To what extent does the teaching of the immortality of the soul impact the significance of the gospel?
Published on: 03-22-2023
Adventists believe that the Bible does not teach the inherent immortality of the soul, and affirm that humans are an indivisible unity of life in bodily form. Hence, immortality is a divine eschatological gift inseparable from the resurrection of the body. Unfortunately, the Christian church has aligned itself with the Platonic view of an inherent immortal soul. Let’s look at both positions individually.
First, the claim that the soul is immortal results in the teaching that the life of a person outside the body is indestructible. Second, this immortal soul (whatever it may be) is something that belongs by nature and function to a human being. The soul is in fact the disembodied human being existing by him- or herself. Third, that being the case, it’s obvious that at no point in the history of sinful humanity has the life of the soul—the soul itself—been at risk at all. Certainly, the body dies as a result of sin, but the soul lives on forever. Fourth, if we are correct in our previous statements, then the soul itself has no need of salvation, because nothing can threaten it. Fifth, some would probably argue that it is the sphere where the immortal soul continues to exist that introduces the need for salvation, but not for the salvation of the soul. In other words, they would probably argue that the soul needs to go back to the sphere of God through Christ in order to escape the second sphere of existence consisting in burning in hell forever and ever.
IMMORTALITY AND THE GOSPEL
The inherent immortality of the soul teaches that there is something in our nature that we would never lose no matter our spiritual condition. It doesn’t need to be saved in itself. The Bible, however, teaches that sin has permanently damaged the totality of the person—the inner life as well as the spiritual, physical, and social life—leaving humans in need of salvation. The only option is to become a new creation through the saving sacrifice of Christ.
Since human existence was never at risk, the depth of the sacrifice of Christ and the divine display of God’s love manifested through it is diminished. He did not give His life for my soul, because the soul is immortal! Although sin required the reconciliation of the soul with God, some argue, it didn’t damage the inherent life of the soul. The damage that sin and rebellion caused to human nature that would lead to our extinction is redefined, and consequently, the magnitude of the sacrifice of Christ is diminished. The significance of the sacrifice of Christ consisted in descending to the depth of our predicament in order to give us back the life we lost. Restricting the damage of sin in our lives would be clouding the magnitude of the sacrificial love of God displayed on the cross. Finally, the teaching of the inherent immortality of the soul distorts God’s loving character as revealed on the cross by redefining eternal death as the eternal burning of the soul of the wicked in hell. What kind of a God would burn people forever for living a short sinful life on this planet? This is one of the greatest doctrinal tragedies in the history of Christianity and is unquestionably the result of accepting the belief in the inherent immortality of the soul.