Monday, May 11, 2020

Anonymous Asks (92)

“Are soul mates for real?”

When Jonathan watched David slay Goliath, he recognized a kindred spirit.

Like David, Jonathan was a brave man who trusted in God almost to the point of recklessness. Climbing a hill fully exposed to enemy arrows in order to take it to an enemy whose numbers dwarf your own seems like a crazy stunt, but if the Lord has given the enemy into your hands, it’s a cinch. Jonathan and his armor bearer had prevailed against 10:1 odds.

It’s holy conjecture, but I suspect if his father had allowed it, Jonathan might have taken on Goliath himself. But Jonathan knew that would never be permitted. Why would the king of Israel risk his own crown prince in what he believed was an unwinnable duel? It would have been a huge PR win for the Philistines and a political disaster for Saul.

David was comparatively expendable. Saul couldn’t even put a name to him when asked.

Moral and Spiritual Values

Jonathan loved David because he recognized David epitomized a set of moral and spiritual values he was trying to live by himself. So the writer of 1 Samuel says this:
“As soon as [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”
That’s a biblical soul mate. Jonathan would rather have had David take the throne of Israel than possess it himself. David appreciated his love and loyalty, and later commemorated those things in a lament.

Of course, it’s rather obvious there was nothing sexual about the relationship, notwithstanding the efforts of a certain demographic of modern Bible readers desperate to find some murky subtext in the historical narrative that simply isn’t there.

What a Letdown!

Maybe it’s a little disappointing to find a “soul mate” popping up in the context of a life-long friendship. People who use the expression are usually thinking of a life partner, not a relationship that is merely platonic. But here the “soul mate” relationship was not based around a desire to live together and have babies, but an agreement about a common conviction: God can be trusted, and he can do anything he wants to. You can put your life in his hands with confidence. That’s not something that was commonly believed in Israel, and the Goliath experience made that clear. Saul didn’t believe it. His soldiers didn’t believe it. Even David’s own brothers didn’t believe it, not when it really came down to the crunch. We don’t hear of Eliab or Abinadab stepping up to volunteer to take on a giant.

So David and Jonathan shared something precious that set them apart from the average Israelite. Their inner selves were unusually in tune with one another.

Empty Promises and Nasty Consequences

Souls are tricky things. They do what they want, and some of the things they do are not wise. They form attachments that cannot be acted on ... or shouldn’t. Shechem’s soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. The result? Rape, followed by lots of violent revenge from her family. Is it wise to allow our emotions to put us in that sort of impossible situation? Of course not. What Shechem’s story tells us is that our souls are not reliable guides to happiness. They can lie, or they can easily be deceived.

The Hebrew word translated “soul” in English is also often translated as “life” or “self”. That’s a good way to think of it. The book of Numbers speaks of a woman “binding her soul” or “self” by making an unwise promise. My translation refers to it as a “thoughtless utterance”. It’s the kind of thing you say because your heart really, really means it, but later it turns out you promised something you had no right to promise, or promised something you were incapable of delivering. That’s the soul for you. It’s tricky. I’m sure you can think of one or two occasions on which your soul wrote cheques that could never be cashed. Mine sure has.

So are soul mates real? Sure, but maybe not in the way the expression is normally used.

Soul Mates in the Bible

What can we say about soul mates from the Bible? Well, they’re:
  1. Exceedingly rare. Most of the Bible’s “soulish” relationships were very one-sided. The David and Jonathan situation is quite uncommon.
  2. Not necessarily sexual. The “soul” connection is a function of fellowship, not eros. It does not spring out of sexual desire, and it certainly does not require sex to fulfill it. It requires agreement about the most important values. In fact, relationships in the Bible which were initiated by only one party’s soulish impulses — think of Samson and Delilah or Amnon and Tamar — were almost always remarkably unprofitable.
  3. Not a requirement for marriage. Getting married does not require a “soul” connection, though one may certainly develop over time if husband and wife find enough common causes. But it’s interesting that not one of scripture’s famous life-long partnerships is spoken of with similar language to the relationship between David and Jonathan.
In fact, even the David and Jonathan story has a sad ending. If you’re wrongly convinced there can only be one person in the world for you (and if you are, you should probably read this), or convinced that pursuing a soul-based relationship is worth sacrificing everything else in your life for, you may one day have your own reasons to lament like David did. Christians have no soul mates among the unsaved.

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