Senses and Sensibility

  • October 2017 Issue
Theology Matters

The five physical senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch) are all functions of the body. They require a body and a brain in order to exist, and without these there is no experience of what we call the senses. But is this all there is to us? When we die, does all human sensibility also disappear?

Our capacity to perceive and experience things is shaped by but not limited to these five senses. When the body dies and the brain ceases to function, human consciousness continues in a nonphysical state. Paul speaks of this when he says that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul did not view death as the cessation of his existence or his experience.

But this raises an obvious question. How can we continue to see, know, and experience things when the normal organs of sense are dissolved in death? The answer is that this sensibility occurs by nonphysiological means. The vehicle for this is what the New Testament sometimes calls the soul.

The soul (which some theologians see as synonymous with spirit) is that part of us that continues to exist after the body has been destroyed. Revelation 6:9–11 speaks of “the souls who had been slain because of the word of God.” They are conscious beings who have memories of their former lives and possess the ability to speak. The fact that each one is given a white robe suggests that they must also have some kind of bodily form, even though they have not received their resurrection bodies.

Jesus distinguished the soul from the body when He warned: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The soul is the undying conscious essence of the person that continues into eternity. God’s ultimate purpose is to reunite the soul and body at the resurrection.

Our bodies currently suffer from the debilitating effects of sin and cannot inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Cor. 15:50). The problem is not its physicality but its perishable state. The Christian’s hope is that our perishable body will one day be replaced by an imperishable or “spiritual” body (see 1 Cor. 15:42–44), a body suited to the realities of eternal life and the kingdom of God.

BY John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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