Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

What Is the Human Soul and What Does it Crave?

What Is the Human Soul and What Does it Crave?

Isn’t it just like our God to create the soul with such complexity, that even the experts cannot totally wrap their heads around it, while allowing us just enough understanding to benefit us?

Why Should We Know What a Soul Is?

Earlier this week, we sat waiting for my daughter-in-love to graduate with her master’s degree. As we waited for the ceremony to begin, screens were rolling the names of the graduates and their thank-you messages to family and friends.

It didn’t take long for us to notice that many of the messages contained discipline-specific terms and abbreviations. With phones in hand, we quickly set about the business of satisfying our curiosity by Googling the unknown lingo.

A teacher by trade, my language is ‘education.’ Just don’t ask me to understand the medical abbreviations on the screen, my husband’s computer lingo, or the gaming language of my grandson.

Even within our own niche, language can trouble us. Terminology is constantly in flux making it difficult to keep up with, and there are terms with which we simply aren’t as familiar. There are even words we think we know but don’t.

If you’ve ever used the words 'born again,' 'saved,' 'grace,' 'sanctification,' or 'omnipresent' with someone outside the faith, you understand that not everyone gets your language. And what about those terms we throw around like we know what we are talking about, when honestly, we don’t?

For instance, the word ‘soul.’ What is a soul? We'll explore that very question in a moment.

What Do Bible Scholars Say a Soul Is? 

Author, professor, and soul expert Dallas Willard once said, “You’re a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God…What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul.”

This is a great explanation, but it leaves many of us still questioning, “What exactly is the soul?”

How would you answer that question if posed to you? It’s difficult, isn’t it? The truth is, answering the question, “What is the soul?” is not so easy. In fact, Yale psychiatrist, Jeffrey Boyd, in conducting a study of hundreds of church attenders found that most people believe they know what 'soul' means, but when asked to explain it, could not.

Even among scholars and theologians, there are varying thoughts. Read any number of articles on the subject, and you will likely discover an equal number of opinions—each clearly supported with passages from Scripture.

In all honesty, the only conclusion to be drawn from such an endeavor is that a study of this nature requires that the student examine everything carefully and in context.

What do we know about the soul?

What Does 'Soul' Mean in the Bible?

"Soul, like spirit, has various shades of meaning in the Old Testament, which may be summarized as follows: "Soul," "living being," "life," "self," "person," "desire," "appetite," "emotion" and "passion" ... In the first instance it meant that which breathes, and as such is distinguished from basar, "flesh" (Isaiah 10:18; Deuteronomy 12:23); from she'er, "the inner flesh," next the bones (Proverbs 11:17, "his own flesh"); from beTen, "belly" (Psalms 31:10, "My soul and my belly are consumed with grief"), etc... As the life-breath, it departs at death (Genesis 35:18; Jeremiah 15:2). Hence, the desire among Old Testament saints to be delivered from Sheol (Psalms 16:10, "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol") and from shachath, "the pit" (Job 33:18, "He keepeth back his soul from the pit"; Isaiah 38:17, "Thou hast .... delivered it (my soul) from the pit of corruption")."

(Excerpted from "Soul" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

The soul is who we are.

Dallas Willard defined the soul as “the hidden or ‘spiritual’ side of a person.” He further explained that the soul includes an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and will, as well as an individual’s bodily life and social relations, which are all “hidden” aspects of our being.

The soul is that aspect of your whole being that pulls everything together. The life center of human beings, the soul seeks to integrate our will (our capacity to choose), our mind (our thoughts and feelings), and our body (our little 'power packs' filled with appetites and habits) into a complete person.

"...in the Old Testament a mortal is a living soul rather than having a soul. Instead of splitting a person into two or three parts, Hebrew thought sees a unified being, but one that is profoundly complex, a psychophysical being."

(Excerpted from "Soul" in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

What Does Our Soul Do, According to the Bible?

In another of his books, Willard offers us a more creative definition which also provides a word picture. Of the soul, he says, “[It] is like the silent, invisible yet necessary Central Processing Unit (CPU) of our person. Our soul, and thus our soul’s health, is the driving force behind everything that matters to us.”

My favorite definition, however, has to be John Ortberg’s. In a video trailer about his book, Soul Keeping, Ortberg defines the soul as “the eeriest, most mysterious, most evocative, crucial, sacred, eternal, life-directing, fragile but indestructible, and now-a-days quite controversial part of your existence.”

Isn’t it just like our God to create the soul with such complexity that even the experts cannot totally wrap their heads around it while allowing us just enough understanding to benefit us?

What do we understand?

How to Describe a Soul to a Non-Believer

How do you describe a soul to someone who doesn't believe in the Bible? The soul:

  • Is alive
  • Is of great value
  • Forms the very foundation of who we are
  • Can thrive or shrivel
  • Lasts forever

This is all very insightful, but let’s not stop here with man’s words.

What Bible Verses Talk About the Soul?

Our search won’t be complete without looking to the Word of God to see what it says about the soul. From Scripture, we know among other things that the soul:

- Was created by God (Jeremiah 38:16).

- Can be strong or unsteady (2 Peter 2:14).

- Can be lost or saved (James 1:21).

- Needs atonement (Leviticus 17:11).

- Is purified and protected by the truth and work of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:22).

- Is distinct from the heart (Deuteronomy 26:16), the spirit (Hebrews 4:12), and the mind (Matthew 22:37).

- Is worth more than the world (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25).

Look at that last biblical point again: Jesus Himself said that the soul is worth more than the world! Let that thought sink in!

You have a living soul that lasts forever and forms the very foundation of who you are. This itself is absolutely incredible! But this forever-living foundation, this personhood of you, needs care. The fact that the human soul can thrive or can shrivel indicates that our soul has needs.

What Does the Soul Crave?

It is the very nature of the soul to need. In fact, the soul is infinite in its capacity to desire.

As a needy entity, our soul has need of many things:

1. A keeper: Our soul does not belong to us but is on loan. It belongs to God, and one day we will give an account for its condition. In the meantime, it is up to each of us to be the keeper of our soul. As the keeper, it is our responsibility to meet our soul’s needs.

2. A center: It is impossible for the soul to be centered without God. Wondering if your soul might be off-center? A few indicators of an off-center soul are difficulty in making decisions; a constant feeling of vulnerability; impatience; being easily thrown; the need to control; and finding one’s identity in accomplishments, possessions, or appearance.

3. A future: We are unceasing spiritual beings with eternity placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made for an eternal existence with our heavenly Father. Our soul needs a future.

4. Freedom: God is our liberator. In Him, there is freedom for living the life we were designed to live; freedom for becoming more like Christ. Our soul can only be free when all the parts of our personhood are rightly ordered.

5. Blessing: Blessing is done by the soul. Our soul resides in the innermost part of us—unseen, invisible. This fact plays a huge part in the shriveling of our soul. However, glimpses of the soul can be seen when it reaches out in love, blessing others.

6. Satisfaction: Remember that it is the very nature of the soul to need, always craving. The cravings are satisfied through worship.

7. Gratitude: Entitlement grows deep within us. It is the default mode of our sinful human race, and it says, “I am owed. This is rightfully mine.” Entitlement shrivels the soul. Conversely, adopting the grateful attitude of Jesus helps the soul to thrive.

8. Rest: Jesus knew the power of a rested soul. He often slowed Himself and his followers down by going off to a solitary place so their souls would not become fatigued. He is our example. Our soul was not designed to run on empty.

9. To be with God: What the soul truly desires is God. It seeks Him with its entire being. The soul is God-obsessed.

“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;my heart and my flesh cry outfor the living God.”(Psalm 84:2)

Your soul is the deepest thing about you, and it yearns for God. Read through Psalm 84:2 again. Yearning for God is the very breath of our soul!

Why Does the Soul Require God?

The soul was made to walk with God. Every one of its insatiable needs is met in Him. What is a soul? Something made to walk with God. The soul can shrivel, or it can thrive. It’s up to us. Thriving requires our time and attention, for our soul’s nourishment is found in intentional time spent with God.

It is here where we develop a strong relationship with Him through personal experience and are filled with His presence.

Further Reading

What Is the Difference Between a Soul and a Spirit?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/metamorworks

This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian questions important to the Christian faith. From core beliefs to what the Bible says about angels, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.

What Do Christians Believe?
How Old Is the Earth?
Who Is My Neighbor in the Bible?
What Does God Look Like?
Are Guardian Angels Real?
What Does it Mean to Be Zealous for God?

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