I recently began reading the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. You know, 12 years after everyone else. It happens. In the first story, we meet our main characters Edward and Alphonse Elric who are alchemists. Alchemy is the science/magic of transmuting one chemical into another.
In the first volume, Edward and Alphonse are investigating a cult where the leader is an alchemist who is using his powers to make himself wealthy and worshipped. In this volume, Edward is arguing with one of his followers – making fun of her and her faith. She believes their leader can resurrect her fallen love. He knows how that works and that…it doesn’t – it’s why his brother is a living suit of armor. At this point, Edward says:
“32 liters of water, 25 kilograms of carbon, 4 liters of ammonia, 1.5 kilograms of lime, 800 grams of phosphorus, 250 grams of salt, 100 grams of saltpeter, 80 grams of sulfur, 7.5 grams of fluorine, 5 grams of iron, 3 grams of silicon, and a little bit of 15 other elements. These would be the calculated components that make up the body of a single adult. We already know that much with modern science, but the reality is that no successful human transmutation has ever been reported. There’s not enough of something…for hundreds of years, scientists have been researching and researching but they still haven’t been able to grasp it.”
This atheist character, Edward, talks specifically about the chemicals which make up a man. But, there’s something he recognizes as missing from his list. Something intangible which cannot be quantified. Something else which cannot be created or manipulated by man. Edward believes this to be a gap in the science, something which can be discovered. We as Christians recognize exactly what this is – the soul.
Man was created from the dust of the ground by the Lord (Genesis 2:7). But, he didn’t merely make man from dust. He breathed the breath of life into man. He gave man a soul making us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). This collection of ingredients Edward spouted off can create for you a shell. Using his alchemical powers, Edward may be able to create for himself a flesh and bone shell. Without God, though, without His breath of life that’s all you have, a shell. You are lacking something, your immortal soul.
The soul is not something man can make for himself. It is not something you can create by transmuting one thing into another, it’s something which is created out of nothing, ex nihilo by the Lord. God gave us our soul and it will return to Him when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Edward in his attempt to mock the cultist ends up revealing a mystery of the universe. He reveals his own limitation and the truth that we are not merely a collection of elements and molecules. There is something missing in his equation, Without faith, we generally miss this mystery, but with faith – we marvel at it.