I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
– I Cor. 9:16
What is the value of one soul? We can easily discover what the value of most material things is, but how do we come to understand the true or objective value of a single soul? The seller and buyer basically determine the value of material things through negotiation, whether it’s the value of a house, or a car, or a lamp or most any other material thing, there is some kind of market value or price. An artist sets his value for the work of art, but the collector has a role as well. But there really is no “market value” when it comes to souls, so how do we learn their value?
The true value of every single human soul can only be found in one place, in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of every single human soul. Jesus purchased every single created soul, but He purchased them not for his own ownership, but to restore their dignity and freedom to the same persons they belong to by natural right, but in fact were “enslaved / possessed” by another master because of sin. The value of each and every soul is beyond human determination, beyond any value system proper to this world. For we see that the creator of this universe valued each and every soul, individually, with the infinite measure of his love, and he was determined to pay the ultimate price to redeem each soul and every soul, the price of his own life, a life infinitely valuable to the one true measure of anything’s worth, the Father who is the origin of all that exists. That was the true measure of the soul’s worth and nothing else.
So the true measure of anyone’s soul, of my soul, your soul, is God’s creative love, and that love poured out in the Incarnate Son who gave his life, as St. Paul says, for me: “ I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20). Christ died for all, to redeem all, but not simply as a collectivity, but for each of us, to redeem my soul to be mine again, and your soul to be yours once more, and so on. And Christian faith has always believed that if only one soul were in need of redemption, He would have paid the same price as he paid for all, his life, indivisible and of infinite value to the Father because of who Jesus is, his only-beloved Son.
This truth about the objective, God-determined value of every single soul, and that means of every single person as the subject of the soul, is what drove St. Paul and the other Apostles to spend himself preaching the Gospel: he says, “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible … to save at least some.” So valuable is a single soul that Paul will spend his very life, in imitation of Jesus, to save even one soul. He hopes to same many, but that is going to be determined by God’s grace interacting with human freedom. Paul’s task is to bring the Gospel to men so that have an opening to that interaction with God in a human way, concretely, in the world of man.
Likewise, the value of one soul, and every soul, explains why Jesus does not allow the crowds to turn his mission into that of a miracle worker or earthly ruler. His purpose has to do with the salvation of souls which begins with the preaching of the Gospel: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1:38) Jesus has come to raise dead souls to life, to heal wounded souls, to be the redeemer of man, which begins with redemption of the souls of men by his preaching and is accomplished by his death and resurrection. Healing man’s body is a great mercy, but it does not compare with the healing of man’s soul. The spiritual soul has a value that cannot be measured in any way; the body is of great value itself, but is of transcendent value only when united with a free soul enlivened by God’s life.
We can learn two great truths for our lives from all this. First, we can learn that the spiritual order of things is always of a higher and more transcendent value than the material order of things. Secondly, we can learn the value that God has placed on each of us by redeeming our souls, and ultimately our bodies as well, since we will not be resurrected souls in His final Kingdom, but resurrected men. Thus, if we learn to value ourselves as God does, and by God’s measuring stick, why he values us so much, surely we will never doubt our true personal worth, and we will never decide to live as if we were only material creatures with no destiny beyond this world. By God’s Grace, we will struggle to always live what we are: God’s children, purchased at such a great price.