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Call this world the valley of soul-making; then you will discover the use of the world.

John Keats


Put simply, a soul-making approach to life suggests that we come into this world not only as biological infants, but as psychological embryos. Each of us is an unformed soul-seed.


In 1948 the French philosopher, Albert Camus, wrote in his journal: "If there is a soul, it is a mistake to believe that it is given to us fully created. It is created here, throughout a whole life. And living is nothing else but that long and painful bringing forth.”


The Christian theologian, Origen, said: "Being made in God's image is the beginning of the soul; living in this world is what changes us into the completed image of God."


The particular environment we enter at birth--including our gender, geography, parents, siblings, culture, talents, basic character and life circumstances--provides the curricula for crafting a unique personality. Every emotion--high and low--is part of our soul-making process. Every person we meet--friends, enemies, lovers, haters, etc.--are all teachers and fellow students in this school of soul-making. From our first to our last breath, whether awake or dreaming, every passing moment conspires to make each of us into a one of a kind soul. 

Soul-making requires many varied and contradictory experiences, ranging from egoic selfishness, relational sacrifices, traumas as well as triumphs, and every imaginable and unimaginable experience. Incessant sensations of mystery mingled with a chronic sense of alienation are central to the process. One moment I might feel suicidal despair, and the next I may feel some blissful numinous presence surrounding me. My fickle thoughts might tell me that this earthly existence is meaningless and entirely random, or that the entire cosmic adventure is fraught with purpose, fate and destiny. Each of these experiences is normal and necessary--providing me with a litany of failures, successes, ecstasies and depressions. Each of us is assigned private fantasies, debilitating addictions, puzzling erotic desires, secret shames and quirky neuroses. One person may experience a life of wealth and ease, and another poverty and constant challenges. Most of us fall somewhere in between. These and many other experiences are all part of of the complex yet indescribable soul-making process.

It is common to feel compelled by endless desires to find "something more". We are always seeking that special person, greater knowledge or that possession or experience that will ultimately satisfy--only to be let down once we find it. 


A soul-making life requires that we be taken apart and put back together many times. Just as a seed breaks apart in the soil, and puts roots down into the darkness in order for the the plant to rise into the light—so each human soul must disintegrate before it grows up and reintegrates. Traumatic experiences of both falling apart and coming together occur simultaneously throughout a lifetime. 

Soul-making means that each of us feels compelled to do something and become "someone" while in this world. It is not unusual for us to harshly judge our past actions, attitudes and ways of being...but they are always instructive, moving us toward the next level of consciousness, preparing us to make different choices, to perform other deeds, or misdeeds.


It is not uncommon to feel like we are not alone--that we are being nudged by some invisible force, destiny or fate. Soul-making acknowledges and requires such unseen co-participants. Secularists call them genes, neurons, nurture, and natural affects, etc. Spiritual folks call them God, Gods, angels and other terms found in the world's religions and mythologies.


If this soul-making view of existence is true, then each of us, in every moment is being molded into a unique individual. In my view, soul is always being made--I am either aware or not aware of the process. Awareness increases conscious participation, and provides a profound sense of purposefulness--especially in the times of unimaginable suffering. In a letter to a Roman church, the Apostle Paul put it like this:

"All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." Romans 8:22-25, The Message Bible

If you are curious about soul-making, you might enjoy reading a letter written by the poet, John Keats, in 1819. He was in his early twenties, dying of tuberculosis, and had a thought about why he had been born into this world of trauma and ecstasy. Click on this link: Keats Letter on Soulmaking


Click here a 12 miunute explanation of John Hick’s Soul-Making by Kerry Walters

Click here to read John Hicks Theology of Soulmaking and the role of evil.

After my son Jason was killed in Afghanistan in 2008, I was in a state of inconsolable grief. One afternoon, as I wept, I saw a beautiful image when I closed my eyes. In my mind's eye, it was as clear as any material image seen by my physical eyes. It was a beautiful tapestry waving in the wind like an unfurled flag.The image gradually turned to the backside where I saw knotted threads and a fuzzier view of the same image. Then it moved back to the clear side. For several seconds the image went from the front to the backside of the tapestry. Then Jason's voice spoke telepathically: "You can only see the knotted side of the tapestry in your world Dad. The beauty of the completed version is in another world."

The Apostle Paul spoke about this very phenomenon nearly 2000 years ago: "If there is a material body, there is also a spiritual body. As it is written: 'Adam, the first human became a living being,' so then Jesus Christ, the completed Adam, became a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the material, and after that the spiritual...for we all, by beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (
Rom. 15:44-45; II Cor. 3:18)

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