Nothing More: A Holistic Look at the Soul
Approaching footsteps echo through the vast, regal halls of the palace. The meticulous stonework and elaborate mosaics that decorate the walls, do little to dampen the ever expanding sound waves. Finally, the company of feet responsible for the clamor emerges into the throne room of the king. Two women, escorted by a band of guards, slowly make their way to stand before the king. The court turns to watch the spectacle play out. It is evident from the beginning that these women are of no respect, their clothing speaks for itself — these women are prostitutes.
The king motions for the women to begin their inquiry. Peering into the face of the first, he finds a remnant trail of tears. The moist streaks glisten like glass as they refract the light from the adjacent windows in the hall. Her head is bowed; her voice is soft. The words of her story seem to travel not from her larynx but from a depth of soul. Her resolve is firm, but her vestige is broken. He quickly glances at the other woman, who casually stands in impudence, tightly embracing a young baby.
The story is quickly told that the two women are new mothers. However, only one baby is found in the court that morning, because an accusation is brought forth by the first woman that her baby has been stolen by the second. Allegedly, the negligence of the second woman unintentionally killed her baby as she laid on top of him in the night. The scandal intensifies as allegations of murder, theft, and lies ricochet through the royal court.
The time has come for King Solomon to judge the matter. He analyzes the story and expression of each woman. A guard adjusts his posture and the glint of the polished sheath at his side beams into the eye of the king. Solomon has reached a verdict.
He slowly stands and motions for the sword of the guard. A bone-chilling shriek rattles the eardrums of the women as the cold metal blade is drawn from hiding. Solomon, slowly announces that in his wisdom, he has determined the baby is to be divided. By sectioning the child in two, each woman can have their alleged part – both women will leave as a mother to their half.
Almost instantly the first woman falls to her knees in anguish. Tears catapult from her eyes and momentarily suspend between heaven and earth before collapsing into a puddle. The mother pleads with the king to give the whole child to the other woman because she understands that a divided child is not a child at all. The moment that the precious live of the baby is divided into parts, it ceases to become a sacred entity.
The Christian worldview of psychology finds itself in the same shoes as the pleading woman before King Solomon. Modern science has drawn the sword and seeks to divide man into many neatly packaged facets. As the cold blade of scientific inquiry comes in contact with the living soul of man, many scholars have reduced human life to nothing more than biology, chemistry, or electrical impulses. The purpose of this article is to make a plea that before we use the scalpel of reductionism and labels of permanence, we take a step back and view the soul holistically.
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From the perspective of the human soul, the concept of reductionism, “is the idea that all higher-level causes (for example, the cause of a specific human behavior) can be reduced to nothing more than the outcome of the laws operating at lower levels (namely, the laws governing the neurochemistry of neurons)” (p. 111). What this fancy, scientific jargon means is that reductionism in science aims to reduce all functioning to nothing more than chemicals, neurotransmitters, peptides, and electrical impulses traveling through a maze of neurons – you are nothing more than blind processes in motion. There is a lot of philosophy and science behind the point, but I am not going to dive into all of that.
The danger in scientific reductionism and other aspects of reductionism is that it does not see the whole person. I want to branch off of that to say that we limit our understanding of people when we box them in a label. For this reason, I have strayed away from some of the teachings in counseling that asserts labeling the issue the client is dealing with. When helping someone, I want us to see past the issue and into a life that is beyond the current situation; however, when I ascribe a label I give permanence to a temporary problem – and sadly the church is guilty of labeling too.
There is an old Indian parable that tells of a few blind men who walk up to an elephant. One man touches the elephant’s trunk and proclaims it is a snake. Another man touches the leg and proclaims it is a tree trunk. Yet another man touches the side and exclaims that it is a wall. The last man touches the tail and notes it is nothing more than a branch. The story has many variations, but the truth is the same.
If we focus too much on the details, we miss the whole picture. Likewise, if we look only at the biochemistry of a person, if we lose focus of the soul or assign labels, we run the risk of seeing only a part of a person instead of the whole person that was perfectly made by God. Nobel laureate Roger Sperry brilliantly put it this way, “The meaning of the message will not be found in the chemistry of the ink” (p. 22). His statement is in relation is neuroscience, but the meaning of his point is that while neuroscience is paramount, we must know that we will not find meaning by diving deeper into the chemistry of humanity. Meaning, after all, comes from without not from within.
Looking back at our original story, Solomon exposed the ignorance of reductionism when he ruled that the child was to be divided. Dividing the child would have obviously killed him. The point is that we can only truly arrive at life when we see the whole picture. Sure, dividing the child would have fixed the issue, but the mother wanted more than a body, she wanted a son, and to have a living son she knew that she had to have him wholly. God wants you wholly. He wants all of you, and he believes in all of you. It is time we got back to a big picture of our lives and relationship with God.
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So let’s get to the point: stop viewing yourself, stop viewing your friends or family from the neatly packaged microcosm that is the problem. If your friend struggles with alcoholism, please consider them as more than just an alcoholic – because God does. We criticize reductionism in science all the while propagating our own little Christian form of it. The enemy wins when we ascribe to the idea that someone is nothing more than an issue or problem because it negates hope and robs joy. Too often we reduce people to their problems. Sadly, the Church tends to love labels, and it has a plethora at its disposal.
If your family member struggles with depression, anxiety, fear, despair, wavering faith, or if they have backslid (those pesky labels) – please realize they are more than that. Please, stop minimizing a person to a label. Please, stop placing your restricted expectations on an individual. Please, stop locking the door to the box that you have placed so many people. Because even if you’re right – you’re dead wrong. Calling a person a backslider, an alcoholic, or whatever other titles you might dream up does nothing to help them. As the Church, we are called to help people – not to pull out the magnifying glass so we can see what preconceived cookie-cutter label we have picked out for them. Let’s remember, 1 Corinthians 6. Paul discusses a plethora of sins, but before he gets too far he notes, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (V. 11, English Standard Version). Paul explains that even in the lowliest of sinners, there is still a saint to be found. The people around us are more than the sin or the issues they face.
You are more.
You are more than the cancer cells that might be living in your body. You are more than the depression. You are more than whatever problem weighs your mind. You are more than neurons, and you are more than electrical impulses. You are more than whatever title might be labeled to you – because you are perfectly formed by God. You are more because God said you are more. Jesus Christ did not die on a cross and resurrect from a tomb so that you could live your life under the weight of a label. Sure, you might struggle with it. I’m not arguing that changing our semantics will fix the world. I’m simply saying that we need to see the bigger picture of people instead of only seeing the problem. When we reduce and label ourselves, and other people, we lose focus of the holistic soul that God formed us to be.