Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Ghost of Plato

How should a Christian regard the physical world? Some (following the Greek philosopher Plato more than the Scriptures) have seen a human being as an immortal soul trapped in a physical body which it must escape. This leads to an other-worldly view of life. The opposite view sees the soul as having no independent existence and eternal life as a transfer of information from our current body to a more durable dwelling. This understands humans almost entirely in terms of secular psychology. But what do the Scriptures teach?

God made the physical world in its original state before the fall of Adam and declared it very good (Genesis 1:1,31). God becomes a man, taking on a physical body (John 1:14), and to deny this is false teaching (1 John 4:2). He dies, is buried, and rises again with a body (1 Corinthians 15:3,4; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:27). He then ascends to heaven in a body and promises to come again the same way (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 3:20,21). Further, he promises that when He comes back, we too will be raised with new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; John 5:28,29). Therefore, while the Scripture affirms self-control (Galatians 5:23; Matthew 6:16-18), it prohibits abuse of the body (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:3-5; Titus 1:15-16). We are to avoid loving, not the physical world, but the behavior of the world of people in rebellion against God (John 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:16-17). The flesh is not our physical nature, but our nature as sinners in disobedience to God (Romans 7:5-17; 8:3-13; Galatians 5:19-21). However, we do desire to escape the present state of things, not because it is physical, but because it is under sin and a curse (Philippians 3:20,21; 1:21-24; Romans 8:18-25).

In the Bible the distinction between body and soul (or spirit - for the purposes of this post I will not distinguish) is not always that of two entities. Nevertheless, the soul is the source of life for the body (Genesis 2:7; Number 27:16; Psalms 104:30), departing at death (Genesis 35:18; Matthew 27:50; Acts 5:5) and continuing in existence till the resurrection (Luke 16:19-31; 23:39-43; Philippians 1:20-26). This implies there is a distinct thing involved. Also, God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and one person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17; Acts 5:3,4; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Further, angels and demons (Psalms 104:4; Matthew 8:16; Acts 19:12-16; Hebrews 1:14) are called spirits. This implies spirit is not just an aspect of matter. There are difficult issues here not totally explained. But we should avoid the extremes or at least not hold them with great dogmatism.

There is a delicate balance between being in the world and not of the world (John 17:14-16; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:1-10; 2 Corinthians 10:2-6), but confusing it with the distinction between the physical and the immaterial makes it more complicated. And whatever conclusions we draw should be based on Scripture and not on Platonism or materialism.

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