But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
Glen could be described as a quiet, gentle man. He often said he didn't seek out trouble. It just had a way of finding him. The trouble on his mind this morning was of a doctrinal nature and he meant to settle it once and for all.
He was seated at the big table in the back room of the Oak Street Bible Shop and had taken a new steno pad from his coat pocket and begun to write a heading at the top of the first page. Just as he was about to write there was the sound of paper being violently wadded up and tossed into the waste can.
Gary, behind the counter, was unpacking a box of Bibles and disposing of the packing paper. Joy, perched on her stool watched him as he crushed each piece of paper and squeezed it as if he was making a snowball.
"How come you wad up the paper before you throw it away?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know,” said Gary, absentmindedly. "I don't think about it. I guess I used to see my father do it when I was a kid. My mother used to just make a little stack and slide it into the can very gently."
"I think I know why,” said Sue from where she was standing by the front window. “I think there is a kind of anger in it. I see men do it a lot. It's like they are saying ‘Out, out damned spot,' like Lady MacBeth. I see it most when people are frustrated by making an error and they are punishing the paper they wrote it on."
Gary never took his eyes off his beloved Bibles as he spoke. "In my case I guess the paper is in the way. I just want to get to my Bibles." He looked at the packing slip. "Looks like NIV Bibles are gaining on the King James, more people prefer the new translations."
"I know," lamented Joy. "But as long as people read it and understand, who am I to stand in their way? I guess I'm just an old timer."
She turned on her stool to look at Glen. He was writing with his pencil, concentrating, obviously deep in thought.
"Whatcha working on Glen" she asked.
"What? Oh," he said looking up. "I'm making a list of places in the Bible that people refer to when they try to prove we have immortal souls."
"I thought you settled that a long time ago," Joy said.
"In my own mind I did. But it keeps coming up and I thought I would write down every place and look at them one by one. Might even make a little booklet on it and hand it out to people who care to look into it."
He returned to his writing as Sue walked to the window by his chair and parted the yellow butterfly curtains to give him more light. He looked up at her and smiled, then returned to his writing.
Joy spoke again. "I'm not arguing with you, Glen, but why do you care so much about this subject? You know what Dave always says. 'Either way, it won't make heaven any prettier.'"
"Yeah, I've heard that,” said Glen. "But I'm not so sure it won't make my part of heaven prettier."
Joy looked puzzled, and Glen continued.
"You know, Jesus said in John chapter fourteen that he was going away to prepare a place for us. He is making mansions for us to spend eternity in. I think that if any of us do our jobs well it will be reflected in our mansions. My job is as a Bible teacher and I want to do it the best I can."
Gary had finished placing the new Bibles on the shelves behind the counter. He leaned on the counter facing towards the back room to hear what Glen had to say.
Sue stood at a distance, her hands behind her back, like a proud teacher, watching her prize pupil.
Glen continued. "Last night, during Revelation class, the question came up, ‘What about the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:9-11?’ People know how I feel about the immortal soul doctrine and they keep challenging me by bringing up quotes."
"But you always say people should challenge teachers and preachers," said Gary.
"Yes, I do,” said Glen, "and they should. But they only challenge people they disagree with. When somebody tells them what they want to hear, what they've always believed, then where is the challenge?"
"Prove all things, hold fast that which is good," quoted Sue. "That's in first Thessalonians 5:2."
Joy looked at Sue with surprise and approval.
Glen smiled at her choice of scriptures.
"But suppose people did challenge the quotes about immortal souls?" Gary interrupted her. "Quotes they claim are about immortal souls."
"Oh, all right," said Joy "But suppose people challenged the doctrine of immortal souls and, let's say, it turns out we don't have immortal souls. Just suppose. What difference would it make anyway?"
Glen spoke with great sincerity. “I can tell you this. It has made a difference to me. Don't get me wrong, I fought against the idea that we are mortal--that I was mortal. I thought that anybody who even questioned the immortality of the soul was either crazy or just downright evil. I hated 'em."
"I don't hate them,” said Joy, "but I do think they're wrong."
Glen turned to face her. "You don't think they're wrong, Joy, you feel they're wrong. Feeling is what it's about. At least it was in my case, so pardon me for presuming about you."
Joy accepted this, and continued. "But what difference does it make?"
"It must make a big, big, difference,” said Glen, "Because whenever it comes up, some people get really mad, hostile even. You know which ones get mad?"
Joy said nothing, anticipating his answer.
"The ones who get mad are the ones who believe we are immortal. Now what does that tell you? It's pride, Joy, we just can't admit we are clay--clay animated by the Spirit of
life from God--but clay nonetheless. See how the flesh cries out? Let there be no discussions! No one shall be permitted to even question this doctrine! Joy, that is not the Holy Spirit saying that, it's our own fleshly natures."
Joy had turned away from Glen, as if looking out of the front window, but not really looking.
Glen continued. "You know that when Jesus talked about truth, some people got so mad they wanted to kill him. The apostles were beaten and imprisoned for questioning the teaching by the Jews and the gentiles. Don't you see, when you have the truth you don't get mad. But other people get mad at you."
"I'm not mad at you, Glen,” said Joy.
"I know you're not,” Glen said. "I know you are open to discussion or I wouldn't even bring this up with you."
The phone rang, and Gary talked with someone placing an order.
Sue pulled a paper from the waste can and smoothed it out on the counter with her gentle hands. "This is really nice paper,” she said. "It's a shame to throw it away. When I was little I used to save paper like this blue piece and make paper doll dresses with it.”
After a few moments Glen spoke again. "I just want to say that when it hit me that I am just dust or clay, I sure humbled down. It made me feel how little I am and how much I need God. When I came across passages in the Bible that speak of our mortal frames, I no longer thought of them as just figures of speech. I realized they were literally true."
"Like which ones?" said Joy quietly.
"Paul said it so well,” Glen said. “You ever notice how many times he refers to us as clay?"
"Romans chapter nine," said Gary. He began to read: "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor? Romans 9:21."
“But that is just a figure of speech!" Joy protested.
"Genesis two verse seven is not a figure of speech,” said Glen. "And why, when the Bible talks of man, does it describe him as clay and dust? Is it too much for us to admit we are just dust, like the Bible says?...I guess it is, it was hard for me."
"Humility. Is that what we gain when we believe we are mortal?" said Joy.
"Yes," said Glen, "and a whole lot more. We come to treasure the resurrection, when Jesus comes for the church. To me, the resurrection at the return of Christ is the great hope. Some people hardly think of it, like the resurrection is just an afterthought!"
"Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life." said Sue.
"What is this? Three against one?" said Joy.
"I just quoted Jesus,” said Sue defensively.
"John 11:25," said Gary. “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."
"You're just quoting the passages that agree with you,” said Joy.
"That's why I'm making this list,” said Glen. "I want to find every passage I can that seems to disagree with what I believe. I want to be as honest as I can be. Will you help me? Think of every place there is a scripture that seems to say--or people say it does--that people have immortal souls."
Glen turned to his steno pad and began to write.
"We could make it like the top forty hits--the most used passages," said Sue.
Joy glared at her. "The Bible is not a collection of hits,” she said.
"I assume,” said Gary, "you have the rich man and Lazarus, Luke chapter 16?"
"Just wrote it down," said Glen. "It is the passage most often quoted."
"So, how do you, for the one hundredth time, interpret this passage?" asked Joy.
"Don't want to get into that now," said Glen, "First I want to make my list and make it as complete as possible with your help. Don't want to leave anything out. Number two, anybody?"
"There's a place in the Old Testament about how man's soul goes upward and an animal's soul goes down. Something like that," said Sue. "Would that be one?"
"Very good, Sue!" said Glen. "I know what you're referring to. It's in Ecclesiastes, chapter three if I remember right."
Joy was exasperated. "I wish I knew what you all are up to! You're looking for some passages that prove Glen is wrong?"
"All the passages," said Glen. "Tired of bits and pieces--stuff. I want to take on everybody and settle it if I can."
"I have the passage in Ecclesiastes" said Gary. "It's chapter three, verse 21. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Ecclesiastes 3:21."
"Oh, it says ‘spirit,' not ‘soul,’” said Sue.
"That's all right,” said Glen. "I want every passage you hear used to support the belief in the immortal soul. And that is one of them."
"But Ecclesiastes is about man's reasoning. It's ‘man under the sun’ or natural reasoning," said Joy.
"Depends" said Glen. "People say it is God's truth where they agree with it. And if they don't agree, they say it is just man's reasoning. Anyway it belongs on my list."
"Okay," said Joy, " What about where Paul says he wants to depart and be with Christ? I'd love to hear your interpretation of that."
"You shall, you shall," said Glen, "if God grants me the time. But first I want to complete the list."
"Philippians one, verse twenty-three," said Gary. "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and be with Christ; which is far better. Philippians 1:23.'
"The next verse looks like it supports the immortal soul," said Gary. “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:24.”
"Thank you, Gary!" said Joy. "See how Paul contrasts being in the flesh with being with Christ? There's your soul!"
"Funny," said Glen, "Paul never said ‘soul.' But it belongs on the list for sure."
Glen looked up at the wall clock. "I need to go get lunch. My landlady is making a nice casserole and I want to be on time. Thanks for your help. We just got started. I'm sure there are a lot more immortal soul passages that belong on my list."
"I suppose you think I should look up all the scriptures that show we are mortal--just clay?" said Joy.
"Mortal until the resurrection," said Glen. "To be honest, I think you should. Look at both sides. You might be surprised. Gotta go,” he said putting on his cap and heading out of the door.
Sue walked to where Glen had been sitting. His steno pad was still there. On the first page were Glen's notes.
Passages in the Bible used to prove we have immortal souls:
Souls under the altar Rev. 6:9-11
Rich man and Lazarus Luke 16
Man's spirit and animal's spirit Eccl. 3:21
Paul's desire to depart and be with Christ Phil. 1:23,24