Over dinner one night last week, my four-year-old asked one of those questions. Perhaps you can relate. He asked a question that I, as an adult, would never think to ask.
It was the kind of question that causes grown-ups to reach into the outermost edges of our hearts, minds, and life experiences for a sufficient answer only to find that the question asked is far more meaningful than anything we might say in response.
We were discussing death. This is not a new topic of conversation at my house. On this particular evening the conversation began with volcanoes.
My son asked about Vesuvius, the volcano famous for reducing the Italian village of Pompeii to dust, which naturally lead to the topic of death. In response to my son’s wonderings about what happens when a person dies, my husband and I repeated what we have been saying since the first time our son asked about death: your soul goes to be with God.
On this particular night, he wanted to know more.
After thinking it over for a minute, he asked, “Can your soul ever be lost?” We asked him what he meant by that question, to which he replied, “Can you lose your soul? Can it ever just fall out of you?”
A heartbreakingly simple and poignant question.
In the silence that followed, my mind and heart racing, I wondered how to answer. There is so much that could be said. The San Bernardino shooting had happened the day before. Yet another mass shooting, and this time, a prominent Evangelical responded by encouraging thousands of college students to carry guns—even in their residence halls on college campuses—in order to get the other guy before the other guy gets them.
Elsewhere, millions of people are running for their lives and the lives of their children, but they run into locked doors and closed borders because the people on the other side are too afraid to open up. Our prisons are filled with predominantly one type of person whose crime, in some cases it would seem, is to have been born with the “wrong” color skin. In the richest nation in the history of the world, children go to bed hungry.
And the list goes on and on.
I look around and ask the same thing as my four-year-old. Have our souls fallen right out of our bodies? Where did we leave them? How is it that we have lost our souls? And how do we find them again?
I thought about an answer to my son’s question long after our dinner conversation ended. I still wonder about it now.
Of course, the soul cannot literally be separated from the body. If the early church fathers and mothers had thought this possible, Christianity as we know it would look very different.
But when I search for answers to why our world is filled with such hatred, bigotry, and fear, why human beings are the source of this suffering, the best answer I can come up with is my son’s question: Have we misplaced our souls? How else could a person created in the Image of God treat another person created in the same Image so soullessly?
We must be disconnected from the fundamental truth of who we are and in whose Image we were created. Somehow, when we weren’t paying attention, we misplaced the most important aspect of who we are. We have lost that which makes us human.
My son was still waiting on a response. I turned and looked into the sweet, sincere face of my son who just wants to know if his soul is in danger of slipping out in the night.
“No, little one. You will not lose your soul.” And I pray with all my might that it will be so.
I pray that his soul is never lost to him, that soul is never severed from action. I pray that he stands on the side of the hopeless and oppressed. I pray that he speaks truth as he lives it.
And I pray he will never have to backtrack to look for a soul that has been misplaced—hoping he never loses it in the first place.
May this be our collective prayer. And now, let’s get busy backtracking, searching for the souls we’ve lost and the places where we left them.
Ashley Mangrum is a Baptist minister, and the mother of two small children who ask big questions. Until recently, she served as the CBF Campus Minister at UNC-Chapel Hill. She and her husband currently live in Davidson, NC.
Bio: Ashley Mangrum is a Baptist minister, and the mother of two small children who ask big questions. Until recently, she served as the CBF Campus Minister at UNC-Chapel Hill. She and her husband currently live in Davidson, NC.