Dust and Breath

What is a human?

It has been fashionable in the West to affirm that a human is simply the matter that makes up the body, and all else — psyche, mind, spirit, whatever words we use to describe the invisible part — is an epiphenomenon of the body, or else an illusion altogether. The East tended toward the opposite move, the contention that nothing but spirit is real, and all else is illusion. A popular variant of the spirit-only view concedes the reality of the ‘coarse’ body, as a stepped-down manifestation of the ‘finer’ energies of the spirit, or an unfortunate prison, an “earth suit” from which the real person (i.e., the spirit) will ultimately be liberated.

Christians know that neither of these simplistic answers is true. Like the Christian answer to the classic problem of the one and the many, so here: Christians affirm the difficulty of the dilemma, and then affirm the equal ultimacy of both. As the problem of the one and the many finds its only possible solution in the being of the Triune God Himself, so the problem of the spirit and the body finds its only possible solution in the being of humans as we really are. God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. We are equally dust of the earth and breath of God. Separating the two is the very definition of death; when we “separate” the two in our inquiries, something dies there as well. The best answer to the separationists is from the mouth of Jesus: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Someone will object that I have taken the quote out of context. I say I have noted a principle in one circumstance of united and equally ultimate opposites, and applied it to another such circumstance. Neither man nor woman is the ‘original’ in marriage; they are equally ultimate. The first woman was taken out of man; every man thereafter is taken out of woman, and no marriage is possible without the combination of the two.
Same with human spirit and body. What makes a living soul is the combination of the two.

If we seriously intend to address the whole person, we have no choice but to take both seriously.


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