Q: When one dies the spirit goes back to God, but where does the soul go? I get so many different answers to that question.
A: There is confusion about this subject and I will share what I understand about it. Granted, there may be those who would argue with me or provide a better understanding, but this is my simple conclusion to this matter. Man is made up of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Since God is spirit, God put the breath of life, His Spirit, into Adam and made him a living soul that would be able to interact with Him on a spiritual level (Genesis 2:7). When Adam sinned, the Spirit of God lifted and as a result, man became a soulish person who could only interact with the material world, but not with God. For man to be restored spiritually, he had to be quickened once again in the spirit by the Spirit of God to be able to have a relationship with God and interact with Him. This quickening points to the “born again” experience.
The soul is made up of the will, mind, and emotions. It houses the spirit of man, which is also considered the most inner being or heart (“bowels”) of man. The type of spirit that influences the soul of man will determine who influences his thinking, what motivates him, his heart attitude, and who or what he ends up serving. Spirit can only affect spirit, but soul is affected by both the spirit in operation and the interaction that is taking place in the body.
Man and the world have their own spirit (Job 32:8; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14). This brings us to the other point about spirit; it has to do with the type of life present in a person, while soul points to the spiritual state of the individual. We are either a quickening spirit who possesses eternal life or a lost soul void of real life. Ecclesiastes 3:21 states, “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of beasts that goeth downward to the earth?” Again this Scripture reminds man that he was created to be a spiritual man who is able to soar in spiritual heights when it comes to worshipping God and serving Him, while the spirit of the beast does not have the same potential or capacity. (See 1 Corinthians 15:40-50.)
The Bible also states that the spiritual condition of the soul determines the ultimate state man will spend eternity in. Jesus said this in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” “Destroy” in this text means “a state of ruin.” In hell, the soul will not cease to be, but will exist in an utter state of ruin. “Ruin” points to being brought to continual degrees of decay, collapse, deterioration, and loss.
Since the soul determines the state of man, the world requires man’s soul in order to gain it, while Jesus states that if man wants to save his life in light of eternity he must lose the life offered by the present world for the Lord’s sake (Matthew 16:25-26).
Where does the soul go? When a believer is separated from his or her body in death, then his or her spirit and soul will be present with the Lord, waiting for the time when the inner man (spirit and soul) will be resurrected in a new, glorified body (2 Corinthians 5:8).