C.S. Lewis is often quoted for saying, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This is actually a misquote however. It’s been proven that C.S. Lewis never said this. Although regardless of its origin, this quote attributed to Lewis gets shared quite a lot around social media with great enthusiasm from many Christians and non-Christians alike.
But this quote, whoever first said it, represents a failure in Christian theology. Fundamentally, this statement is rooted in gnostic philosophy and new age thinking. The notion that your earthly body is only a temporary shell is not a Christian idea at all. In fact, it is anti-Christian. This idea threatens the truth of a bodily resurrection (Jesus’ historical resurrection and our eschatological one), which is a grave error to make. This statement is the by-product of a Gnostic philosophy. 1 For the Gnostics, earthy matter was evil and spiritual matter was good. Therefore, the Gnostics rejected earthly pleasures by disciplining their bodies by strict abstinence and harsh punishments. Or, on the other hand, others treated earthly existence as futile and therefore, indulged in all sorts of corruption and immorality. Both ethical responses stem from a radical Dualism between that which is heavenly and that which is earthly. 2
Gnosticism is a heresy which ultimately denied Jesus’ physical existence, and in doing so, salvation itself. Gnostics trade a real human salvation for an abstractly “spiritual” one. Jesus therefore comes not to save human beings, but to save our spirits. The incarnation is thereby deemed unnecessary and false. All this spirals into a blatant disregard of creation and the negation of the Christian Gospel. In short, Gnosticism is a serious problem for theology and for the Gospel.
Yet thousands will share this quote, most of them Christians, with great enthusiasm, unknowingly taking part in promoting Gnosticism. Why? Unfortunately, I’m afraid it is because Gnosticism is alive and flourishing in the church today. We too, like the early Gnostics, have traded a real flesh and blood human salvation with a strictly platonic “spiritual” salvation somewhere off in heaven. Jesus, for many, did not come to save us as a human being, but rather to only give us access to a spiritual world apart from this reality, ie, “heaven”.
Many Christians today would be surprised to know how little the bible actually talks about heaven. Instead, the scriptures are far more concerned with heaven coming to earth, the kingdom of God manifesting here and not, along with a final bodily resurrection with the second coming of Jesus Christ. God in the end will not throw away the creation, He will resurrect it. He will make a “new heaven and new earth.” (Rev. 21:1)
God is not an anti-materialist. He is the original, material-loving God! He created the world after all, and He’s not quick to throw away what He’s made. Our bodies are not headed for destruction, nor are they merely a shell for metamorphosis. We are looking forward to a bodily resurrection in Christ when He comes again.
If I would restate the quote, I’d do it like this: “You are neither a soul, a mind, or a body in abstraction from the rest of you. You are a human being, and therefore, all of these things at once!”
So what do you think? Have you heard this quote before? What did you think of it?
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