The soul as inheritance

by JordanB

The theme I have been developing the past few weeks is that personhood is both an inborn right and an inheritance. I’ve written about in a few other places. It is an insistent topic, and so it is one that I would like to pay closer attention to.

It started, I think, with the prodigal son. We tend to think that our soul is ours, so we can do with it as we like. Like the prodigal son, however, we find that this is not the case. We see the soul as something that belongs to us, but really it is more that we belong to our soul, that we are our soul. It is our existence in the world, and if we treat it as a commodity, then we will treat our very existence as a commodity.

The idea of the birthright comes up throughout Scripture. Jacob tricked Esau into giving him his birthright for a pot of soup. Adam and Eve rejected their birthright in exchange for the fruit of knowledge.

There is a pattern here. Our desires grab on to things that they want. Why would this be? We are mistaken about where value lies. These things are goods that we want for ourselves-  knowledge, food, travel and good times. But how, and why, does this transform us so? When I think that I can do whatever I want with myself, I become a fungible asset. In some way it removes me from the moral order of the universe.

Coming into our inheritance of personhood is a matter of taking our place in the moral order of the universe. This is not at all to say that our course in life is mapped out already; our inheritance is to labor in freedom. We are not consigned to any fate except for that which exists by the factors of control inherent in existence, but not being so consigned does not exempt us from obligations and commitments freely entered into. Regarding the first part, we are contingent beings who inhabit a contingent world, and therefore we are delimited by the natural physical limitations of the world as well as by the exercise of power by others. We can, as far as we are able, change those things, but only as far as we are able. We might say that we are born into this earthly or natural inheritance. Regarding the second part: it comes to pass, then, that we come to understand our heavenly inheritance, which is our personhood, and to which we are called to live into. This is not, as for the prodigal son, a fungible gift which can be freely exchanged for whatever is desired. Rather, it is an invaluable pearl for which we labor freely, not as a means of our desire, but the very end (telos) of our desire. Thus we enter into commitments and obligations, but only out of desire for that which is eternal. The matter is not whether we will satisfy the desires of some person or persons, or whether we will earn our place in the world, but whether we will live into that which is our true calling.

We have this inheritance as our general calling as human beings, which is to labor for the kingdom of God, to exercise compassion, to work toward union of all things, and to lift up all proximal beings into eternity through praise. Yet our personhood is not simply a general living, but it leads us to a particular kind of living, directing our usage of our earthly inheritance for the greater good. The earthly inheritance may be dispensed with as necessary, but only in view of the heavenly inheritance. Thus it says “let your Yes be Yes and your No be No,” yet our ultimate allegiance is to our heavenly rather than our earthly inheritance.

Now I have written about the world as inheritance and the soul as inheritance. This makes sense, because the soul is as large as the world. Buber says that the really real is relation, and that we meet the world. In this meeting the duality of self and world are overcome; that which desires and that which is desired meet in the self-giving being of God.