The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk - What is the Meaning of My Soul, part 2

Vaughn asks, “What is the meaning given to your soul in life?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Note: This is part two of a two part look at how traditions represented by the Ethics and Religion Talk panel understand at the soul. Read part one.

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The Gospel of Matthew 6:22 states, ‘the eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.’ The soul is central to life because it gives existence to the body. The human person is made up of matter and form, the body is the matter and the soul is the form. Matter dies away because it is finite, but the soul is eternal because it is infinite. The Church teaches that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God because the soul is eternal or infinite.

“Given the above, the soul animates human life, connects a person to God, and is the foundational element for the human capacity to use reason. In other words, while animals possess knowledge, like the ability to swim, they do not know they have this knowledge, the actions of animals are a reflex. On the other hand, human beings not only possess knowledge but know that they know things, the actions, then are not a reflex but choices or acts of the will.”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“It’s the fact that we are bearers of the image of God. As broken and flawed as we may be, we still carry God’s image in us and have the potential to display it through who we are and what we do. Because people don’t believe this, many are running here and there looking for meaning. Looking for it in the wrong places, many are trapped in addictions of all sorts or find themselves chasing fame and success as a means to calm the restlessness of their souls. However, the fact remains that, as Augustine of Hippo stated: ‘Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in God!’ The psalmist puts it this way ‘Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken’ (Psalm 62-1-2). If we take this to heart and begin to pursue God, we will find that our hunger and thirst for meaning will be truly satisfied!”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Most Unitarian Universalist churches carry the name All Souls …. The phrase all souls dates back largely in regards to our Universalist’s roots. Universalists, believers in universal salvation, believe all souls or every person will be given access into heaven. Today even though the word soul is most commonly found as part of the name of our congregations it has very little theological significance. Used often to mean a person’s essence or core.”

The Rev. Rachel J. Bahr, pastor of Plymouth UCC, responds:

“I believe that which is soul, or essence, or ontologically our “depth of being” is fully integrated into our particularity. As we grow and change materially and spiritually, our soul is left with impressions. These impressions -- including experiences of trauma or difficult learning -- are what keep the soul in growth mode. God calls to our souls, encouraging our inner beings to seek, to mend, and to become more divine.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“The Eastern Orthodox concept of ‘soul’ borrows from both its Jewish roots as well as the Greek philosophical environment dominating thought in the first Christian centuries. We view the soul as the life force indwelling our bodies, but without treating the body as a mere container for the soul. Life in this world is defined by the union of both body and soul, and therefore we seek to bring both into alignment under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Since life is the union of body and soul, all aspects of life must involve both: we worship, pray, and serve with both, and must repent when either leads us away from our goal and destination: union with Christ.”

My response:

The Hebrew Bible for the most part does not distinguish between body and soul - they are one. Late Biblical and early Rabbinic (first century) texts envisioned a soul which is placed into the body at conception, which survives the death of the body, and which is reunited with a body in the messianic era. I am not pure soul, nor am I pure body. Soul and body are in conversation, influencing each other. I cannot imagine being the person I am if my soul had been placed in a different body. How different I might have been if I my soul had been placed into an athletically gifted body and I had spent time after school in sports, rather than exploring the world of the mind. In my lifetime, however, I do not distinguish between body and soul. I see myself as one complete whole person.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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