Nature, Nurture, and Faith

With advances in the past twenty years, geneticists have greatly increased our understanding of how DNA effects our human development.  Neuroscientists, bolstered by incredible imaging techniques that show activity on the molecular level of the brain, report about phenomenal electromagnetic, neurochemical, and physiological workings of our brain.  Psychologists in the past thirty years have been amassing research on how this new DNA knowledge (nature) and a person’s environment (nurture) effect how a person’s genetics and brain thrive in different environments, i.e. parenting, schooling, culture, and religion.

The long debate over whether heredity or environmental factors contribute more to the development of a human personality, while excluding spirituality, is common to us all.  Those who are Christian have long struggled in their own way with understanding the body of sinful “flesh” as opposed to being an “instrument of righteousness” and a “vessel for Holy Spirit”. Science, psychology, and theology all wrestle with explaining differences in personality and relationships with others.  Through in-depth and long term study of identical twins, much has been explained about personality and faith development.

Explaining this huge body of research is beyond the scope of this article.  But, one take-home message of much of this research is exactly what Yahweh has been instructing us through His Word: The Words of Yahweh “give off life”, and “they are health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”

Psalm 119:11   Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.

Yes, our minds control what our mouths say and our bodies do.  What we hold as thoughts in our minds send off a chain reaction of electromagnetic impulses as well as neurochemical and hormonal responses that then become our behaviors.  Keeping our thoughts on godly things and emotions carves new neural pathways that our brain begins to use as resources for the present instead of the old, tired, and unproductive ways of the past.

Isaiah 26:3 (KJV)   Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

The more we pray and meditate on Scripture, our minds work in a glorious harmony with our whole body, healing it, soothing it, and determining godly and peaceful responses to events.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is now completely debunked.  Research has shown that even in our 80s, one can make significant positive changes to the neural pathways in the brain.  How does one do this?  By thinking sound thoughts and receiving the love of Yahweh through Christ.  Thoughts and emotions run hand in hand. When we recognize an emotion, we have a thought attached to it and vice versa.  Thinking that God loves me and attaching that thought to godly loving feelings, we have a sound mind that will keep us standing against any evil environmental situation we could ever be in.  (Our recent BEC class at on Standing through Adversity covers this topic well.)

When a circumstance or event happens, the event goes to the center part of the brain for analyses.  This part of the brain sends out signals to other parts of the brain for memories of a similar event.  In a flash, these memories are collected and sent to the front part of the brain where the thoughts and emotions about the situation are processed.  This frontal lobe of our brain acts in an executive functioning capacity that decides if we are to have a fight or flight reaction to the event or a peaceful reaction.  If the brain is filled with trauma or harsh fearful memories that have anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc. associated with them, then the pool of information coming to the front part of the brain will send out messages to be alarmed and act in certain protective ways – even if the present circumstance does not warrant it.  Ever witness someone who is phobic about spiders be in a room where a spider appears on the wall?  The spider is in no way a threat to the person, yet, due to memories and emotions attached, the present situation is viewed as harmful and very unsafe.

If the pool of memories have godly emotions and thoughts attached to them, then the frontal lobe is able to process them according to this information and send out signals for the body/mind to react in a godly way.  So, if I have a reservoir of memories that are full of pain and anguish, am I out of luck?  No, not at all.  Scripture teaches that we are able to renew our mind and change our thoughts.  God wants us to be in health and to prosper as our soul prospers (1 John 1:3).  We are in control of what we think and feel.  Science is just coming along and showing us that it is a physical reality that happens when we make the effort to control our thoughts and emotions.  As Christians, we know that the thoughts of God’s Word lead us to repentance and a change of heart.  We are enabled to do this through the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Scientists think that thoughts enter the brain from the left side.  Where do they enter?  How do these thoughts form?  Why are they those thoughts?  Many questions are unanswered by scientific study, but we do know from Scripture that when we keep our minds on the Word of God and bask in the love of God, our thoughts and feelings, inspired by Yahweh, will then translate out to our bodies acting in godly ways.  Our words and actions will reflect that which is in our brain/mind/heart.  Our brain, body, mind, heart, and spirit are not separate and distinct stand-alone parts, instead they are a united, synergistic system that depends on interconnection to function fully.  Yahweh made us a complete package.  Holy Spirit effects all of our being so that we can present our bodies as a living sacrifice.  As we consistently change our thinking and feelings to line up with godly thinking and feelings, our memory bank will be filled with the goodness of God and that will be the “heart” from which all life flows.  We can forge new neural pathways which then send out the godly impulses to the rest of the brain and body that He intended for us to have.

What does faith have to do with our physical development or our physical fleshly parts?  The Word tells us in many verses that training children in the Word is vital to their longevity and success.  Teaching children how to think and feel according to the Word is primary in parenting.

Ephesians 6: 1-3   Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Proverbs 22:6   Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

We are born with the sin nature as a result of the disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  This is in our DNA.  As a child, our ability to have faith grows within by our understanding, emotions, behavior, and will, and by our interactions with Yahweh and others.  As our brains mature, we are able to grow in our faith and in understanding godly principles, so that our lives are lived out as Yahweh has all along intended for them to be.  Our culture, family, friends, and life experiences all weave a tapestry of how faith grows or is squashed.

A recent article that discusses nature and nurture expresses the fusion of nature and nurture and faith development this way:

The 12 disciples represented diversity. Nature and nurture formed each one into who they were as individuals. From the point of Christ calling them to follow Him, they each had their own experience with Jesus. As the early church entered infancy, each one played his own role. Peter’s impulsiveness, leadership, and boldness shaped his faith very differently than the Apostle John or Matthew. The power of the Gospel is about transforming lives, not just the nurture aspect of our personalities, yet extends to such nature issues as depression, anxiety disorders, and the like. The Gospel has the power to lead to changes in the brain that will be in dynamic relationship with the individual’s experiences of life. The Gospel transforms each person’s personality from the inside out and from the outside in.

The stories of our lives are not complete. Between our natural capacities, environmental opportunities and experiences, and God who specializes in transforming lives, we can be made new and become better personally and spiritually. Thomas, J. C. Personality and Faith Development, Christian Counseling Today, Vol 21, No. 3.

Thousands of testimonies have been made that attest to the transforming power of Yahweh.  Some of our thinking patterns are simple to change.  Others take a lot of intense prayer and work.  The good news is that through Christ we CAN change our thinking and emotions to line up with God’s Word and live a Christ-like life that is calling to us.  We are not hampered by unfortunate genes.  No more excuses.  Why not start making changes right now?


1 Response

  1. Paul Lenahan
    How simple and powerful is the truth, pure, peaceable and easy to be untreated. Thank you Mary Ann.

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