On the weekend Little e asked me what a 'soul' was. Geez, can you not wait until your mother gets back before you ask the hard ones? It came about because this song had been on high rotation in the car. I was pretty stumped, and stumbled around trying to find an answer. The best I could come up with at short notice was that 'it's a bit like your heart'. I know, lame.
Having now had longer to think it through I think I could find a better answer. What would be your answer to the question, and how would you put it in words that a 5 year old would get?
I just typed 'soul' into Bible Gateway, and it came up with 95 results. The majority of the Old Testament examples are used in conjunction with 'heart', almost always about loving and following God with 'all your heart and with all your soul'. The examples from Job talk about the 'bitterness of soul'.
Then you get to Psalms, where the word occurs a lot, and it really seems to refer to a persons' inmost being, their essence, the part that only God sees. Sometimes it's the souls' anguish, sometimes it's the souls' joy. Also interesting is the way the psalmist talks to his soul, almost like it were a separate entity to be encouraged, comforted and cared for--
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:10-11)
And then Jesus refers to the soul a lot too, again as the inmost part of a person, but also as the immortal part of a persons' being. Some of Jesus' hardest hitting words seem to be in the context of the discussion of our souls--
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:26)
But also some of His most comforting words as well--
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
He also said these heart-breaking words about His own soul--
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38)
The New Testament continues with some other pretty interesting contexts for 'soul'. The word of God, the Bible, is described as being 'sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit' (Hebrews 4:12)
And one of my favourites,
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19)
Finally, you get to Revelations, and we hear about the 'souls' of those who have died and face Jesus-
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
Pretty interesting, I reckon. Were I to answer the question now, I'd describe the soul as the most inner, centre part of a person, their core, and their essence. Also the part that feels things the deepest. And as the immortal part that is invited to spend eternity with God.