4.21.15–>”The Neurology of the Good Samaritan”

What It All Leads


Luke 10:25-37

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

So why talk about memory, memorization, and the neuroscience of it?

Well, because of the Good Samaritan I guess. Isn’t the connection obvious?

Here’s the conclusion being drawn by some of the scientists:

It takes a calm, attentive mind to feel and also demonstrate empathy and compassion.

The neural processes for the higher emotions are inherently slow. They take some time to process, in all of us. And experiments with brain scans are showing that the more distracted we become, the less we are able to actually experience compassion, empathy, and other higher emotions.

Some Buddhist monks’ brains were actually studied in an MRI tube while they were meditating. And it was found that “compassion meditation” seemed to reset their brain so that it was always ready to respond to another’s suffering. Even while not meditating, their brains are trained to always give some response to suffering. The doctor studying them said, “It is like having a paramedic team on standby: It is ready to go at a moment’s notice, and so is the brain at which the capacity for compassion has been cultivated.”*

So it’s not just the feeling of the higher emotions, but the ability to act upon them. When Jesus was asked once about inheriting eternal life, He responded with the two most important things: Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. The lawyer who asked the question wanted some clarification on who his neighbor was. Jesus’ answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan–a guy who acted on empathy and compassion at a moment’s notice, no matter what else he had going on at the time.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the experiment done at a seminary, in which it was staged for someone to need attention on the pathway of students rushing to some theology exam. About a third of the students stopped to help the person. The others had to get to their God test!

The more distracted we become, the more focused on ourselves, the more we miss the point of it all.

Now we’re not saying the Internet is satan. It’s just that we do need to pay attention to what’s happening in us and in those around us. We don’t want to become “pancake people”, spread thin, always scattered, and unable to feel deeply for and attend to people; for then we lose our very humanity.

So memorize some Scripture for Christ’s sake (literally), and not just for memorization sake. But to ingest more of God and become an ever deeper human being.

Paradoxically, one of the things I love about all this science stuff is that, in the end, we see that we don’t really need all the science stuff. It’s fascinating to me and very fun, but all we really need is to take God at His word. As the old hymn goes, “Only Trust Him.” All of this stuff He has already told us for living the fullest life. To be single-minded, to meditate upon Him and His word, to care more for others than your own wants, to “think on these things”, etc. Perhaps as we get so modernized, God allows us to see more and more behind the curtain. The brain science that He knew waaaaaaay before we did.

“Trust me. I know what I’m talking about,” I hear Jesus saying. Brother Lawrence said it almost 400 years ago, “God is infinitely good and He knows what He is doing.” I wonder what an MRI would’ve shown of his brain….

Remember the picture of the still lake as the calm mind. You throw just a pebble in and you see it clearly. But the distracted mind is like the turbulent water. Throw in a boulder and you won’t even notice the effect. Becoming intimately one with YHWH changes us because it rewires how we see and what we are able to see. Flitting about from thing to thing or being overly concerned about our own well-being because we don’t entrust it to God (Mt.6:33) inhibits our vision for those around us in need.

But focusing on just a few things that matter and entrusting ourselves wholly to God enables us to be calm and at the ready to share in suffering and be Jesus’s healing touch to those around us.

Like a paramedic team on standby.

Is that how the world sees us?


*Richard J, Davidson, Ph.D.

In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria

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