No distinction between body and spirit

Rev Jeremy SmithI read a good amount of Wendell Berry’s essay “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” for the sermon yesterday. I wanted to pull out one of the quotes that didn’t make the sermon but nonetheless is fascinating to me.

Berry, a farmer and a writer, speaks about the dualism between body and spirit as being one of the most dangerous remnants of the early Roman influence on the church:

This dualism, I think is the most destructive disease that afflicts us. In its best known, its most dangerous, and perhaps its fundamental version, it is the dualism of body and soul. This is an issue as difficult as it is important, and so to deal with it we should start at the beginning.

The crucial test is probably Genesis 2:7, which gives the process by which Adam was created: “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.” My mind, like most people’s, has been deeply influenced by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man-making is: man = body + soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Genesis 2:7, which is not dualistic.

The formula given in Genesis is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; by breathing his breath into it, he made the dust live. Insofar as it lived, it was a soul. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. “Soul” here refers to the whole creature.

Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together, but as a single mystery.

Such powerful language when we consider how connected we are to the Earth and all its various parts and places, fields and streams, mountains and valleys. No longer can we consider ourselves to be spiritual beings trapped in a material world, but we are whole people mysteriously yoked with all that is around us.

On this Earth Day, my hope is that you also see that connection, that you are not body and soul, but your soul is made up of dust of the earth and the breath of God. You soul is intimately connected with all that there is, and your salvation is wrapped up with not only your faith in Christ but your connection to the souls around you, born of breath and mud.

Blessings, ~Jeremy

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