Big Souls for Strange Times

There’s an interesting koine Greek word ὀλιγόψυχος (oligopsuchos). It’s one of those words that is a mashup of two other words. You might be able to spot the word “psuchos” as one of them, which refers to the human spirit or soul. The other word is “oligos” and it means small or puny. This word is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 where believers are to “comfort the weak (oligopsuchos)” in the KJV. Other versions use something like “faint-hearted”, which makes the point as well. It might even literally be translated as “small souled”.

One descriptor of people is that there are those with large souls and those with small souls. Those who are strong-hearted and those who are weak-hearted. We understand something about what it means to be fainthearted by the admonition to comfort (encourage or console) such people. These are folks who feel that the circumstances they are facing are too great for them. Their soul is the size of a kiddie pool and just about anything that is tossed in makes a wave. A tempest in a tea-pot, so to speak.

But what does it mean to be big-souled? What are the characteristics of someone who is strong of heart? A few people come to mind, such as Winston Churchill, who stood alone against Hitler as two gladiators stood alone in the Coliseum. Or GK Chesterton, that exuberant writer who faced down the madness of the 20th century with a twinkle in his eye and a paradox on his pen. Perhaps what stands out with both of these men is their ability to mingle joy in with the grief and humor with the indignation. Their souls seemed like the sea: even when the hurricanes came and the waves were crashing it felt like there were deep chasms untouched by the storm.

It would be hard to find someone who exhibited all the fiery passions of humanity more than Jesus. Those who see Him as a good teacher or moral example usually mean something pretty banal by it, but the one who made the whip and drove out out the money-changers was anything but banal. The one who wept at the tomb of Lazarus and also called him forth to new life defies the caricature of him in “spiritual talk” today. He was the Son of Man with a soul as endless as the heavens and as deep as the joy of God. When his soul was roused the fountains of the deep were unleashed in unquenchable floods of love and unstoppable flames of wrath, while He himself was as meek as a lamb led to the slaughter.

All of us are in need of big souls, especially in our current climate of fear and anger. If our souls are only large enough for one thing, rest assured the world will try to ensure that it is one of these two foul things. For the last three months the media has pounded us with images and statistics to incite fear and only abandoned that dirge when it discovered the bugle call to anger and hate. Now we just see rampant anger.

We still need a place where love and wrath can run wild together, and there is no place outside of the gospel of Jesus Christ to find it. We need a place where there is justice for George Floyd and forgiveness for Derek Chauvin. We need a place for indignation that a US city has been taken over by a mob of fools as well as compassion for that mob of fools, who are like sheep scattered without a Shepherd. We need big souls to face the strange times, and we need to comfort those who are faint-hearted by the wonderful news that the Son of Man is the risen Son of God. We need the cross and the empty tomb and the ascended Son of Man and the hope of His imminent return.

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