MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: “By request…” By the Rev. John Tamilio III

Every once in a while a reader will ask me a question.  This one comes from a friend in Boston.  She asked, “If a person is brain dead, where does his/her soul reside?”

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Bar Association (ABA) — who worked with the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the President’s Commission on Medical Ethics to draft the UDDA — both adhere to this definition.

But I am sure that my friend, who works in the medical profession, knows this better than I do.  Her question is a theological one.  She wants to know where is the soul in a brain dead person?

The most honest answer I can give is “I do not know.”  Only God knows.  However, if I had to guess, I would say that it is in a state of process.  Death itself is a process — it is a process through which we let go of this life and embrace the life that is to come.  Some call it simply the end of the beginning.  The soul, therefore, would be on a cusp, so to speak, between here and there.  But maybe that happens when we are completely dead as well.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is “at hand.”  That does not mean that it is right around the corner, about to reveal itself.  It means that it is here, among us.  The Kingdom of God is here — as well as there.  It is the now and the not yet.

So, when we are in the process of dying — which I assume is the case if we are brain dead and the rest of our body is still pumping — then we are here as well as there.  And then, when we fully pass into the Kingdom of God, are we not still partially here?  That is where the realm of God is, after all, is it not?

The soul is eternal.  It is the part of us that never dies.  It lives here and it lives after our bodies stop living.  So maybe the real question is where does the soul reside?  That, to me, is not as important as the fact that it continues to bask in the presence of God, whether the body is quick or dead.

The shell that holds us cannot contain us.  Living or dead, our souls are truly alive if they are living in God.

John Tamilio III, the religion columnist of The Lakewood Observer, is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood.  A musician, John lives with his wife and their three children in Lakewood, Ohio.

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Volume 5, Issue 25, Posted 8:51 AM, 12.16.2009