Reflections on Mark 8:35-37 —
Americans are busy. We work hard. We play hard. What little time we have available after working 40+hours a week we consume with sports, music, recreation, and clubs. American parents are particularly busy, bending over backwards to keep their children engaged, healthy, and, active. Over the years, I’ve coached several of my kids’ softball and basketball teams. In all those years, every team I’ve coached has had at least a few kids involved in multiple sports or other activities.
The constant, compelling drive to stay busy reveals a fear and dissatisfaction with life that we don’t like to admit. We fear boredom, and the anonymity of a mediocre, humdrum life. We have an innate craving for a life that is rich and fulfilling.
To those who share this craving for fulfillment, Jesus speaks these revolutionary words:
“…for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it…” (Mark 8:35)
The word translated “life” is the Greek word psuche (ψυχὴν). It refers to one’s soul, mind, or heart. Our soul is the part most dear to us, the real person behind the facade of appearance. It is the seat of our personality. Jesus isn’t talking about physical life and death. He’s talking about quality of life, a fulfillment to be experienced in our soul.
What Jesus is saying about our soul should alarm us. In His subtle way, using a clever form of comparison and contrast, Jesus described the needy state of the soul. Our soul is fragile–it can be lost.
We undervalue and overlook the vital importance of the soul, and the impact its status can have on our well-being. We hardly think about our soul, let alone care about what it needs. Nonetheless, Jesus is saying we all have an innate desire to save our soul. We don’t think of it that way, but we certainly feel the soul’s neediness–we feel it in our anxiety, craving, insecurity, loneliness, disappointment, and despair. We do what we can to assuage it, to ease its pain. What we’re really trying to do is save it.
The problem is, as David writes in Psalm 49:7-8, the salvation of the soul is costly. There is a very expensive price tag on what it takes to save the soul. Not even the $900 million dollar lottery winner can afford it. As Jesus says:
“…for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37)
It is possible to be the richest man alive, to work harder than your peers, to be the most accomplished athlete, to win all kinds of awards, to be the best parent in the world…and still not address the needs of the soul. Our souls are always dissatisfied, hungry for security, craving significance, eager to be needed.
The philosophers, scientists, and merchants of the world understand the neediness of the human soul, but they don’t necessarily know how to fix it. But that doesn’t keep them from marketing their remedies for the needy soul–including activities for the family I’ve already discussed, or financial security, honing your professional skills, caring for family members, and many other things. For some of us, the cry of the needy soul is so strong, so irresistible, so urgent, we actually believe them.
Sometimes, we try to feed the soul’s hunger for security by achieving financial success. The problem with this, according to Jesus, is that we can earn a mountain of cash and still leave the needs of our soul untouched. I can’t speak about financial success from experience, but I do know this–no matter how much I’ve saved, stored, and invested, it’s uncanny how I never seem to feel like I have enough. I guess that’s what Solomon meant when he wrote,
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income…when good things increase, those who consume them increase, so what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11).
Sometimes, we try to address the soul’s need for significance by busying ourselves with work. I find it exceptionally easy to engross myself in work. If I’m not careful, I can let my life be defined by meetings, customers, signatures, accomplishments, and contracts. Recently, my employer offered a retirement incentive package that was quite lucrative. Over 470 engineers opted to take the package. December 17, 2015, was the last day for many of them. I talked with one gentleman who was 73 years old, had gone to work nearly every day for over 55 years. As he spoke, tears filled his eyes, and his hands quivered. He was greatly shaken at the thought his routine was about to come to an abrupt end. I can only imagine the shock of retirement, a sudden stop to the continuous intake of significance day after day.
Sometimes we try to address the needy soul with family, in both directions: devotion to parents and coddling of children. It is an entirely noble thing to care for family members, and in most cases, it is the right thing to do. But care for family members can dominate ones’ reason for living, can become an anesthetic. The sense of being needed, having someone dependent on us, deadens the dull groaning of the soul. Twenty years or more can pass swiftly by, while the unattended neediness of the soul festers. Eventually, parents pass on, and children grow up and leave the home; the dutiful caregiver is then faced with the harsh reality that no one needs them anymore. The cry of the needy soul becomes deafening, unavoidable, and for some, unbearable.
The world will try to sell you on activity, financial security, significance, and the like…but don’t believe it. There is only one way to save your soul from being lost. It starts with turning your attention to the amazing, powerful words recorded in the Bible, words that have the ability to save the soul. As James says,
“Putting aside all wickedness and all that remains of filthiness, receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
The words of the Bible are more than mere stories, poems, letters, and history. They are living and active words (Hebrews 4:12) divinely-inspired (II Peter 1:20-21), and powerful enough to save your soul. All the riches in the world can’t do that.
The Christian faith is more than reading a book and following instructions, however. We have Jesus, whose spirit remains with us to help us live life. The Bible is ours to read, receive, and put into practice through Jesus’ strength and encouragement. This may mean forsaking some self-serving and filthy habits out of faith that God has a better way for you.
So our souls can be saved by listening to the words of the Bible and putting them into practice through Jesus’ support. But what does a saved soul look like? Through Jesus, God satisfies the needs of our soul, not with activity, but with the one thing our soul longs for–rest. As Jesus says,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).
When it’s all said and done, the one thing our soul really needs is rest. By coming to Jesus, identifying with Him, not being ashamed to be called one of His, listening to His words, and learning from Him, we find rest for our soul. This is not talking about a good night of sleep. It’s talking about an absence of bitterness (joy), an absence of anxiety (peace), an absence of guilt (righteousness). It is contentment, being OK with what God is doing in your life, finding companionship in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I think this is what we Americans are really striving for in all our busyness. We want satisfying, wholesome lives that we can sit back and enjoy. Isn’t it ironic that the thing we seek most–the thing Jesus calls “rest“–is the exact opposite of activity.
Let your life be defined by more than just activity. A life of following Jesus is exactly what is needed to satisfy your soul. As you go about your activity, in your work, in your investments, and in your parenting, follow Jesus. Allow Him to bring you the satisfaction your needy soul craves.