Saturday, February 12, 2011

Of Purer Hands and Cleaner Hearts: The Mormon Concept of Soul

First, I want to thank everyone for their thoughts last weekend as I began to contemplate my New Year's Resolution for this month:

Have a purer heart and cleaner hands, and project more the image of God.  

As I read the comments from my initial resolutions post this month, the thought struck me that this resolution symbolizes the Mormon concept of the soul - and the Biblical concept of serving God with one's whole soul.

In Mormonism, the "soul" is seen as the combination of an immortal spirit and a mortal body - and, after the resurrection, we believe both of those "soul" elements will be immortal.  That is the first step to becoming like God - receiving his "image" immortally in the sense that our soul will never be "split" again.  We were created "in the beginning" of our mortal existence in His image in that very literal sense - having our physical bodies "spirit-breathed", if you will, and filled with / animated by our immortal spirit - thus, as Genesis says, becoming a "living soul". Exact appearance doesn't matter all that much to me; it is the concept of clothing a spirit with a body that is the key. 

That unique combination of mortal body and immortal spirit child of God is what allows us to project the image of God at the most fundamental level - and those two aspects of our "soulness" are typically described in terms of our hands and our hearts.  Our hands symbolize what we DO - the acts of our bodies, while our hearts symbolize what we FEEL - the inclinations of our spirits.  Thus, we are in complete harmony with God only when our hands DO the will of God and our hearts FEEL the influence of God. 

Next, "pure" and "clean" both mean "without stain" - and when the condition of purity and cleanliness is extended forward without end ("eternally") it means one is "incorruptible" or "unable to be stained".  Since all of us are sinners and come short of the glory of God, having pure hands and a clean heart is our ultimate goal as to the condition of our soul - meaning we have a "godly soul".  To come full circle in this post, it means we have the image of God "engraven" upon our countenance - not necessarily that we "look like God" in any particular way, but that God has carved us into something that actually has become like Him.  In a very real sense, this process is like the process of taking a block of stone and carving it into a statue - the only difference being that this "engraving" is of a "living sacrifice" of hands and heart - of a whole soul. 

I intend to delve more into each aspect of hands and heart in the next two weeks, but I wanted first to talk of what has struck me regarding what it might mean to "receive his image in your countenance" at a deeper level than merely an outward appearance.  I wanted to talk of an inward metamorphosis generated by an actual engraving process. Most importantly, I want to highlight the way the verse in Alma 5 is worded:

Have ye RECEIVED his image in your countenance?  

God will do the engraving, but it is up to us to receive the engraving that will occur IN our countenances.  Like Joseph Smith's description of being a rough stone rolling, we too must endure the engraver's blows if we are to have His image engraven into our countenances. 

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