Soulbook: When Do We Receive Our Soul?
A better way to ask this is “When do we receive our bodies?” It’s important to keep the spiritual perspective that we are Souls to whom God has given physical bodies while we live here in the physical world. But, when are our physical and spiritual natures joined? How is this accomplished? God gives us a very valuable and powerful existence in that He has endowed us with souls and spirits that extend beyond our mere physical form of life and into eternity. This gift includes a volitional characteristic that allows us to think, reason, have love and compassion, and otherwise have lives with meaning. No other form of existence offers such a richness of being and depth of understanding. We don’t only understand what is going on around us, but what is inside us: our thoughts and feelings. On top of these types of understanding, we carry within us the characteristics of morality, justice, and love that have been placed there by God Himself. The fact that we possess such deep attributes indicates that we have a knowledge outside of nature itself, which may be the greatest gift of all. This supernatural knowledge that God has imparted to us gives us hope and peace, and allows us to see something better and more perfect than the deteriorating condition of Creation. This hope of our souls allows us to live abundant and meaningful lives.
So, when does life begin? When the male and female gametes join to form the zygote that eventually will grow into the fetus, it is at that very moment (the moment of conception) that the formation of a new body begins. James makes an important point that must follow for life to be present: “The body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). Therefore, when life is formed in the womb, the Soul/Spirit must be there, or the new life cannot exist. James understands what basically everyone who lives and dies today understands. If we die a physical death, there is something absent that was once there. The reverse is also true. If there is life, then there must be something there to sustain that life. While some might contest that the initial formation of a group of cells produced from a fertilized egg does not constitute a human being in all its complexity, it is more important to understand that the functionality of the human is not what makes it human, but the image of God imprinted upon that being, no matter how completely or incompletely formed he or she might be.
Consider the following passage from David, in Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” David looks at his existence in God’s eyes from a physical perspective, yet he understands that he existed and was known to God even before he was conceived. David even refers to his own soul, saying that his soul knows very well that God’s works are wonderful. The soul that is who we are understands perfectly the origin of itself and the importance of itself to God. David even speaks of a time before his own time, referring to the knowledge God had of his days even before his life began. This removes all doubt that the soul exists with God prior to its integration with the physical form.
Job, who was undergoing a terrible life crisis, cursed the day he was born when he said: “Why did I not die from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when my mother bore me?” (3:11). It is clear that if the fetus had died in the womb, prior to that it must have been living. Someone cannot die if he has never lived. It’s also of interest to observe that in Job 3:13-16, the patriarch listed several formerly-living-but-now-dead people with whom he would have had something in common if he had died in utero. Included in the list—along with kings and princes—was the child who experienced a “hidden untimely birth” (i.e., a miscarriage). Job considered the miscarried child to be in the same category as others who once lived but had died. Obviously, the Holy Spirit (Who guided the author of the book of Job in what he wrote) considered an unborn fetus as much a human being as a king, a prince, or a stillborn infant. Thus, the humanity and life of a person doesn’t rest on the stage of development of that person, but on the presence of life that causes that person to exist. Only when that life is no longer present is that physical form in the process of returning to the Earth. In the Old Testament, even the accidental termination of a pregnancy was a punishable crime. Consider Exodus 21:22-23,“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.” The meaning of the passage is this: If the child was born prematurely as the result of this accident, but “no harm follows” (i.e. the child survived), then a fine was to be exacted; however, if “harm follows” (i.e., either mother or child died), then the guilty party was to be put to death. Look at it this way. Why would God exact such a severe punishment for the accidental death of an unborn child—if that child were not living? The whole point remains that God sees life as precious, no matter who the life belongs to and desires that it be preserved, especially in the instance of innocence. This is highlighted in Proverbs 6:16-17, “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood.” God loves life and wants us to love life as well. The same understanding of the fetus as a living child is found in the New Testament. The angel Gabriel told Mary that “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren,” (Luke 1:36). It’s important to realize that the conception resulted in neither an “it” nor a “thing,” but in a son. In Luke 1:41,44, the Bible states (in speaking of Elisabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist) that “the child leaped in her womb.” The word for “child” in these passages is the Greek term “brephos”, and is used here for an unborn fetus. The same word is used in both Luke 18:15 and Acts 7:19 for young or newborn children. It also is used in Luke 2:12,16 for the newborn Christ-child. “Brephos”, therefore, can refer to a young child, a newborn infant, or even an unborn fetus, (see Thayer, 1958, p. 105). In each of these cases, a living human being must be under consideration because the same word is used to describe all three.
How does God view the new life in the womb from conception until birth? In Jeremiah 1:5, it’s clear how God sees us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you.” We are Souls who are born of God, formed in Heaven by Him, and placed into physical bodies. God knows us before we are even conceived. How awesome is that? He gives us that soul as our only possession and we determine where to go from there. We make the choice to either keep that soul for ourselves, or give it back to the One who made it. The same concept applied to the prophet Isaiah who said: “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength” (Isaiah 49:1,5). God not only viewed Isaiah as a person prior to his birth, but even called him by name. So, we are people from before the point of conception and forever after. God makes us alive; He makes us people.
Our Soul is ultimately who we are. That Soul is formed by God prior to our conception and God already knows that person and has plans for that person. It’s an amazing and almost incomprehensible thing to know these facts. God, being Who He is, has made us in a way that allows us to grasp our significance in a universe that seems so vast. Many times, we look at that seemingly infinite expanse and consider ourselves small. However, the fact remains that we truly outstrip the bounds of this finite universe in time and space. God has ensured that our personhood is larger than what we can imagine and that our lives are full of more potential and greatness than we will understand in this life. The fact that life exists in the womb means a Soul is present there. There is an obvious simplicity to this fact that unfortunately escapes some people. Instead of tying the importance of life to a developmental level, we must comprehend that the presence of a soul and spirit is the true test of life and humanity. The value inherent in the soul is far above what we can place on anything physical, but it is that very essence of being that imbues value in the physical form and life in us all.
Most importantly, we are formed and placed on this Earth, thus meaning this place is not where we originate. Heaven is where we begin and where we ultimately belong. God forms us, physically and spiritually, then takes the two parts and joins them together. The question of when our soul and spirit are formed is basically impossible to answer from a physical perspective, since these natures are not physical, but supernatural by definition. Also, since these parts of us exist in Heaven and are then joined to our physical bodies, there is a necessity to understand the nature of God and Heaven to understand this timeless and spaceless nature. Since God is timeless, spaceless, and beginningless, His abode is the same. Therefore, referring to the creation and placement of our spiritual selves in physical terms is not really possible. That is not to say that we possess a divine nature in ourselves, but that we are ourselves created after the nature of God and are set from a realm that is above our physical understanding and outside of our physical nature. But, in the end when our physical nature ceases to exist and we are home, we will finally understand who we really are and always were.