Do souls pre-exist?
One reader asked, “Do souls come to earth to learn lessons?”
The reader is referring to a concept called pre-existence, which is a commonly held belief in New Age Spirituality and all of its various segments. It is also a core part of Islam and Mormonism. The idea of pre-existence, that each individual human soul existed before mortal conception, and at some point before birth enters or is placed into the body, was condemned as heresy in the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553.
Before I explain the orthodox Christian viewpoint, I want to comment that the idea of souls coming to earth in order to learn lessons is part of what I call, “The Church of Oprah.” In recent years, multitudes have bought into Oprah’s own personal brand of spirituality. What does Oprah believe? Well, basically whatever she wants to believe this week.
Her current trend of thinking surrounds teachings by authors such as Gary Zukav and Eckhart Tolle. Both of these thinkers promote a brand of spirituality that stands against every foundational truth of historic Christianity. Although the authors will be quick to quote scripture, the use is out of context and counter to an understanding of the Bible as a whole.
What you will find in Oprah’s spirituality is misrepresentation of Christ as simply another spiritual guru who achieved divine consciousness, a reinvention of truth, a definition of sin that is as hard to nail down as a pile of mercury, the divinity of mankind, and on and on. Truth be told, the early Christian heresy, Gnosticism, has more in common with Oprah’s understanding of Christianity than anything else.
What I find tragic is that countless people are being led away from a Christianity based on the Bible to embrace practices and teachings espoused by Oprah and her spiritual mentors. The teaching of pre-existence is one such concept. In New Age concepts, souls come to earth to learn lessons, but were already eternally with God and part of God waiting in a soul bank, so to speak.
Simply stated, there is nothing within the scriptures to suggest that souls are pre-existing. Let’s look at three of the potential claims of those in the pre-existence camp and see what the Bible says in response.
Claim #1 - Souls have always existed eternally and are assigned a body.
For this to be true, the God of the Bible would have to be false. We are explicitly told the opposite in the first chapter of the Scriptures. We are told that in the beginning was God and that everything else was created out of nothing (e.g. no raw elements), but only with the word of God’s mouth. The scriptures claim that there is one God.
Claim #2 - God created a great big bank of souls and assigns them a body as people conceive.
For this to be true, the scriptures would also have to be false. Scripture opens for two potential interpretations when it comes to the creation of souls. Souls are either created by God upon conception or the soul is created as part of conception in the physical process. One of those perspectives is true if you take an overall view of scriptures. The idea of a soul bank was a Greek idea that was melded in with Jewish thought, but it is not found in the Scriptures.
Claim #3 - Souls are always in existence and being recycled, so to speak.
If reincarnation and its various offshoots is true, once again, the scriptures are false. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Each person on this plan will die and face judgement before God. There is no second chance, there is no coming back to try again.
So the short answer to your question is, “According to the Bible, no, souls do not come to earth to learn lessons.” According to the Bible is the key part of that sentence, I suppose. If you reject the Bible, than my explanation is meaningless to you - and that is your right.
If you are a Christian, however, and claim to be a follower of Jesus, I would strongly encourage you to shape your spiritual worldview on the Scriptures. Why?
Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”