Friday, November 21, 2014

Jesus Christ, Brain Scientist

Two thousand years ago, Jesus said an awful lot about helping others, being kind and generous, being more concerned about others than yourself, and to be wary of wealth because it can get in the way of our relationship with God. (Normally I'd link to some Bible verses here, but seriously, just pick any page in the four gospels and you'll probably find him talking about one of these things.)

And for two thousand years, we in the church have sought to follow these commands in various ways and for various reasons. Some follow Jesus' words to earn God's favor (or avoid wrath! [neither of which I endorse]), some do so as a public witness of faith, some do so because they think Jesus' words are just a wise way to live, and so on. We sometimes disagree on how best to love our neighbor or feed the poor, but most Christians take Jesus' words seriously and try in our own ways to live them out.

What's occurred to me recently is that modern science is starting to back up a lot of his words about how to live as good for happiness, good for health, and good for society.

  • Michael Norton has research that shows we can buy spending money on others. 
  • Shawn Achor says that spending time doing kind things for others, giving thanks, and meditating (prayer?) are keys to wiring our brains for happiness. 
  • Brene Brown has shown that embracing our imperfections (confessing sin, maybe?) and living with vulnerability is core to joy, love, and stronger relationships. 
  • In the documentary "Happy," several researchers say their studies show humans are happier in forgetting themselves and helping others than they are trying to make themselves happy. 
  • And there are growing studies that suggest that large amounts of wealth are linked to people being less empathetic, less ethical, and less generous (scroll just past halfway to find the studies cited), but not any happier.

I think almost any person would list having a purpose and personal happiness as core goals for their life. Ironically, this research is suggesting that the best way to find them is to stop thinking about yourself and focus on serving, loving, and giving and happiness and purpose will naturally follow. Sounds a little bit like, "Those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Luke 9:24).

Maybe when Jesus shared all these words with us years ago, he wasn't just letting us know what God thinks of things or setting up religious standards for Christianity. Perhaps he was also giving us insight into how we are created to live, in essence saying, "You should be loving, forgiving, and generous because your brain and body is hardwired to react positively to those things."

I am not an expert in all of this science and I know this is a large leap to make, but if we are made in the image of God and God is loving, generous, and compassionate, it makes sense to me that those traits would be indelibly marked within us.

I'm excited to see what else this growing field of science might reveal to us, because for all those who've ever told me that Jesus' words about love and compassion don't work "in the real world," the real world of our brains is starting to look more like the Kingdom of God.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“'Cause we are miracles wrapped up in chemicals.” -Gary Go, "Wonderful"

No comments:

Post a Comment