Your ‘Plastic’ Brains: Science Shows How God Provides Hope
So, Thanksgiving is here. Need a break from election/Trump transition news?
Ponder this concept – neuroplasticity.
There, I said it. And many of you are crying in relief. “Finally! Someone is dealing with this. It’s about time!”
Others are thinking, “Huh?”
Here’s the point. Even during a tumultuous year of national change, we can be thankful that God has provided hope for us flawed humans, despite ongoing challenges.
And science is showing us one way God has provided this hope. It’s right in our brains.
Although the research is several decades old, neurological science is advancing quickly with more details about this revelation: that our brains essentially mold to our habits, feelings and behaviors. Did you know this? The brain is not all “hard-wired,” but much of what we do is the product of a mind molded by prior habits and preferences.
So caution is needed because the developing child mind is vulnerable in ways science is just discovering – but the Lord has, of course, known all along.
Just think about the implications. We are not forever locked into our worst – or even, best – behaviors and impulses.
There’s hope for you and me and every other human, to alter counterproductive habits and actions.
How exactly the “brain change” happens is still under much study, but this breakthrough has enormous implications in several current and possibly eternal ways. One descriptive site says:
“Brain plasticity science is the study of a physical process. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. For example, each time we learn a new dance step, it reflects a change in our physical brains: new ‘wires’ (neural pathways) that give instructions to our bodies on how to perform the step.”
This has enormous implications. The good news is that God’s instructions for child education make even more sense: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
There are several critical periods when the brain becomes most adaptive. One is during childhood. Another is the healing period after a stroke or head trauma as the brain establishes new connections. And as our bodies process the changes of aging, the brain can sometimes fire up to renew functions like memory and speech.
The bad news for children? Get them off track at that developmental stage and it can be tough retrieving what was lost.
Think of the implications for the habits instilled in them – or not – during the early years. Think of the impact of physical abuse and the emotional shut-down that often follows. Think about early sexualization, use of pornography, or even steady indoctrination in certain attitudes and prejudices, like radical feminism, animus toward Christian faith, or rejection of sound moral values.
Impulse-driven desires for immediate gratification can turn quickly to lifelong struggles.
Think about healthy nutrition vs. gorging on junk food. Or discipline and hard work vs. allowing kids to become couch potatoes.
Think of the impact of drug use on the neuroplastic regions of the young mind.
But back to the “good news.” We Christians have tremendous hope and possibly new insights. If we are faithful students of Scripture, we realize that all knowledge and wisdom comes from God. We are finite human beings, but we have a soul and spirit that can be attuned to the Holy Spirit as we accept Jesus as our Savior.
Or they can be attuned to other, deceiving spirits that can, propelled by our flesh and tendency to sin, go in destructive directions.
And our plastic brains go along for the ride, adapting to the allure of sin.
So we can get stuck in cycles of bad behavior. Pornography can start to seem necessary, like an addiction. Drugs, the same. A “seared conscience,” the same. (We become dead to that which should horrify us. Like, for instance, the seeming heartlessness of some toward abortion.)
And sexual attractions that at first were only mild curiosities can become well-established so that people begin to think they were “born that way.” So can bizarre notions, like being the opposite gender.
“I’m really a girl in a boy’s body!” Insanity is embraced and in today’s America, becomes one’s “right.”
Our worldview and perception of truth – or misperception – along with habits and lifestyles, help shape the “plastic” part of our brains.
When we seek the goodness of God, some would call it the “renewing of the mind” mentioned in Scripture: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
There are, predictably, those appropriating this research to draw people down ungodly paths. Eastern spiritual leaders, for instance, are in a frenzy over this discovery. The Dali Llama has big plans to promote the plasticity of the brain for spiritual practices that may involve the occult. These are forbidden in Scripture, since such practices often connect humans with the demonic realm.
And contemplative practices now popular among the leftist “emergent” church hail neuroplasticity as a tool in apostate “pastoral care.”
Also, secular science is hailing the power of neuroplasticity for self-healing through brain exercises and mental discipline. Yet any success would be limited without ultimately relying on the power of God.
So, there is both opportunity and risk with this information. Schools, churches and youth organizations must be extremely careful about what children learn. “Age appropriate” is a woefully inadequate term pinpointing the need for caution.
Powerful, adult-level emotions should not be forced on children before they are mentally equipped to process them.
And yet, liberals are not just willing, but eager to do just that.
We must restrain their plans and give our kids the time they deserve for God-designed maturation during a season of precious childhood innocence.
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