Sermon illustrations

The Soul

The Care and Cure of Souls

Gary Moon and David Benner, visionary leaders in contemporary Christian soul care, provide a helpful background on the origin of this phrase:

The English phrase “care of souls” has its origins in the Latin cura animarum. While cura is most commonly translated “care,” it actually contains the idea of both care and cure. Care refers to actions designed to support the well-being of something or someone. Cure refers to actions designed to restore well-being that has been lost. The Christian church has historically embraced both meanings of cura and has understood soul care to involve nurture and support as well as healing and restoration.

Gary W. Moon and David G. Benner, Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices, InterVarsity Press.

The Don Quixote of the Soul

Jeffrey Boyd is a kind of Don Quixote of the soul. He is a Yale psychiatrist, an ordained minister, and coauthor of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a work in which you will search in vain for a single reference to “soul.”

…Boyd also writes books and articles trying to reinject the word soul into our scientific vocabulary. In one study of hundreds of church attenders, Boyd found that most people believe they know what soul means, but when asked to explain it, they can’t do it. The soul turns out to be like Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart’s description of obscenity:

“It may be hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” About half of church attenders adopt what Boyd calls the Looney Tunes Theory of the soul: If Daffy Duck were blown up with dynamite, then there would be a transparent image of Daffy Duck that would float up from the dead body. The translucent image would have wings and carry a harp. From the air this apparition would speak down to Bugs Bunny, who set off the dynamite.

John Ortberg, Soul Keeping (pp. 24-25). Zondervan.

The Drama of Humanity & Nations

In his excellent little book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly describes the inward reality that governs the course of history:

Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others.

And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of man. It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd’s heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home unto Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare. It is the drama of the Double Search, as Rufus Jones calls it. And always its chief actor is—the Eternal God of Love.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

The Enemy of Our Soul

The other enemy of the soul, meaninglessness…chokes out life with equal vigor. Meaninglessness woos us into spending our one shot at life on insignificant and trivial things. If we are not vigilant, we drift from God’s glorious ambition for our lives, losing sight of anything remotely grand, trading God-instilled passion for an easier and more often traveled road.

And if our hearts aren’t awakened by majesty, our lives soon shrink into little bits of nothingness. Our days become filled with drama over the ridiculous; our complaints fly free at the smallest challenge or difficulty; our energy and wealth are consumed by what is fleeting; and our chatter becomes dominated by events, people, and things that won’t last much longer than the morning mist.

Louie Giglio, I Am Not But I Know I Am (p. 5). The Crown Publishing Group.  

Like a Wild Animal

The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.

Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards an Undivided Life, Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Mother Theresa’s Darkness of the Soul

There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead . . . I do not know how deeper will this trial go—how much pain and suffering it will bring to me. This does not worry me anymore. I leave this to Him as I leave everything else . . . Let Him do with me whatever He wants as He wants for as long as He wants if my darkness is light to some soul.

Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, Doubleday.

Waiting For Their Souls To Catch Up With Their Bodies

The story goes like this: It’s the height of British colonialism. An English traveler lands in Africa, intent on a rapid journey into the jungle. He charters some local porters to carry his supplies. After an exhausting day of travel, all on foot, and a fitful night’s sleep, he gets up to continue the journey. But the porters refuse. Exasperated, he begins to cajole, bribe, plead, but nothing works. They will not move an inch. Naturally, he asks why.

Answer? They are waiting “for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

Lettie Cowman, in her telling of this story, wrote,

This whirling rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew what they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.[i]

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

The Weight of a Soul

Right after the turn of the 20th century, a scientist named Duncan McDougall believed he had discovered the weight of a soul. He did this by weighing six patients right before they died and right after. The difference in weight, across the patients,  averaged out to twenty-one grams. From this experiment, he decided the weight of a soul was twenty-one grams.

Later studies intended to replicate McDougall’s findings were inconclusive and led to widespread agreement in the scientific community that the original study was flawed. Nevertheless, the popularity of the study was such that many people really believed that the soul had a material quality, and its true weight was in fact 21 grams. 21 grams has been featured since in a variety of popular popular media, including as the title of a 2003 film. 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See Also Illustrations on DiscipleshipObedienceMaturitySpiritual Direction, Spiritual Growth