I do not agree with all that Dr. Collins writes in his book about evolution, the age of the universe, etc . . . but I do appreciate the reverance he displays for God and the love in his heart for God's Son. There is, however, one thing that Dr. Collins suggests in his book that I wholeheartedly affirm. Dr. Collins believes the genus-differentia (what makes man different from animals) is the imprint of God in the soul of a man.
Many Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians err, in my opinion, on the subject of the origin of the soul. Most have the opinion that the souls of men are ex traduce, or generated by and derived from their parents with their bodies. This concept of the natural generation of the soul has led to the often used statement by evangelicals 'life begins at conception.' However, biological life existed in the egg, as well as the sperm, prior to conception, so when most evangelicals say, "life begins at conception," they mean "human life (i.e. the soul) exists at conception because it is traduced from the parents when the sperm and the egg unite."
This, however, is not what Scripture teaches. The apostle makes a distinction between "the fathers of our flesh" and "the Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9). God speaks of man's souls as "The souls that I have made" (Isaiah 57:6). Zechariah the prophet said God "forms the spirit of man within him" (Zech. 12:1). Job declared "The breath of the Almight hath given me life" (Job 33:4). In other words, the souls of man are God's immediate creation; the making of them God claims absolutely for himself.
Dr. John Gill, the 18th Century Baptist theologian, Hebrew and Greek linguist, and the most renowned Baptist scholar of the English speaking world in his day agrees:
"The soul of man comes immediately from the hand of God, and is the image of God . . . Man only generates the body . . Souls are created one by one, when their bodies are prepared to receive them; they are not created without the body, and then put into it; but they are formed in it by God. When the embryo is fit to receive it, it is created by God, and united to it; but how is united, and what is the bond of that union, we must be content to be ignorant of. (John Gill; A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity; The Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris, Arkansas; pages 272-273).
The implications of this Biblical truth are enormous in our modern age. Let me give a few of them for your consideration:
(1). Human life begins when God uniquely and sovereignly forms the soul of man within the generated embryo that has been traduced by the union of a man and a woman. However, in some cases in our modern day, the embryo is formed by means other than the sexual union of a man and a woman (i.e. "test tube babies," "cloning," "in vitro fertilization," etc . . .). Scientists no more have the capability of creating the human soul in a test tube, by cloning, or by genetic fusion than parents have in creating the soul of their infant through sexual union. The soul of man is formed by God alone.
(2). When God forms the soul of a man is a mystery. Some evangelicals may choose to say God forms the soul at conception. Spontaneous abortion, which is the loss of a pregnancy without outside intervention before 20 weeks' gestation, affects up to 20 percent of recognized pregnancies. Many pregnancies, some estimates as high as 31% are lost spontaneously before a woman even recognizes that she is pregnant, and the clinical signs of miscarriage are mistaken for a heavy or late menses. Think through the practical implications of the natural flushing of fertilized eggs through the mother's system without her knowledge. IF the souls of children are traduced from the parents at conception, then many Christian parents will have dozens of children in heaven - children they don't even know exist. But if God chooses to form the soul at a time later than biological conception, when the embryo is formed to receive the soul - say around the time of quickening - then there will be no surprises in heaven.
(3). Since God forms the soul within the prepared embryo at the time of His choice, then abortion should be opposed not so much on the basis of the quaint phrase "life begins at conception," (because nobody really knows when God forms the soul within a body), but rather, "fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28). In other words, instead of attempting to be moralistic and quaint in our opposition to abortion, we ought to be be spiritual and serious. Example: "Do you realize that you and the man you had sex with have formed the child's body that God is now preparing to form the soul within? What does God think of your desire for an abortion? How would you feel if somebody interrupted your very special and creative work? Oh? You don't care? All you care about is your fear that you can't care for the child? You fear your family and their rejection? You are afraid that no other man will ever desire you again? So fear is driving you? You should not fear those who can only kill the body but cannot kill the soul (i.e other people), but rather you should fear him who can destroy both your soul and your body in hell (God)." Of course, in our modern day of pragmatic moralism we have lost sight of the eternal.
(4). Since God forms the soul - and the soul is the very image of God - and the soul is formed within the body, then male and female characteristics are physical not soulish, for the soul is without gender. The Bruce Willis/Russell Crowe macho-warriors and the Nicole Kidman/Meg Ryan goddess stereotypes are insufficient models for a God-being. Culture, the age in which we live, and male/female physicial characteristics drive most of our understanding of the value and worth of human beings, but in the economy of God, what makes a person valuable is his or her soul - created in the image of God. Therefore, the body may be deformed, the male or female may have differing roles in culture, but in the economy of God there is neither male or female because each of His children contains His image.
(5). What makes a person complete is when the soul, created by God, is united with Jesus Christ by faith and spiritual union. The life of God in the soul of man, which occurs at spiritual regeneration, vivifies the soul toward God. The body with the soul alive to God learns the importance of soul talk, soul health, soul life. Spiritual things transcend the physical. A relationship with God becomes the source of happiness instead of relationships with others. The soul is immortal. Upon death, the body returns to the earth, and the soul to its maker. If you are spending more time on caring for your body than your soul you are a blind fool. We are to measure our days and get our house in order. The time is coming when the God who formed our souls within our bodies will "untie the silver cord" and we will find ourselves in the presence of our Creator.
It is my desire, as Larry Crabb says, to develop SoulTalk in our church. We must get to the place where we get beneath the surface of life in general. No more petty talk in Sunday School. No more 'nice weather' or 'how's the golf game' conversation among fellow Christians. It's time we took seriously the Biblical truth that God created our souls and stamped His image within, but without the life-giving power of Jesus Christ, our soul rots and corrupts because of the sin of Adam and our own desires to live after the things of the flesh rather than the things of the Spirit.
How's the health of your soul today?