Eugene Peterson was a U.S. Presbyterian clergyman, scholar, theologian, poet, and author of more than thirty books, including The Message, an award-winning paraphrase of the Bible. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 1 he says four terms 2 work interactively to give us a common vocabulary for exploring the Christian life.
One of them is soul: a word that expresses our unique human identity. Here are some more excerpts:
“When we come to understand ourselves and the men and women we work with ‘according to the Scriptures,’ our core identity comes out as persons-in-relationship. Each person is a one-of-a-kind creature made in ‘the image of God.’ Whatever else that phrase means, it conveys a sense of enormous dignity and thorough-going relationship.”
“Soul is our word for this. It is the most personal term we have for who we are. The term ‘soul’ is an assertion of wholeness, the totality of what it means to be a human being. . . . [It] carries with it resonances of God-created, God-sustained, and God-blessed.”
“In the Hebrew language, soul is a metaphor, nephesh, the word for neck.” . . . [The neck] contains the narrow passage through which air passes, from mouth to lungs and back out again in speech – breath, spirit, God-breathed life. . . .” [It connects the brain with the entire nervous system and the rest of the body.] “The term ‘soul’ works like a magnet, pulling all the pieces of our lives into a unity, a totality.”
“The biblical story that gives us this metaphor in Genesis 2 makes it clear that the breath that flows through the neck/soul is God’s breath.”
“Most of what makes us human is God. When we say ‘soul’ we are calling attention to the God-origins, God-intentions, God-operations that make us what we are. It is the most personal and most comprehensive term for who we are – man, woman, and child.”
1 – All quotations here are from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), pp. 36-39.
2 – The other three words are spirituality, Jesus, and fear-of-the-Lord.