“How do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?” (Matthew 16:26)
What value do we place on our souls?
In his 1808 play Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe tells the story of Faust, a scholar who feels deeply disillusioned by life. In his despair, Faust is willing to make a pact with the Devil for a moment of true happiness (which he doesn’t believe is possible). The play details the deception and destructiveness of the Devil as this “deal” plays out.
Not many of us would make such a blatant deal with the Devil, but he might have the upper hand nonetheless.
Our souls can suffer for many reasons, but three factors weigh a little on my mind today. Cities, sin, and success can form an ungodly (and unexpected) triumvirate against us.
Have you noticed that cities can suck the soul dry? High density housing, surrounded by nothing but man-made products (roads, bridges, buildings, and billboards), combined with a pace of life that diminishes reflection, has a way of squeezing out the Presence of God. No wonder various teen recovery programs utilize wilderness experiences to re-orient young people to greater realities than drugs, alcohol, and abuse.
Sin also diminishes the soul. Intentional, habitual, enslaving sin produces condemnation, guilt, and shame that withers the soul. Sin functions in the same double-dealing way that the Devil treats Faust. It promises so much, delivers so little, and demands everything.
Success can be yet another soul-stealer. It can create obsession or pride within us. At first we feel privileged, then entitled, then enslaved. Success, even within the Church, shifts our gaze to ourselves. Self-congratulations can become a pathway to soul-destruction.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but I have found that cities, sin, and success offer me the world and deliver me very little. Perhaps you find one or more of these three factors aligned against you too.
For centuries the work of the pastorate (church ministry) was describe as “the cure of souls.” Not many churches would define themselves that way today. But the human soul continues to come under attack. It remains the personal pearl of great price for which Christ died.
What will we do today to nurture the soul? Jesus asked what we would really gain if we gained the whole world and lost our soul?
Is it possible that we are still trading our souls for nothing of substance or real value, today? If so, how might we reclaim our souls for ourselves and for Christ?