Brains and Belief

Brains and Belief

What do you mean, ‘If I can’?’ Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if a person believes.’
 The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!
Mark 9:23-24 (NLT)

Like the father in the ninth chapter of Mark, ‘Anything is possible’  is the sort of thing that we want to believe, but it can be hard for our brains to comprehend.  In the verses above, the father responds to Jesus with belief and also exclaims that doubt is there, too.  We can almost hear the father’s desperation  because he responds instantly and straight from the heart. He is not trying to appear spiritual, he is not concerned about what his religion outlines - he is desperate for both his son and his lack of belief.  The father’s honesty hints at the idea that faith is not necessarily an either/or situation but can be a process of moving towards greater faith while at the same time contending with doubt.

Interestingly, researchers have studied what happens in our brains when we begin the process of changing the way we think.  They describe it as building a new neural pathway - a sidewalk of nerve tissue that is laid down in the brain as we think and do a new thing.  As we consciously make a choice to work at a new habit - let us say, practicing belief - the old pathway fades away out of disuse, while the new pathway is solidified the more we opt to use it.
It is the time between taking those first tentative steps towards belief and full fledged faith that can get us down. We can berate ourselves and compare ourselves to others.  Or we can do what the father does: ask Jesus for help with our doubt.  And here is the interesting thing:  Jesus could have turned the father away with  “Nope, not until you 100% believe”. Instead, he rewards the father’s less than perfect faith. The author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus, proved again just how merciful and generous He is towards us. 

Lord Jesus, turn our doubt into belief as we practice faith this Christmas season. Build us new neural pathways towards believing you.  Prune away the old unbelief and doubt. We don’t want to travel that way again.  Help us to have authentic faith in you that will reflect well on you, and change the cultures of our homes, workplaces, and circles of friends. Amen. 

Written by Stephanie Smith

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