I had a dream about my boys the other night. They really aren’t boys anymore. My two sons are young men in their late 20’s and early 30’s. But when I dream about them, they almost always appear as little boys. I, on the other hand, am ageless in my dreams. Not so much when I wake up. Within seconds the weight of my years settles upon me and I feel as old as I am. When the dream was over, I lay in the dark listening to my wife’s quiet breathing, the ticking of the clock in the other room, and wondering if age is a characteristic of the soul.
My soul had a beginning but it has no end. There was a time when my soul did not exist. Now that it does, it will exist for eternity. Since the soul is the undying self, it seems that it must have a certain ageless quality to it. My soul exists in time but is not debilitated by it in the same way that the body is. Yet the soul does not seem to be static. If the soul is the essence of the true self and that self is subject to change, should not the soul change as well? My sons are not the boys they once were. They have changed with time and experience, as have I. To put it another way, does the soul mature?
Augustine once observed that just as the human body changes with the passing ages of life and is changed with the changes of place and time, so also does the soul. “It varies by countless changes and thoughts” Augustine said. “It is altered by countless pleasures. By how many desires is it cleaved apart and distended!” In her book Once Out of Nature: Augustine on Time and the Body, Andrea Nightingale explains that this statement reflects Augustine’s belief that when humanity fell into sin, we lost our sense of the divine presence. We also lost our sense of self-presence. As a result, we are distended in time, living in the present but ranging in our thinking from the past to the future. The present is not a dwelling place but a barely noted way station. We give it little regard because we are distracted by our memories or inflamed by our expectation of what is to come. Meanwhile the swiftly passing present is squandered.
Our basic problem is not really the passing away of the present. It is, as Augustine observes, an absence of the sense of God’s presence. Our awareness of God gives meaning to the present. His presence sanctifies our boredom and redeems our discomfort. As long as we are aware of God, the present is more than a staging ground for the future. It is a moment of fellowship.
Jesus said that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of the dead but of the living (Luke 20:38). This makes Him the God of our past and our future as much as He is the God of our present. He is the guarantee of all He has promised to those he has called. His grace is the remedy for all our regret and His assurance is our hope for the future. Does the soul age? I do not think so. At least, I do not think it ages in the same way that the body does. But I do believe that the soul develops. We are not what we once were. We are not yet what we will be. But for now, we are children of the living God and that is enough.