I have tried to keep my use of language consistent this past month, preferring to use ‘soul’ or sometimes ‘being’. ‘Soul’ it seems has been the most common word used throughout different religions when discussing heaven, but ‘being’ has been seen particularly in Buddhism. I have also found it is a useful word to use when ‘soul’ doesn’t seem quite right. I suppose, to me, that is the point – I understand the difference between ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ and ‘being’ in context but if you asked me to define them to you I would be at a loss. Yet I have always understood there to be a distinction between these words, so what is it?
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, the definitions are as following:
Soul – ‘The spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal’
Spirit – ‘The non-physical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul’
Also, ‘The non-physical part of a person regarded as their true self and as capable of surviving physical death or separation’; ‘The non-physical part of a person manifested as an apparition after their death; a ghost’; or a ‘supernatural being’
(Being – ‘existence’ or ‘the nature or essence of a person’)
These definitions emphasise the immortality of the soul/spirit and that it is not a phsyical part of a person. From these it is no surprise that they are used interchangeably – something shown even within the Bible – although ‘spirit’ is used over ‘soul’ when referring to a ghost or supernatural being.
Despite the interchangeability within the Bible, there is a distinction – there are lines written referring to ‘soul, spirit and body’ which suggest that the two are not the same thing. Studying these further indicates that ‘We are a spirit being, we live in a body and we possess a soul. The real person inside of us is our spirit. Our soul consists of our mind, will and emotions. Our bodies are obviously what we live in while we are here on earth.’ (www.greatbiblestudy.com) This same article adds that it is our spirits that are born again but our souls must be purified. The website http://www.holdingtotruth.com illustrates this trinity in three concentric circles stating
that the outer circle is our body which contains our five senses used to interact with the physical world; the middle circle is our soul which contains our mind, emotion and will used to contact the psychological world; and the inner circle is our spirit with which we contact God and verify all the things of the spiritual world.
Given this, the soul is, like the definition for ‘being’, the essense of a person, but the spirit is the part that connects with god. Furthermore, the spirit is perfect and cannot be evil. It is like the soul that resides in Plato’s world of forms, whereas the soul that resides in our body is the part that asks the questions. Although limited it has a conscience so is able to see the difference between right and wrong, and is on a constant journey to return to God.
Interesting thoughts. Perhaps I would have been more accurate using the word ‘spirit’?