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.
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.