There are one or two real theologians who drop in now and then. They are invited to skip this post. It’s really a rather simple minded discussion of what it means to talk about our immortal souls and whether only “believing” Christians are eligible to receive eternal life.
Where did the idea of the immortality of the soul come from? Plato certainly understood it well, but it doesn’t seem to have a place in Hebrew thinking at all, and maybe I’m not smart enough, but I don’t see it in the New Testament either. Yet we commonly hear preachers and others proclaiming this or that about our immortal souls. I’ve even heard myself say something like that now and then. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the sacred texts of our Christian tradition that should lead us to think that we have immortal souls. Immortality of the soul is not a condition of human life. Which is not the same thing as saying that in this life only are we able to find and be found by God. We know nothing of what sort of life the soul might have independent of the body, even if we confidently assert that the fullness of human being is to be an embodied soul. The gift of eternal life, if that is the same or similar to immortality, is one that is given only by God through Christ; all are invited to receive it but none must. If that is true, then what happens to someone who refuses the gift? Do they simply cease to exist as if, apart from a handful of dust, they never were? There are those who say the only way to receive the gift of eternal life is to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. That seems to me to be quite heretical not only because it places the entire burden on human beings but also because it places conditions and restrictions on God’s freedom to act. I think that Calvin may have been on to something to proclaim that we are not in a position to make any statement at all that would in any way limit God’s freedom to offer the gift of eternal life to whomever God chooses. Contrary to Calvin, it also seems to me that God has made it clear that this is a gift that will be offered universally, unrestricted by time, geography or condition of life. It comes from no other source, but we are not competent to judge how it is that any one person will come face-to-face with that offer nor what the nature or conditions of acceptance might look like. Perhaps it does not even have to come in this life time. If that is true then the role of Christians, as the body of Christ, is not to be the triumphant community of the saved as over against those who are not, but to be the humble bearer of the good news of God in Christ that the gift of life is offered to all, and to invite all to join with us as followers of Christ in the sure and certain hope that we are already living into our eternal lives.