"Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life." This text from Deuteronomy 4:9 was in the reading for today in the devotional Linda and I use. John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace" had been a slave trader, and had become a slave himself, till God got ahold of him. In later years, he recalled how he had learned the Bible from a godly mother who faithfully prayed for him until her untimely death while he was still a boy. "But I forgot," he said. Repeatedly, he forgot, and his forgetting led him down a path of destruction.
In the heat of temptation when our emotions are firing on overdrive, it can be easy to forget what we know to be true, and that forgetting can get us into trouble. The Scripture's remedy for this is to carefully and diligently "keep our souls." But what exactly, does that mean? How do I keep my soul? And what exactly is a soul, anyway? Let's start with that last question. In Genesis 2:7 we are told that God formed the man out of the dust of the earth, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul." God formed the dust of the ground into the physical form of the man, then breathed life into him. "Breath," "spirit," and "wind" are all different translations of the same Hebrew word. God breathed life or spirit into the physical body, which resulted in a "soul," a living being. The combination of body and spirit, material and immaterial is what makes a living human being.
Often when Linda and I have to go somewhere for the entire day, we call our daughter and ask if they can keep our dog Emma for the day. We entrust her to them, knowing they will care for her. Last year when a friend was going to be out of town for a week, he asked if I would keep his shotgun for him. He was afraid someone might break into his house and steal it while he was gone. He expected that I would care for it, keep it safe, and return it to him in the same condition as when he gave it into my care. I kept it for him. I put it in a safe place and kept it from harm and loss.
Keeping our soul is like that. We are the combination of body and spirit...living souls. God has entrusted his own breath into his creation and has given us the responsibility of keeping what he has entrusted to us. The day will come when we will give an accounting of what we did with both body and spirit. Did we keep what God entrusted to us? Have I cared for my body, treating it as the dwelling place of God himself? Have I abused it with drugs or alcohol, or too little exercise and too much food? Or have I done my best to keep it for him? And my spirit-that immaterial part of us that makes the difference between a living person and a corpse-have I taken care of it? Do I allow my thoughts to dwell on violence, lust, envy, greed, pride, or revenge? Do I let my emotions control me, driving me to anger or depression? If I don't keep my soul-body and spirit-the work of God will be forgotten, lost in the swamp of a derelict body or spirit. I'll forget what I have seen God do; the mighty act of God in Christ will get forgotten. Only when I keep my soul do I remember, and only by remembering do I keep God's work from departing from me.