A Courteous Contrararian

Animal Theology and Praxis Part 2

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 02•15

I said in the previous post that I used a leash while God uses circumstances. That list of God’s tools was woefully incomplete. He communicates to us in various ways at various times, as the beginning of Hebrews tells us. Previously by his prophets, and so his word. Now we add Jesus’ example and the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit and the spirit that I want to talk about. Specifically the Hebrew words we translate or understand as spirit. The Hebrew word for Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit, is Ruach. Humans also possess a ruach. You probably know it can also be translated as wind or breath. It is also sometimes translated as heart or mind, so trying to keep track of it in English is hard. The takeaway as I see it is that both God and people have a ruach, a spirit.

Animals also have a spirit, or mind or heart; a lifeforce. The Hebrew is nephesh. It also can refer to the fact the an animal breathes. The funny thing is, humans also possess a nephesh. So according to the Hebrew Bible, we have two spirits, or two kinds of spirit, within us. I have wondered if they synch up with Paul’s old nature/new nature in the NT, but it doesn’t appear as though it does. There are correlations but it isn’t watertight. Sarx and nephesh are not quite a match.

Speaking of matches, the primary Greek word for spirit, built off the pnuema base, translates very well from the Hebrew. Right down to its multiple meanings; spirit, mind, heart, wind, breathe. There are quite a few words that carry the same multiple meanings in both languages, Like eretz or geo, which can both mean earth, land, area, and even dirt. The translatability between Hebrew and Greek is one of the proofs that God knows what he’s doing, right down to being intentionally vague in more than one language.

There is one more word in Hebrew that refers to the spirit, neshama. Not surprisingly, it can also refer to breathe. It is the neshama that God breathed into Adam to animate him. Job, our most underrated prophet, uses neshama in a telling verse. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. [Job 32:8 ESV] Other translations say gives him understanding.

It was the neshama that God breathed into Adam and it is the neshama that God breathed into us to give us understanding. It is the thing that makes us human. It is the spirit that allows us to reach back toward the Divine. The neshama separates us from the animal kingdom. The word is used of God and of people but not animals. Well it was used once of animals, but that was a mistake. (of course it’s not a mistake, but to properly explain that one usage would take a couple of blog posts by itself.)

To recap, ruach and neshama are used to describe the spirits of people and God. Nephesh is used to describe people and animals.

By the use of inference and the extrapolation that perhaps comes from the human experience, in other words, by tapping into my neshama, I’ve used this word study to draw some shaky theological conclusions.

Think about how you communicate with your pet, if you have one. We can use words, but our dogs and cats can’t. We use tone of voice and volume and so do our pets in their own way. We use body language with our pets, pointing, petting, wrestling. Body language is a biggie for pets. My dog walks away when her feelings are hurt, wags her tail, jumps up and down, walks up to a bag of treats and stares, and plants herself by the door when she wants to go out. I mean, my dog taught me to communicate with whistles.

My theory is that our interactions, our lifelong communication with our pets, is a communion of the nephesh. We both possess a spirit called the nephesh and it is the reason we can understand one another. We’re told that 70% of our communications with other humans is nonverbal. I think this is primarily also the nephesh. As a quasi-proof I offer flirting. Think how much of flirting is non-verbal, from a smile to playing with our hair to a kiss. The nephesh, I think, is much more in touch with our primal urges.

On the other hand, our communion with our pets can’t be as complete as our communion with other people because we also share the neshama and the ruach with other people but not with pets.

We share these traits with God but we also don’t have a perfect understanding of him, or a perfect communion this side of paradise. We are limited by our nephesh.

And so, in a way, our lack of perfect communication with our pets serves as a good example of our present lack when it comes to God. perhaps he has allowed us domesticated animals just to teach us how far we fall short in our relationship to him. And yet how close we can be.

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