There is a lot of talk and concern in our cultural moment about mental health and physical health. The COVID-19 pandemic brought both front and center. As the virus spread across the world, there were an abundance of precautions being recommended for the sake of physical health. Then, the impact of lockdowns, masks, job loss, economic impact, and fear of sickness led to skyrocketing mental health concerns as well.
We also see our current passion for physical health in the fitness world and diet industry. From CrossFit to Peloton, people work hard to get the physical body they want. There is also a higher concern for what we put in our bodies - organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, Whole30, et cetera. As mental health awareness has become a national conversation, the number of people seeing a therapist and seeking out counseling is at an all-time high.
I think our physical health is important. I think our mental health is important. But as I reflect on how we tend to value these two areas, my concern is the neglect of what is more important than our physical or mental health, which is our soul health.
The Bible speaks of the soul quite often, and yet it can be tricky for us to define what the soul actually is. Our soul is the essence of our personhood. It is what occupies the tent of our body that gives thought and feeling to our function. It is what Paul calls the “inner man” (Eph. 3:16). Dallas Willard in his book, Your Soul, says your soul is “the most important thing about you. It is your life.”
There is a clear priority of the soul in Scripture. Jesus tells us not to fear the one who can kill the body, but rather fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). Here we see that soul health is more important than physical health in the Christian life. Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul.” The soul is the priority. This is not to say that physical health and mental health are not important, but maybe you have been more attentive to your physical and mental health than to your soul health.
In a secularized naturalistic world that has lost touch with the reality of God, I think we often misdiagnose soul sickness with mental illness. Or we try to treat the mind when we should be caring for the soul. But do you know how to care for your soul?
The bottom line of soul care is understanding that your soul needs to abide in God. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42:1-2
“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” Psalm 63:5-6
Our soul needs God, and our soul can only be satisfied with God.
The specific action that satisfies our soul is meditating on God. Part of soul care is feeding our soul thoughts of God. This is why we read our Bibles, go to church, and sing songs of God - our soul needs it.
In contrast, an unhealthy soul is one that does not think of God, acknowledge God, or meditate on God. An unhealthy soul moves on from God to other things.
Moses, warning the Israelites before they go into the promised land, tells them, “take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen…” (Deut. 4:9). Forgetting God was the threat to their souls. He was warning them against getting into the promised land and just going on with life, preoccupied with other things, prioritizing other things, and letting the soul starve for its maker. That sadly is the description of so many people - simply doing life without giving adequate thought to God.
In this warning, Moses tells the Israelites that keeping their soul is something that should be done with diligence. We need to have a greater urgency for our soul health. Peter gives us appropriate language for what is at stake. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” (1 Peter 2:11). We are in a war, and the enemy is attacking your soul, which is the most important thing about you. And sometimes those attacks come from our own sinful passions, craving what we think will make us happy, and bring fulfillment or satisfaction, but they leave our souls neglected, starving for their maker.
Church, we need to have a greater urgency for caring for our souls. I am not a doctor, I am not a psychologist, I am a pastor who is responsible to care for souls (Heb. 13:17). And I am telling you our souls need heavy, frequent doses of God.
We are doing a four-part podcast series on Soul health to further talk about this as a church. I hope you tune in and grow as someone who gives appropriate priority to the health of your soul.