Theology Thursday: The Value of Spiritual Rest

Curly-haired woman has arms open enjoying the sunlight in an empty parking lot

We live in a restless age. Many people struggle with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. We feel a deep-seated need for rest and recognize that genuine human flourishing is impossible without it.

Jesus understands our need for physical and spiritual rest and tells us that we can find it in an intimate personal relationship with him. To those who are weary and struggling, Jesus says: “Come to Me … and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV). Jesus calls us to “learn” from him as his disciples, promising that when we do, we will find spiritual rest.

What Is the Soul?

Our soul is that non-physical part of ourselves that gives us our personal identity. While it is true that the soul and body are fully integrated so long as we are physically alive, when we die our soul continues to exist in a disembodied state, awaiting the resurrection of the body (see John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Why Is the Soul Valuable?

Human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In Genesis 2:7 we read that God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the ground, and then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” It is arguably true that God created humans with faculties and powers that reflect some of His own characteristics. However, since "God is spirit" (John 4:24), to be made in God's image cannot primarily refer to our physical being. It must importantly concern the human soul, or spirit.

Of course, this appreciation for the soul should not be construed as devaluing the body. The doctrines of both the incarnation and our future resurrection clearly reveal the value that God places on our bodies. At the same time, we must also recognize the special value of our souls. The unique capacities of human beings for rational thought, moral discernment, creativity and emotional experience, are intimately bound up with our embodiment while we are physically alive.

Yet it is crucially important to recognize that such capacities are retained by the soul (in a disembodied state) between death and resurrection (1 Samuel 28:3-19; Luke 16:19-31; Revelations 6:9-11). It is for reasons such as these that we should properly value the human soul (Matthew 16:26).

God has richly endowed the human soul so that we might exercise the creative gifts and abilities that He has given us to make the world a better place (Genesis 1:26-28). Believers have been yet further gifted that they might also be of service to the church, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Whatever we do, we are called to “work heartily” for the Lord, who will also reward us for our efforts (Colossians 3:23-24).

Since the soul gives life to our body and is the locus of personal identity, it plays an essential role in our calling and work. However, since Adam’s fall our souls are often restless, troubled, anxious and disquiet — and this always affects, and is sometimes exacerbated by, our work. We have been called and gifted to work, but we desperately need rest as well.

Why Is Jesus’ Promise of “Rest” Good News?

When Adam and Eve were originally created, they enjoyed spiritual communion and fellowship with the Lord (Genesis 1-2). When they sinned, however, this fellowship was disrupted. They died spiritually, experienced shame, fear, guilt and anxiety, and attempted to hide from God (Genesis 3:6-8). Yet God never eliminated His love for them but sought them out, offering them an opportunity to confess their sin and be reconciled to him (Genesis 3:9-21). God is still offering the same opportunity for sinful men and women today.

We live in a restless age. Since Adam and Eve’s original sin, we are all born spiritually dead and alienated from God. We thus have a need to be “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:1-8). We need to experience a spiritual rebirth that restores our broken relationship with God. Jesus loved us enough to die for our sins, giving “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Only in our relationship with Him can we truly flourish as God intended. Only in our relationship with Him can we find “rest” for our souls — a type of spiritual rest that can be experienced even as we work to make the world a better place. And in a restless age like ours, that is “good news.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.