What is it about human life, which God transforms through spiritual renewal?
Let me expand this reflection’s title:
Renewal / bodily healing / re-sculpting the brain: transformation through practicing the way of Jesus
I am coming to believe that salvation and thus also spiritual renewal always effects— bodily healing.
I recently read Joel Green’s 2015 work titled, Conversion in Luke-Acts: Divine Action, Human Cognition, and the People of God (BakerAcademic). In this exploration on the meaning of “conversion” in Luke-Acts, Green utilizes insights from the contemporary neurosciences. Specifically, the source of habitualised human behaviours and actions ultimately lie in the very sculpting of the human brain’s neurological structure— a sculpting that occurs by those very behaviours and habits constantly repeated on a daily basis. Hence, Green explores how the “conversion” that the Spirit of God causes in people, largely comprises a “human biological metamorphosis, transformations at the level of neural networks.” (p. 43)
Therefore current cognitive science thus substantiates an important theme of Scripture, or the biblical portrayal of human life undergoing the renewing work of God’s Spirit: spiritual renewal deeply touches, and aimed towards transforming the very physical stuff of human life. Ultimately, then, spiritual renewal, well involves and really is— bodily healing
Green provides a lot of helpful examples from Luke’s narratives, demonstrating how “repentance” throughout Luke-Acts consistently comprises the forsaking of old practices/habits and an embracing of new practices/habits, thereby effecting real bodily transformation; not just personally but within entire communities. Of course a crucial example can be observed in the parallel between John the Baptist’s preaching and the new Christian way of life demonstrated in Acts 2 (see page 125):
Luke 3.10-14: “What should we do?”
Acts 2.37: “what should we do?”
John the Baptist gives a list of new practices (Luke 3.7-14).
Luke summarises several new practices characterising spiritual renewal (Acts 2.42-47).
In his Epilogue, Green suggests two important conclusions:
- Reading Scripture in light of “cognitive” scientific insights “posit the critical importance . . . of bodily, existence as the basis and means of human experience, including religious experience.” Here, Green infers as I earlier motioned an understanding of salvation as indeed bodily healing, or the healing of an embodied life. For he writes: “there can be no transforation that is not fully embodied. . . . Who we are— and, therefore, what it means to undergo conversion— is inescapably tied to our bodies and to the community (or communities) we inhabit.” (p. 162)
- Second, from these premises, and recalling the strong “travel/journey” metaphors and imageries that Luke uses to illustrated the “converted” life or “life being converted” throughout Luke-Acts, Green concludes with an insightful definition of “conversion”:
“Converts are those who, enabled by God, have undergone a redirectional shift and no persist along the Way with the community of those faithfully serving God’s eschatological purpose as this is evident in the life, death, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who whose lives are continually being formed through the Spirit at work in and through practices constitutive of this community.” (p. 163)
To reiterate my earlier reflection, what foremost strikes me from Green’s book is how this study enjoins us to consider spiritual renewal as something that is aimed towards and thereby effects— real bodily transformation. This in turn nuances our understanding of salvation as something always comprising physical healing. Salvation always involves physical healing. It does so because spiritual renewal actually begins with the very physical stuff that defines us, and moreover within the very neurological structure of the human brain. For Spirit caused habits through the practices of Jesus— work healing in the very bodily structures of who we are— transforming us on the way to new creation.