Training our Brains: As a man thinks in his heart…
What we choose to think about matters. How we decide to think about people matters a lot. It matters so much that our Savior Jesus Christ warned us against dwelling on bad thoughts about others. Anger towards another is placed in the same category as murder!
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” (Mat 5:21-22 KJV)
Unjustified, unbiblical anger can lead to murder.
At the same time over and over again we are commanded to love each other! “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35 KJV)
The idea that God can change us from people who hate others to people who love is the heart of Christianity. While part of our society is busy about redefining behavior spoken of in scripture as sin into “normal” behavior that cannot change, the authors of the New Testament did not see it that way. Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we are new creatures with old things passing away and new things coming. (see 2Corinthians 5:17) Instead of being stuck doing the same old sins, Christians can look forward to change. And, research published this week agrees.
A study published in PLoS ONE, that examined the ability of test subjects to change how they felt about others. “Volunteers who received real time information of their ongoing neural activity could change brain network function among connected areas related to tenderness and affection felt toward loved ones, while the control group who performed the same fMRI task without neurofeedback did not show such improvement.”[i] In plain English, the volunteers were given information from their fMRI brain scans that showed how the part of their brain would light up in response to positive feelings about their loved ones. Practice thinking about their affection for their loved ones strengthened the response seen in the brain.
An important note about the research was that the control group in the study was not given any feedback on their brain scans. And, as they practiced the tasks given their brain activity did not change. The researchers believed that this kind of brain training activity could have application for those who struggled with post-partum depression and personality disorders.[ii]
It is always interesting when science goes to great effort to demonstrate something the Bible has already told us. Paul told us to “lay aside the old self… to be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
and put on the new self…” (Eph 4:22-24 NAU) This process in the Christian is powered by the grace of God and it is powered by the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts. The whole process is tied to studying the scriptures as Christ said, “Sanctify them through Your truth, Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) It is implemented by doing what we learn in that word by grace. (James 1:22)
The good news of the gospel is that those who trust in Christ are no longer slaves to sinful habits, but have the privilege to choose to serve instead. As Paul said “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
(Rom 6:17-18 NASB)
[i] Instituto D'Or de Pesquisa e Ensino (IDOR). "Training brain patterns of empathy using functional brain imaging." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521180016.htm>.
[ii] Jorge Moll, Julie H. Weingartner, Patricia Bado, Rodrigo Basilio, João R. Sato, Bruno R. Melo, Ivanei E. Bramati, Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, Roland Zahn. Voluntary Enhancement of Neural Signatures of Affiliative Emotion Using fMRI Neurofeedback. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (5): e97343 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097343