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The Need of the Soul - Salvation

The Need of the Soul

Salvation and Jewish Spirituality...

[ The following entry explores some basic differences between the Christian and Jewish views of the soul -- and the respective views of the soul's need for salvation.... ]

Regarding the distinction between appearance and reality, the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of modern Chasidism) is said to have told the following parable:

    "Once there was a king who yearned for his subjects to be close to him. Being a wise ruler, however, the king knew that if the process of getting close to him was too easy, people wouldn't think it was important. They would be convinced that something as awesome as being close to the king must be challenging and very difficult. So this is what the king did. Since he was a magician, he built around himself a magnificent castle with towers, gates, moats, and walls. But it was all an illusion.


    Then the king issued a royal proclamation inviting everyone to come and be close to him. But when the people arrived and saw the fortress with all its battlements and walls, one by one they began to give up.... Surely such a task was beyond human attainment. But then a child of the king came forward. She was daunted but not dismayed. Cautiously, deliberately, she went up to the wall and extended her hand to touch it, but as soon as she did, the wall disappeared.  And so it went with all the walls and towers and gates. Illusions, every one!

    In this way, she was able to walk right up to her father who we imagine was simply sitting on a chair in the middle of an open field. They embraced, and he said, "What took you so long?"

As I've written about elsewhere, Jewish theology does not accept the Christian doctrine of "original sin" and therefore rejects the idea that each soul born into this world is an inheritor of Adam's natural state of exile.... The "fall of man" (i.e., Adam and Eve's disobedience) was just an accident of history that did not produce a cataclysmic or "ontological change" within them.  After their exile from Eden, Adam and Eve's environment changed - but not their essence. They still retained the image of God, though their exile meant a loss of God-consciousness... The "problem of exile" for the Jewish soul is therefore one of ignorance or "forgetfulness" regarding its true identity. The soul is created b'tzelem Elohim (in the divine image), and the way "to return to the King" is therefore to realize that all the supposed barriers (including guilt, shame, pride, sin, etc.) are ultimately nothing but illusions.... The "divine spark" within us is essentially holy and pure -- though it may hidden from view because the finite ego accepts illusions about its true identity (kellipot). In the end, "salvation" (i.e., the return to Eden) is simply "recollecting" the truth that you're already part of the divine nature that permeates all things.... The idea that the soul is in need of "salvation" outside of itself is therefore part of the ego's illusions: No, the soul is asleep and needs but to awaken to reality.

It should be clear that this viewpoint is inconsistent with the New Testament's idea that the soul is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) and is therefore so profoundly alienated from God that it literally needs an entirely new nature.... The natural state of soul -- the so-called "Adamic nature" -- is inherently separated from God and cannot overcome its state of exile apart from direct divine intervention (John 3:3, Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22). The soul born into this world is a little bit like "Humpty Dumpty," as it were. If you've ever broken an egg, you know that it will take more than "all the king's horses and all the kings men" to put it back together again... Unlike the traditional Jewish view that the soul is "encrusted" with layers of illusion that conceals the divine image, the Scriptures are clear that the human soul is shattered and in need of a divinely given reconstruction.

The Scriptures teach that all souls have sinned (Psalm 14:2-3; 51:5; Eccl. 9:3; Jer. 17:9, etc.), and the penalty for such is clear: "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20). Death here means both spiritual death (i.e., being separated or cut off from the Source of Life) and physical death (sheol)... God's sole means for obtaining forgiveness is by the shedding of blood upon the altar (Lev. 17:11). This is the "korban principle" -- life for life -- that functioned as the underlying principle of the Torah's sacrificial system. Indeed, over 40% of the Torah's commandments -- 246 of the 613 -- concern details of this system.  In fulfillment of divine Promise, however, and as foretold and prefigured by the Hebrew prophets, Yeshua the Mashiach came and offered Himself as our sacrifice upon the holy altar of Moriah -- the "Temple made without hands." Through his sacrifice on our behalf, God's mercy and justice can "kiss" and therefore God's "problem" of accepting a fallen soul while maintaining His holiness is resolved (Psalm 85:10). Yeshua is the true Mediator of divine atonement -- just as He alone is the way and the truth and the life. No one "comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6). Yeshua alone is the One who says "Kumi" to awaken the dead from their sleep...

So while it is certainly true that all human beings are made b'tzelem Elohim -- in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) -- that image, essentially composed of spirit (Gen. 2:7, John 4:24) -- was radically marred and distorted by the Fall of Adam and Eve, and their physical descendants are therefore said to be inheritors of a fallen nature (Rom. 5:12). This is because the essence of spirit is relationship itself, and should the relationship be broken, so is the underlying image...    A "second touch" from God is therefore needed, a second "breath" from the Divine -- beyond the initial touch and breath that gave rise to physical life -- and that comes from the Spirit (lit. "breath") of God.


Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil," but the Messiah is called the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), whose death upon that "tree" sets us free from the cursed state of our natural forebears (Gal. 3:13). The good news is that the corrupted image can "recreated" through the grace of God found in the Messiah and His sacrifice (Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 1:4). After the resurrection "[Yeshua] breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). Ultimately paradise lost will be paradise restored in the world to come (Rev. 22).

According to the New Testament writings, the unregenerated soul is blocked or impaired from seeing the truth because the "god of this world" has a "blinding" influence over the soul.  "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God (ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ)" (2 Cor. 4:3-4). As Yeshua said, "The one who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), and "those who do not me do not honor the Father who sent me" (John 5:23).

Trust in the risen Messiah and the gift of divine sight provides an inner radiance that comes from God Himself.  "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). There is a veil over the eyes of the unbeliever, "but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." The Spirit of God gives us true freedom to reflect His grace and love in our lives so that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (μεταμορφόω, 'metamorphosed') into the same image (εἰκών) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Follows of Yeshua are to be "lights of the world" who "let their light shine" through deeds that emulate the Master (Matt. 5:14-16). But note that the light comes from the image of the Messiah -- not from a hidden spark of inner divinity...

Because we experience God "before the throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16) we can shine the light of His gracious Presence to others... The agency of our change -- and therefore of our ability to genuinely reflect the image of God -- comes from the Holy Spirit, not through human wisdom or knowledge. And since Yeshua is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3), the image of God within us is ultimately transformed into the image of the Messiah Himself. Believers are "predestined to be conformed (συμμόρφους - lit. 'formed with') the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Those who deny that Yeshua is the Messiah simply cannot apprehend the image of God. Moreover, seeing the image of God in Yeshua does not deify us, but rather transforms (μεταμορφόω) us into the same image, ever increasing from one stage of glory to a higher stage of glory.  In short, the focus is not on ourselves as miniature images of God, but rather on "the Messiah in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

The Baal Shem Tov's parable is enchanting, though it cannot rightly be applied to those who reject the divine redemption given through the blood of the true Lamb of God, Yeshua. For those who trust in the Messiah, however, the parable can indeed hold value. Yeshua has indeed made the way to the Father, and we are now freely given access to God's very presence (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 4:16). Nonetheless, when we forget what He has done for us -- and when we forget our value in His eyes -- we are liable to fall into the trap of thinking we must "earn" His love, and this promotes illusions of separation for us.  Human reason (and religion) object to the "scandal of grace" -- i.e., that we are unconditionally accepted through the love and mercy of God shown in Yeshua (hence even Chassidism holds that ritual acts are the means of distilling God's love to us). Nonetheless, we must "accept that we are accepted" and abandon the temptation that we can add anything to the perfect work of Yeshua performed on our behalf....

    "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal."  Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:27-29)

Trusting in God's love as demonstrated in Yeshua is to "do the works of God."  This is not merely giving assent to intellectual truths or engaging in various religious rituals. No, real trust means relying upon God's Teacher who will disabuse your illusions.... It is a complete letting go, or surrender to God's authority in the work of salvation.  But note that even faith itself a gift (Eph. 2:8-9) -- and therefore "mountains are cast into the sea" through the power and will of God alone. There is no boasting in the Kingdom of God. לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה / "Salvation belongs to the LORD" (Psalm 3:8).

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