The debate over whether or not humans have a soul has probably been going on as long as recorded history. In the Good Ol' USA today it seems very common for people to believe that we're just a pile of flesh and bones that works like a machine. My personal experience includes a degree from an engineering school, so I do understand this point of view. When you are trained to look at how things work in a strictly physical sense, the body can start to seem no different than a car or lawnmower.
But what if we are so much more than just a body? In fact, what if our body is actually secondary to what we truly are and our spiritual side more thoroughly defines what makes up our existence? If this is the case, you'd think there would be some evidence, wouldn't you?
I think one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that supports this fact is the occurrence of Out of Body Experiences (OBEs). These experiences involve a conscious, thinking and completely aware aspect of a human to actually leave the physical flesh and bones for a short time. The part that leaves seems to match the description of what has been called the "spirit" or "soul." If humans don't have a spirit or soul, how could it leave the physical body and exist on its own?
One reason I find this topic so interesting is that once people understand what OBEs are really like, they might just find that these kind of experiences are more common than most people realize. You might even remember a number of times where you have experienced an OBE without even realizing what it was at the time. And personal experience is almost always more convincing than what some other person tries to tell you about what they think you should believe.
Let's start with a standard definition of an OBE. I found this one on the Spirit Web site"
"Out-of-body-experiences (OBEs) are those curious, and usually brief experiences in which a person's consciousness seems to depart from his or her body, enabling observation of the world from a point of view other than that of the physical body and by means other than those of the physical senses. Thus, an out-of-the-body experience can initially be defined as 'an experience in which a person seems to perceive the world from a location outside his physical body'. "
Seems like a pretty new age type concept, but since you're reading this on a Biblical web site, you're probably wondering if this type of thing is really ever mentioned in the Bible. I think it's actually talked about a lot, but I'll start with the most direct example that I've found. In the following passage taken from one of the Apostle Paul's letters, it seems that Paul was very familiar with OBEs, and even uses language that explains the phenomenon pretty directly:
|2 Corinthians 12: 2-4 (NIV)|
|I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.|
While Paul doesn't conclusively state that this man had an OBE, he certainly includes it as one of the most probable explanations. I can just imagine this person approaching Paul during one of his missionary journeys and saying something like "Oh man, you're not gonna believe this, but I had the weirdest dream a few years ago..." Interesting that Paul easily makes the connection that he might be hearing an OBE story, isn't it?
When I really started looking into OBEs, I found that it usually takes place during a state of what has been called Lucid Dreaming. The idea is that when the body sleeps, the spirit kind of gets bored (since it doesn't need to sleep) and goes out adventuring until it needs to return to the body upon waking. Have you ever had a dream that almost seems real? Where the touch and the colors and even the smells all come together in a very solid way? If so, you've probably experienced an OBE in the form of lucid dreaming.
Once you realize this, it becomes easier to see how many OBE examples the Bible really contains. I think that even many of the "visions" that are explained are instances like this. In the following example, Peter has an interesting vision, and it certainly didn't occur in the physical plane:
|Acts 10:9-16 (NIV)|
|About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching
the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted
something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a
trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let
down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed
animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.
Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
I chose this specific example because it also brings up an interesting question. I find it intriguing that Peter immediately recognized this dream as a real type of message instead of just disregarding it as a figment of his imagination like many people would. It's also interesting that the message obviously contradicted some of the things he'd read in the sacred writings of the time and learned in the Jewish Synagogue which was the established church of the time. Seems like he was really put into a "Catch 22" situation here where either decision would have a potential downside. Do you follow the words you've seen written on paper and taught in church, or do you follow what you believe to be the direct instruction of God himself?
In Peter's case, he seemed to understand at least to some degree that lucid dreaming can provide an almost direct connection to the Creator. When the soul is away from the body, it's less burdened by everyday worries. This provides a perfect opportunity for a higher level to contact a person in a more direct way.
Now here's the million dollar question: Does God still do this kind of thing today?
I believe God tries to communicate in this way more often than people realize. Not that all dreams are meant to be shouted from the mountaintops in an attempt to revolutionize some kind of church tradition like Peter's vision did of course. In fact, in most cases they might just be God trying to tell you something personally, maybe even something as simple as offering a few tips on how you can personally grow and advance spiritually. But most people aren't listening for this kind of thing. They're usually stuck searching only for something they can touch and feel - something physical. Almost like their mindset is trapped inside the physical body because they don't realize that they can and do exist outside of that body.
Jesus addresses this concept during one of his trips through Samaria. During this trip he stops at a well near a little town called Sychar where he meets a woman. After chatting with Jesus for a few minutes, the woman concludes that he is some kind of prophet so she takes the opportunity to ask him some questions. She especially wanted him to clear up some controversy about what physical location is the proper place to worship. I'd imagine this question would be a lot like asking today what church denomination is the correct one. Jesus gives her a very unexpected answer:
|John 4: 23-24 (NIV)|
|"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."|
Now what exactly does this mean? It seems that Jesus is going out of his way to point out that the physical traditions and type of worship that this woman is asking about are incomplete. He wants her to understand that there is a better way - a way to communicate with God in a much more direct and spiritual form.
I think this kind of communication is like having a television tuned to the GNN (God News Network - sorry for the corny acronym - I really couldn't resist throwing at least one in!) where he can provide separate updates and guidance for each person. The problem is, most people have been trained to disregard it. The TV station is still broadcasting but so many people have muted the volume so they can sit in the other room and read yesterday's newspaper. The biggest news story of the century could be breaking and being shown live and they might not even realize it because they've stopped watching.
This problem isn't new. It actually seems to be an enduring part of human nature. A kind of natural challenge that comes with having a physical human body in the first place. In fact, when Jesus saw the same thing happening among the church of his day, he often pointed it out. In one of my favorite examples he refers to something that the prophet Isaiah wrote (he quotes this passage in both Matthew 15:8 and Mark 7:6). Isaiah points out the futility of relying strictly on head knowledge instead of heart knowledge - similar to what we might refer to today as "book learning" where a person reads about things but never goes out and actually experiences them:
|Isaiah 29: 13-14 (NIV)|
|The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish."|
Could OBEs and Lucid Dreaming be part of these "wonders" that Isaiah was referring to? I've seen many cases where one spiritually charged lucid dream can teach much more than years of Bible study or a strictly logical analysis of a particular religion. Personally, I've found that the more I listen to the various ways God communicates in the spiritual realm, the more easily I can understand things that I do see in the physical realm - especially when it comes to determining what the words written in the Bible really mean.
|Revelations 1:9-11 (NIV)|
|I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and
patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because
of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Of course, when John came back to his body he took the time to record the entire vision in the Book of Revelations. What if John would have disregarded the whole thing like so many of us do? What if he would have woken up and just kind of shook his head and said "Wow, that was one really freaked out dream" and went about his daily business? Maybe throw some breakfast in the microwave and turn on the Jerry Springer show...
Now, I'm not proposing that every dream you have is the next book of Revelations. All I'm saying is that God talks to people in many different ways. The more you are aware of these methods, the easier it might be for you to listen when God tries to talk to you.
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