Jonah Sage is one of the pastors at Sojourn Community Church and he lives in New Albany, Indiana with his wife Allison and son Booker.
I became a Christian after hearing Jesus’ words from John 10: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I was lonely and depressed so “life abundantly” sounded pretty good at the time. Jesus can be a hard guy to pin down, though. By my mid twenties, I felt like Ralphie decoding his Little Orphan Annie ring as I tried to unravel Jesus’ invitation. Be sure…to read… your Bible? Was that all life abundantly was? It wasn’t until a wise old counselor cussed me out that I began to see what was going on. Our first hour together ended with him saying, “ya know, for someone who makes such a big deal about being a Calvinist, you sure are guilty and anxious a lot.”
I saw all the same symptoms in my friends, too. We wrote articles and blogs about penal substitutionary atonement before tossing and turning in bed under the weight of guilt. We read books about the sovereignty of God in order to ignore the inner panic that was boiling just beneath the surface. When what we believe is separated from how we are living by an ocean of contradiction, it’s an indicator that our souls are shallow.
Ambiguous as it might be to define, a shallow soul is nonetheless easy to spot and the results are always catastrophic. Living with a shallow soul drives us to compulsions, addictions, and inner restlessness. Since that first divine appointment in the counseling chair, Jesus has gone on to show me many symptoms of my soul’s shallowness. I’ll share three with you below:
1. Relying on Information for Transformation
Right answers don’t result in becoming like Jesus. We think Romans 12:2 refers to our understanding of doctrines. “Mind” in the Bible certainly refers to our ability to think, but it’s so much more than that, too. The mind that Paul is speaking of in Romans 12 is also speaking of our soul, heart, emotions and affections. He’s talking about the center of who we are and that is never transformed by information alone (ask a smoker if you need help understanding this). Trusting information to bring transformation keeps our souls shallow.
2. Focusing on Forgiveness
If the good news of the gospel is only that our sins are forgiven, our souls will remain shallow. Why is it that so many of my reformed brothers and sisters are so paralyzed by guilt, fear, and shame, even after “preaching the gospel to themselves” for years? Forgiveness has always been a means to an end, never the end itself. Ephesians 1 makes it clear that our sins were forgiven so that we could be adopted into God’s family. If we spend our lives looking over our shoulder at the cross to be reminded that we are forgiven but never look forward to what we were forgiven for we doom ourselves to shallow souls.
3. Avoiding Silence at All Costs
Silence is scary because crazy thoughts pop into our heads. Painful memories appear out of nowhere. Fears about the future crawl up our spine and make every chair uncomfortable. Failures from the day’s conversations get replayed and analyzed. We fill our lives with noise to keep up the illusion that we are under control and everything is OK. It’s in the silence that the inner panic begins to boil over. When sitting in silence for 5 minutes becomes an anxiety filled roller coaster, it’s a sure sign of a shallow soul.
The real danger of a shallow soul is not condemnation from God or JV Christianity. A shallow soul is really just the result of a shallow relationship with Jesus. Inauthenticity and irony seem to be the icons of our age. I think those are just churched up ways of saying our generation is soulless. I’m not sure what all Jesus meant by abundant life, but I’m beginning to think he was saying he came to bring depth and texture to our souls. Jesus began leading me out of the shallow end through a poem by the author Wendell Berry. He’ll say it better than I could, so I’ll leave you in his capable hands:
"The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend."
 Wendell Berry, “II”, from A Timbered Choir, p7,