Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Science confirms it- there's power in the written word!
Don't you just love it when the secular world discovers a truth that's old news to those of us who believe the Bible?
I've never read an issue of Ode magazine before, and wouldn't have this time if the cover hadn't grabbed my attention while I was waiting to fill Calvin's albuterol prescription at the drug store the other day. "Read all about it: Why the written word is good for body, mind, and soul." Being an avid reader, this piqued my curiosity and I had to buy the magazine. I know why I think the written word is good for us, but I just had to know why humanistic psychologists have now decided it's so.
Turns out, according to the article, that "reading can change and improve how we feel and behave." (Reading, writing, and revelation. Ode vol 8 issue 6, p.33) Evidently there's a new field of therapy, bibliotherapy, in which reading material is prescribed to help treat emotional and/or physical pain, and it's enjoying success. While reading doesn't actually cure diseases, it "contributes to cognitive reserve (CR), the brain's ability to protect itself and adapt to physical damage." (p. 34) In the U.K, the National Health Service gives doctors the option of prescribing self-help manuals, "books on prescription", to those seeking medical attention for mood disorders.
According to brain imaging studies, "when reading, our brains stimulate what happens in the story, using the same circuits we'd use if the same things happened to us. On a neurological level, we become part of the action." (p. 34) A 2007 study that examined 112 smelter workers found that workers who read a lot had greater protection against some of the effects of lead poisoning. Both readers and non-readers suffered equally from lead-induced motor impairment, but the non-readers had higher levels of intellectual impairment caused by brain damage from lead poisoning. (p. 34) This is thought to be due to the enhanced cognitive reserve in the readers.
Interesting, is it not? So,why doesn't this surprise me? Because the same God who designed us chose to reveal Himself to us through the written word. Nothing is too difficult for God. He could have chosen to reveal Himself to us by zapping us with a laser beam or through the use of virtual reality or by implanting a computer chip within our brains. He didn't. He chose to have individuals record His words to us. Inspiration means "God-breathed". God, by His Spirit, breathed His Word into the men who penned the Scriptures. And God's Word has been miraculously preserved over thousands of years. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, extols the many virtues of delighting in God's Word.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe the Bible transforms lives because it's a book. On the contrary, the Bible transforms lives because it's God's Word, not becaue it's God's word. My point is merely that God chose the medium of the written word because He designed us to respond to the written word. A secular book lacks the power of the Word of God, but even a secular book causes us to reflect, to think, to exercise our God-given minds.
What does this mean for believers?
1. There is no substitute for the Word of God. No sermon or tv show, small group or spiritual experience can take the place of the Bible. As believers we must have a steady diet of the Scriptures in order to mature.
2. We must be discerning about what we read. There's something interactive and organic about reading. What we read implants itself firmly in our subconscience and influences us for the better or worse.
3. And finally, if even unbelievers recognize the benefits of reading the Psalms to treat "vexations of mind and body" (p.33), we believers should run first to God's Word when we're hurting, before turning (or at least in addition to turning) to meds or therapy. In other words, we should see God's Word as primarily a vehicle to know God better and mature spiritually, but not only as such. We should also see God's Word as therapeutic. Are we tired or weak? We can be assured in the Scriptures that it is God who is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure, and that His strength is made manifest in our weakness. Are we hurting or depressed? God's Word reassures us that the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared to the glory which will be revealed. We also take comfort in the knowledge that our suffering has a purpose in God's plan for our good and His glory. Are we feeling guilty? God's Word offers forgiveness of sins for those who trust in Christ alone for salvation. You get the idea. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture says that God's Word is just that- sufficient. It's all we need to become mature.
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.