I hate those who regard vain idols,
But I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,
And You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy;
You have set my feet in a large place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
- Psalm 31:6-9 (NASB)
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.
- Psalm 33:18-22 (NASB)
“I am a soul – and I have a body! The body is the house in which the soul lives. When Oliver Wendell Holmes was in his 80th year, a friend hailed him and asked, ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine,’ said Holmes, ‘the house I live in is tottering and crumbling, but Oliver Wendell Holmes is fine, thank you.’ In this materialistic age we often forget that the real, the abiding part of us is invisible. Much time, money, and effort are expended to perpetuate the physical part of us, and too many are unconcerned about their spiritual health and nurture. Hence doctors’ offices are overcrowded, and many ministers’ counseling rooms are empty. When God created man, He made him distinctive, different from the other animals. ‘He breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul.’ He clothed him with intelligence, conscience, and a will. He made him like Himself – a companion, a friend of God. At the resurrection, this mortal shall put on immortality, and we shall be like Him, and be with Him forever.”
- Billy Graham, Day by Day with Billy Graham (May 22)
Before I get to the subject, I looked up “soul” in the NIV. The word “Soul” is found 95 times, 23 times in the New Testament, and 29 times in the Psalms, about 40% of the references in the Old Testament to “soul.” What was frustrating was that Billy Graham had quoted Psalm 33:20, and the NIV said that we wait for the Lord, not our soul waits. So, in Biblegateway.com, you can select one single verse and then ask for every English translation. Practically every English translation uses “our soul waits.” So, I selected the NASB, not just for Scripture quotations above, but for the soul-searching quest to find out how many references to “soul” are in the NASB. There are 289 mentions of “soul.” There are 44 of those references in the New Testament, and 114 references to “soul” in the Psalms, 46% of the references in the Old Testament to “soul.”
I have had Bible studies with a couple of pastors who love the word choice of the NASB, but most churches go with the NIV. One pastor was irate over the wrong use of propitiation and expiation in the NIV, but after the soul-searching quest for the word “soul,” I am starting to wonder what other softening of doctrines could be present in our modern translations.
That being said, and that could become a post in and of itself, let’s look at our souls.
Have you addressed your soul’s health lately? No? Do you give it exercise? Do you eat the right “soul” food? No? Come on people! If it’s the only part of ourselves that survives the first death, why are we not doing the same thing that we do to the outer husk? I have someone that I know, and is very dear to me, who visits the “Y” every day to use the treadmill, exercise bike, and weight machines. He’s happy when he can keep his heart rate above 120 bpm for at least 30 minutes. Yet, in spite of having a powerful Christian conversion testimony, he grumbles if you ask about his prayer life and he admits that he can’t find the discipline to daily read the Bible. Yet, he goes to the “Y” every day, like clockwork and roughly at the same time every day – very, very disciplined. Curious? Isn’t it like most people? Those who are smart enough to care about the outer husk exercise and watch what they eat, many to the point of narcissism.
I only learned how to listen to God after I disciplined my reading time, devotion time, prayer time, and writing time. I’m not a journal writer, but in some cases, my blog writing becomes my journal, with some “posts” that are just not printable, but I had to express those raw emotions and issues in some form – once written, I discovered how God had already handled that issue, or at least, He is sovereign. In a panel discussion that I watched recently, the late Ravi Zacharias said that he wrote a very controversial book. Then he quipped that the book will be published a month or two after he has passed away. I too feel that some things that I write are just between me and God. It takes time to write them. It takes time to edit them. Then it takes time in prayer for God to say, “Don’t press the publish button this time.” We should all be like Solomon in asking God for wisdom; that wasn’t just a gift for Solomon.
Let’s go back to my first paragraph where I compared the NASB and NIV regarding the word “soul.” Of both translations, there are more references to the word “soul” in the Psalms than in the entire New Testament. And the references to “soul” in the Psalms comprise nearly half the Old Testament references (40% in the NIV and 46% in the NASB). That much talk of the soul in just one book of the Bible. Is this a coincidence?
That made me think. Can we adequately express what the soul is, how the soul affects the outer husk (our bodies), how the eternal within us can touch God … Can we express any of that in simple words? Must it not be sung?
And now for something that brings pain back to my mind. The hymn, Be Still, My Soul, was the hymn my mother pointed to if she caught me squirming on a hardwood pew. Forget a cushion. And the pews were old, prone to getting splinters, not the cushioned pews that they have today or the stadium seats with individual armrests that the fancy churches have. No, in those days, my bottom had no ‘padding’ and the pew was hard, but once a finger pointed to the hymn title, I knew that my Dad’s belt would slide off as soon as we got home, and the beating would commence. Forget listening to the sermon, there was no mercy here. I was feeling the future pain for the rest of the service.
So, in using the hymn here is a bit of catharsis, and just the title of the hymn addresses our present day “soul sickness.”
We are noisy. We are always moving. Gnats have a greater attention span than we do, and it gets shorter with each generation. If we were ever still for a second or two, we would be telling our outer husk to get the TV remote fast, I AM GOING CRAZY!!!! But aren’t we a bit crazy for not being able to withstand a few seconds of being still? Our youngest grandchild is cute, really cute, but his brother and sister state that he even talks in his sleep. He never stops!!! NEVER!!!! He will fit in with the modern world quite well, while driving his beloved Opa (me) crazy, although I love my little “Pete Pete, the Sweet Treat that’s good to Eat.” To which his response is “Opa Ka-treat, why do you always say that??” Again, always talking, and mostly not making sense.
Maybe the psalmist was right when the psalmist said “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’ (Psalm 46:10 NIV).” But then Katharina von Schlegel wrote Be Still, My Soul in 1752 based on Psalm 46.
Again a difference in word usage, the NASB expresses Psalm 46:10 a little differently, Stop Striving. That hit me like a punch from a heavyweight boxer. I was a captain in the Corps of Engineers, whose motto is Essayons. Essayons is translated as “let us try” in French, but is loosely translated, at least in the Corps, as strive, strive on forever, trying does not count, we strive until the job is accomplished. Yes, the Corps of Engineers built upon my inner bulldog, making me an enhanced bulldog, almost Superbulldog, but maybe I won’t go that far. Boy, did some bosses take advantage of the “Essayons” within me, but that again could be a few posts all on its own.
Maybe we aren’t bulldogs at work, whether bulldogs would be great employees or not. Bulldogs just have a reputation of being single minded, not necessarily single minded in doing something useful. Wow! Are we not all bulldogs in that respect, especially when it comes to placing our focus on things other than God?
So let us be still. Let us no longer strive. Let us bow before our Lord and KNOW THAT HE IS GOD. And for me, I lay this hymn before the Lord, and accept His Grace, His Mercy, and His Love. No more shall I skip the page in the hymnal.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.