I was fascinated listening to – and marvelling – at a podcast about how neuroscience is trying to help people who suffer from such things as post traumatic stress disorder. Currently the chemistry used to help people affects all of the brain but if only the amygdala in the brain could be targeted or if the amygdala could be observed in a way that would help predict PTSD then further help could be given to those suffering. It was the description here that in-trigued me that when trauma is ‘extinguished’ in the brain – a process that the brain can do – the person doesn’t forget what has happened but that memory or the stimulus that triggers the memory no longer produces the stress today.
In the course of the podcast I also heard the medical distinction between fear and anxiety. Both can be positive and negative for us. Fear is a response to an obvious threat which gets us almost instantly into ‘fight or flight’ mode to get us to safety. When the spe-cific something is gone, the fear subsides and we return to our normal. Anxiety is more diffuse, more general, more persistent and something that often has no obvious trigger but can spur us into preparedness or hamper and affect daily living in minor and major ways and can be part of one’s life for a long time.
So where am I going with all this? You’re going into my brain! 😉
I wondered whether the biblical writers had the same understanding of fear and anxiety. Je-sus told his followers not to be anxious about food, drink, and clothes (your Father will pro-vide) or about tomorrow or about what to say when challenged about your faith. Jesus also, on many occasions, told his followers not to be afraid. And these messages can be found throughout the Bible as well. That means that anxiety and fear are part of our lives – which is why there are so many references to help us with anxiety and fear. The logic that the follower of Jesus will not be anxious or afraid – and if you are, you’re not a (true) follower of Jesus – is false and destructive – and dare I say it, anxiety and fear producing! No, Jesus each day helps us to face the day. Yes, we are an accumulation of all our yesterdays – the tough stuff, the sins we’ve done, the evil done to us and that Jesus has always been with us helping, forgiving, and blessing. This is the truth of the cross and empty tomb lived out in our lives as we look back on our yesterdays – Jesus has never abandoned us – and so we can face the day.
The second random neuron I had was that this neurological idea of ‘extinction’ in the brain – where the person can remember the event or come across the stimulus but it doesn’t trigger the stress now – is a way I describe forgiveness. Forgiveness is never amnesia but it is when the follower of Jesus who has been wronged does not seek ‘payment’ from the person who has wronged them. Instead they ‘pay the price’ themselves and seek reconciliation. This in-volves making it clear to the perpetrator that a wrong or evil has been done – it is hopeful that this would produce repentance, an apology, and making amends – but the goal remains that the one who is wronged works towards the reconciliation – because Jesus has forgiven them. Such forgiveness means that past wrongs may not be forgotten – though they may seep away in the sands of time – but they are no longer dragged into the present as ammunition or emotion that affects the relationship.
And so I was open mouthed in appreciation – at those who study our physiology and want to help people. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)! And at how Jesus loves us as we are and gives himself to us so that we can face anxieties and fears each day. Jesus helps us in our relationship with others, by teaching us to forgive. The world is still the world – pandemic, fear, and death not withstanding – but Jesus is in the world and his sacri-fice, love, and presence means that we are loved – and that’s the best way to face each day no matter what comes! GS