We tend to spend a lot of time, effort, money, and energy on our outer life. We fret about our physical appearance–how much we weigh, what flaws we have, and what the best angle is for a selfie that makes us look our best online. Our lifetime is spent further fretting over the car we drive, clothes we wear, house we live in, and possessions we own. This is all external stuff. This stuff does not satisfy us, save us, or soothe us.
Speaking about Jesus, Mark 12:28-31 says, “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus says that loving God is the most important of all human activities. This is what our soul was made to do. As we love God from our soul, we are then able to love our neighbor and help them to love God from their soul. This starts with our family, which is our closest neighbor.
The Soul of Parenting
Since parenting is about dealing with two souls, this verse has two implications. First, the parent or primary caregiver must tend to their own soul first. Tending to the soul means maintaining a healthy diet of Bible reading, prayer, worship, giving, serving, and building healthy relationships with God’s people to remain in God’s presence. Second, the parent or primary caregiver must tend to the souls of the children. This includes wisely and intentionally choosing a nutritious spiritual diet for them, as well. If the internal soul is nourished by relationship with God, the external life will begin to follow. This formula will not work the other way around.
One of the most fascinating moments in a young child’s life is when they get to examine the world for the first time through the lens of a telescope or microscope. Do you remember your first time doing this as a child? The wonder explodes in a child’s mind as their imagination is opened up to the reality that the world is both bigger and smaller than they could have dreamed.
In addition to our outer world, we also have an inner world that is a mystery to explore. The Bible speaks of our inner life in terms of our soul. Unlike your visible body, your invisible soul cannot be seen through a microscope or a telescope. It is only seen by the God who made it.
You don’t have a soul, you are a soul
God Himself is a soul. God the Father does exist, but not in a physical body like we do and Jesus did. God the Father speaks of His own soul, saying of Jesus in Matthew 12:18, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”
In Genesis 2:7, we read that we too were made by God with a soul: “…the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Admittedly, human life is multifaceted and complex; for the sake of simplicity, the Bible here says that we—at the most basic level—have a visible physical outer life and an invisible spiritual inner life.
You do not just have a soul; you are a soul. This explains why even when your body dies, your soul does not. Your soul goes into the presence of the Lord until it is rejoined with the body and raised from the dead like Jesus. Speaking of Jesus’ soul, Acts 2:27 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”
The problem in our culture is that we have replaced the soul with the self. The soul that was made by God and for God is now disconnected from God and replaced with the self. When it comes to helping people, including raising children, our culture tragically has no concept of the soul. In his book “Soul Keeping” John Ortberg even noted that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders never once mentions the soul. To really help people, we need to help the whole person, including the soul, which integrates all of the aspects of a person together.
There are two main takeaways here:
1. You have a soul. Your soul was made by God and for God. You are the
keeper of your soul. Nothing in your outer life matters as much as your soul, and nothing in your outer life will be healthy unless your soul is healthy. How healthy is your soul?
2. If you are a parent, you are not just raising a child; you are raising a soul. Apart from a loving relationship with God, you cannot do much good in raising that soul. Jesus said exactly this, explaining what he says is the most important thing in all the world in Mark 12:30-31, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Just as the body needs air, so the soul needs love. It is God’s love that we cannot live without spiritually. It is God’s love that our soul needs to receive so that we can then teach our neighbor—starting with our own child—to love God from their soul in response to His love for them from His soul.
Are you doing a better job tending to your outer life or your inner life? Are you doing a better job tending do your child’s inner life or outer life?
This blog series is based upon a five-part sermon series called Parenting on Point that you can listen to for free at markdriscoll.org