Let Reason Prevail
The 1914 Collection

Picking Flowers for Heaven’s Garden

Every married man my age, bar none, has seen the film Steel Magnolias. Not one wanted to see it. They were all dragged along by their wives. When it was my turn, I wisely went along without fuss, so as not to be accused of insensitivity toward womenhood. It wasn't a bad film, mind you; it had its moments; it's just not the type of film a guy would ever choose, at least, not of his own free will.
I mention Steel Magnolias because it's the first example that comes to mind of that stupid "God is picking flowers" analogy. One SM character loses a son, and another- a recent convert - comforts her by suggesting God is picking flowers for his beautiful garden in heaven! He doesn't want wilted stuff, of course, he wants only the best! That's why he chose that woman's son, implying she should feel privileged to lose a son for so great a Cause.

She doesn’t.

Who would ever think such an analogy could be comforting? It's monstrous! No wonder people go atheist! Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have a vacancy, and expect her to be comforted over that? Yet we hear it all the time, and the younger the deceased, the more likely some sappy preacher will use it: God has a garden. He grows pretty flowers, see - absolutely the best. But he needs one more; there's one spot that's just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your flower. He'll pick it. Surely, you'll be happy. What's that? You're not? Tough!
The "picking flowers" illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the PF.  It takes place after King David, drooling over Uriah’s knockout wife, takes her as his own. 2 Samuel 12:1-7 tells us:
The LORD sent Nathan [a prophet]  to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle,  but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

"Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him."  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity." Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"
Now, this analogy is just. The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his wife! So anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the “picking flowers” analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says they should! It’s the preacher who is suggesting what is obscene! The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death!
Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do preachers routinely use it? The answer is, just as in Mean Things God Doesn’t Do, Part 1, church preachers have bought into unscriptural, unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners, just as you would from a real corner.
The unscriptural doctrine here is that, when we die, we don’t really die. There is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Or are you a cuddly child? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win!
Trouble is, people don’t behave as if it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals; they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is unnatural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy, which is what the Bible says. (1 Cor 15:26)
Wasn't it Abraham Lincoln who said he wasn't smart enough to lie? Meaning, of course, that once you've told a lie, you never know when you'll have to make up another fiction to uphold that lie – in this case, a fiction like "picking flowers," to uphold the lie that we have immortal souls that survive our deaths. We don't.
The Hebrew word from which soul is translated is nephesh. It occurs in the Old Testament 754 times. Only twice in the KJV is soul translated from any other word. Therefore, find the meaning of nephesh, and you've found the meaning of soul.

The first OT instance of nephesh applied to humans (four prior times in Genesis chapter 1 it is applied to animals) is at Genesis 2:7:
"And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul. "
Now.... a man who comes to be a plumber is a plumber. He doesn't have a plumber. A man who comes to be an architect is an architect. He doesn't have an architect. A man who comes to be an atheist is an atheist. He doesn't have an atheist. And a man who comes to be a soul is a soul. He doesn't have a soul. Soul, therefore, is the individual himself. In some cases, it represents the life an individual enjoys as such. It never stands for some mystical substance that survives our death. That latter notion is common among ancient peoples, but is nowhere found in the Bible. Attempting to infuse those ancient philosophies into the Bible, various theologians seized upon nephesh as the equivalent of that immortal substance, but thorough consideration of the Hebrew word indicates it means something else entirely.
The Bible is unique among religious books in that it does not teach an immortal soul.
Here the New World Translation does something so intrinsically honest that its translators ought to be lauded for it, rather than accused of slipping in their own doctrinal bias. Every time nephesh occurs in the Hebrew, the NWT translates it soul. Thus, it's rather easy to look at every instance of soul and discern what the word means by its context. Few Bibles do this. They bury the word amidst multiple renderings so you can't tell what it means.
For example, the English Revised Version (1881) translates nephesh as soul 472 times, but in the other 282 places renders it by any of forty-four different words or phrases! What determines how these translators render nephesh? Is it not obvious they have a preconceived idea of soul? They translated nephesh as soul when it fits their preconceived idea; they translate it otherwise when it doesn't! To then claim that the Bible teaches immortal soul is dishonest in the extreme. They have doctored their translation to make sure it does so!
Genesis 2:7, quoted above, is one verse that usually doesn’t "make the cut" for nephesh being translated soul. Many modern translations like to render nephesh here as living being or creature, such as the New International Version (1978):
"...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
also NASB (1971), NKJV (1982), RSV (1952)
It’s a recent development. Older Bibles render this instance of nephesh as soul, just as they do in its other 700 places. For instance:
and man became a living soul  (ASV  1901)
and Man became a living soul  (Darby  1890)
and man became a living soul.  (Douay-Rheims 1609)
and man became a living soul.  (KJV  1611)
and the man was a liuing soule  (Geneva Bible 1587)
And so was man made a lyuynge soule (Miles Coverdale Bible 1535)
and man was maad in to a lyuynge soule. (Wycliffe  1395)
The innovative modern translators will tell you they’ve chosen being or creature to make their Bibles more readable. Well….maybe. The words surely do no harm to readability. But the inconsistent translating also serves to confound anyone trying to investigate soul (nephesh) as described in the Bible. By rendering nephesh any old way they like, those translators are able to leave the impression that nephesh is the equivalent of the immortal soul beliefs held among the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and others. One wonders if that isn’t the real reason for the selective translating of nephesh.
In his early days, Charles Darwin toyed with becoming a church minister. Such a ministry was then a respectable choice for a man of letters who couldn’t decide what else he wanted to do with his life. Darwin had a daughter named Annie, who was, by all accounts, his favorite child. At age 10, Annie contracted scarlet fever, and died after six weeks of agony. Also a casualty was Darwin’s faith in a beneficent Creator. The book Evolution: Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer, tells us that Darwin “lost faith in angels.”
Did those sappy preachers tell him that God was picking flowers? that he needed just one more angel to make his garden perfect? I wouldn’t put it past them. Again, you almost have to do it if you want to uphold the ‘immortal soul’ lie. Devastated, Charles Darwin was later to pen the work that would pull the rug of authority out from under all those clergymen. No longer would they be the guardians of Sacred Truth and Wisdom. Instead they'd become the guardians of Childrens' Stories and Nonsense.

One can only wonder how things might have turned out had Darwin been comforted with the Bible’s actual hope of a resurrection (something not possible if one is still living via their ‘immortal soul’). Death is an enemy, not a friend, the Bible realistically tells us. It was never part of God’s plan, it came about only through rebellion early in human history, and it is to be eliminated once God’s purpose reaches fulfillment:
That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned—.  (Rom 5:12)
Next, the end, when he [Christ] hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing   (1 Cor 15:24-26)
And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.   (Rev 21:4)

False religion leaves a vacuum which is quick to be filled with other reasonings. As discussed here, the pull of evolution is as much emotional as it is scientific. One can only wonder…. how different history might have been had Darwin known the truth about death. Not just Darwin, of course, but everyone of his time, as well as before and after. Instead, fed a diet of phony pieties….junk food, if you will…..he and others of inquisitive mind searched elsewhere in an attempt to make sense of life.


Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash



Hey Tom,

I've always been rather offended by this analogy and others like it. I also hate to play a typical atheist card, but I do agree that these sort of things are mostly wish-fulfillment or illusory comfort. This is not to say that the only response could (or should) be "He's dead Jim," or "Get over it," but that there are ways of dealing with grief which I think are more honest and helpful. Even as I say this, I realize that my grandparents on my mother's side are likely not long for this life, and if one of them died and the other asked me if I thought they were in a better place, I would probably say yes and offer them whatever comfort I could - I'm only human after all, and I'll be damned if my sympathies don't get in the way of my rabid militant atheist agenda (I could almost say that with a straight face, I think). I will agree that religion gives some measure of comfort to people on this front, but I do often feel that it's the same sort of comfort people often get from drinking diet sodas - a sort of bandaid that doesn't actually solve the root problem and can lead to even worse outcomes.

On a related note, my mother convinced me to read this one of the last times I was home: http://www.amazon.com/Shack-William-P-Young/dp/0964729237/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263226198&sr=8-7 . I thought it was a relatively horribly written book and somewhat revolting in its message, which I feel that you may partially agree with. Give it a read-through if you want, and if you do, definitely let me know your opinion.


Jason Chamberlain

Your argument is based on a common exegetical fallacy. To assume that a word has such a limited semantic meaning is extremely short-sighted.

Incidentally, what do you do with Paul's statement in Philippians that "to live is Christ and to die is gain?" Paul obviously felt like there was hope for something after he died, no?

Jason Chamberlain

Also, if you are going to get into this business of translating consistently, shouldn't you translate the εγω ειμι of John 8:58 to "I am?" That would make the reference to Exodus 3:14 much more clear.

Incidentally, I do think that "picking flowers" or "heaven needed another angel" is a terrible way to give someone condolensces. Personally, I take comfort in Job's story as well as passages such as 1 Peter (pretty much the whole book), James 1:2-4, and Romans 8.

tom sheepandgoats

"To assume that a word has such a limited semantic meaning is extremely short-sighted."

On the other hand, if the meaning of an original language word is unclear, is there any better way of helping the student than to translate it consistently? Or even transliterate it, which is what the NWT does for sheol, hades, and gehenna. Otherwise, the student has not a prayer of discerning the actual meaning of these words and is completely at the mercy of self-proclaimed experts. That might be OK if those experts, in translating, footnoted to indicate what was the original language word, but they rarely (if ever) do that. [as noted in the post, older translations do, but modern ones....the ones that have arisen concurrent with the evangelical movement...don't) Many approach their translating work with pre-concieved doctrinal notions, and they do not translate their works in ways that might contradict those notions. I don't claim that it's dishonest, necessarily, but it is working with self-imposed blinders.

Of course, those persons will (and do) accuse NWT translators of the same: inserting doctrinal bias. The difference is that we leave a clear "paper trail" so that such claims can be investigated. They don't.

More on your other points in this and your second comment later, as time allows.

Would you agree that "picking flowers" is slanderous toward God, as analysis of 2 Sam 12:1-7 might suggest?

tom sheepandgoats


I'm not quite up to buying the book, for fear I may not like it. But I see the local libraries have many copies. I'll put it on the 'read' list.

Just Peachie

Jeffery has a soul (an immaterial animating essence). Jeffery sings with great soul (fervor).

Insisting a word always has only one meaning despite the context in which it is a weak argument.

tom sheepandgoats

In every case, 'life' or some slight variation of, works just as well as a definition of 'nephesh.' It fits both 'Jeffery' examples. And again, in the case of the Bible, Jeffery is not said to have a soul, but to have become a soul. [a living being]

I'm not saying that the concept of immortal soul doesn't exist elsewhere, or that some sources may go into great detail describing it. I'm just saying the Bible is not one of those sources. Big as the Bible is, and as pervasive as the immortal soul belief is, you'd almost expect the book to devote pages upon pages to describing life after death. It doesn't. Instead, when it does comment on death, it says things like:

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV

This is not to say that the Bible does not indicate a hope for the dead. But that hope lies in a resurrection, not an immortal soul. Until such time as a resurrection occurs, the Bible teaches a dead person is just that: dead.

Just Peachie

A person who dies does not becomes a soul or an angel or anything else. There is no transformation. A person is already a spirit residing in the temple of the body. Though the temple is destroyed, the spirit residing within the temple is not. Death is something that happens to a body. The spirit is immortal and cannot be dead. Resurrection is also something that happens to a body (temple).

tom sheepandgoats

Thanks, JP. I understand the concept you're speaking of. I'm just saying the Bible doesn't teach it. Many other sources do.

Regarding 'nephesh,' there are verses which specifically say the 'nephesh' can die. Ezekiel 18:4, for example:

"Look! All the souls—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul that is sinning—it itself will die."

Each instance of 'soul' in this verse is a translation of 'nephesh.'

Just Peachie

I was operating machinery -the type with razor sharp blades. My spouse was supposed to be in the house watching our toddler. The toddler had escaped. I was about to turn a corner and run the child over - instant horrible death. But off to one side I saw my father standing, glowing with the most beautiful radiance. My father, an extraordinarily good man, had been dead many years. In my surprise at seeing him there I let go of the machinery controls, causing the blades to shut off immediately. That's when I realized my toddler was there, mere inches from those deadly blades. When I looked back to my father he was gone.

I am not the only one who has seen my father since he died. Only the body dies. The spirit is immortal.

tom sheepandgoats

A friend of mine was working atop a flat roof years ago. He was about to take a step backwards when he felt an intense prickling in the sole of his foot. He didn't take that step, but instead turned around to discover he'd strayed to the edge of the roof. The step backwards would have plunged him four stories down.

I can't explain it. But there's clearly more at work than the overtly 'what-you-see-is-what-there-is' physical. You're explanation would account for it, but I'm not sure its the only explanation. Still, if I had had the experience you did, I might well conclude what you have. Thanks for sharing it.

Jason Chamberlain


I'm going to go into this in more detail on my blog, but I'm finding that there is a lot of linkage of "eternal" with life in Matthew.

You wrote: "On the other hand, if the meaning of an original language word is unclear, is there any better way of helping the student than to translate it consistently?"

Unless you're prepared to learn the original languages for yourself you are always going to be at the mercy of interpreters. Most words have a range of semantic meaning. It is context that dictates the meaning we should get from a word. Words have little to no meaning in isolation. This is particularly true in Biblical Hebrew where many words have a variety of meanings.

My point is that your argument indicates an over-simplified view of how one must approach the original languages. There is rarely a one-for-one perfect exchange in English. Plus, some words can have almost contradictory meanings. For example, the Greek connective word "de" can mean "and" in some contexts or "but" in others.

tom sheepandgoats

"Unless you're prepared to learn the original languages for yourself you are always going to be at the mercy of interpreters."

Very well. Here are comments from those versed in the original languages:

“Although the Hebrew word nefesh is frequently translated as ‘soul,’ it would be inaccurate to read into it a Greek meaning. Nefesh . . . is never conceived of as operating separately from the body. ”—The Encyclopedia Americana (1977), Vol. 25, p. 236

“There is no dichotomy of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nepeš [ne′phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 449, 450.

“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. VI, p. 564.

“The concept of ‘soul,’ meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the ‘body,’ . . . does not exist in the Bible.”—La Parole de Dieu (Paris, 1960), Georges Auzou, professor of Sacred Scripture, Rouen Seminary, France, p. 128.

Some modern interpreters, striving to read 'immortal soul' into the Bible, try to retroactively assign that meaning to nephesh. But it's clearly a matter of the tail wagging the dog. While I agree that words such as nephesh can have several definitions and shades of meaning, I do not agree that 'immortal soul' is one of them. And if the very word translated soul does mean 'immortal soul.' how can the Bible be said to teach that idea?

Jason Chamberlain

Obviously the Jews had a different idea of what happens when someone dies, given all the references to "send my gray head down to Sheol."

The resources you gave me for proof of your point do not overwhelm me. Of course Jews are not going to agree. I have no idea about the Rouen Seminary. And the one close to being Christian still acknowledges that they translate the word as "soul" in the traditional meaning.

There is no way for either one of us to be convinced because we are not going to trust the sources cited. I can tell you what evangelicals say about it, but will that matter to you?


The scriptures clearly state that man came to be a living soul, not the possessor of some seperate entity residing within that survives death. In my lowly opinion, to profess that the scriptures speak of immortality of the soul completely contradicts the hope and message that God's Word gives in regards to the resurrection hope. Jesus and the Apostles even resurrected those during their ministry, which was a foregleam of promises to come. Just sayin.... Also, 'SheepandGoats' uses legitimate secular citations which clearly show that the soul concept, as relates to scripture, is not indicative of this 'soul' existing separately. The New Catholic Encyclopedia even agrees to this notion...

tom sheepandgoats

And...if the church picture of immortal soul is accurate, were not those resurrected ones either in heaven or hell before they were raised up? If the former, they must have been peeved. If the latter, they must have looked around for a pail of water in which to sit.

The comments to this entry are closed.