what part of the body it is found in. But let the absence of the soul from the body serve to us as a reminder that a person is more than a body, but also, in some form or dimension, possessing a soul. And let us, as God does, value that soul and care for it, nurturing and caring for it at every possible opportunity.