1 July 2018

Spiritual Mirror Neurons 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:1, 21 (ESV) 

One of the things that most “makes us human” is emotional empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. There’s another kind of empathy, however, we all know equally well: involuntary empathy. This is what happens when we see someone else experiencing something painful, such as placing a hand on a hot stove, or stubbing a toe—and we feel the exact same thing.

This phenomenon is caused by “mirror neurons,” a distinctive class of brain cells that fire both when we ourselves perform an action, and when we see someone else perform that action. That explains why we’re able to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions so immediately and instinctively—because those thoughts, feelings, and reactions are mirrored within us.

Reading about these amazing cells reminded me of another set of “mirror neurons” we have: our spiritual ones. We are each created in God’s image, which means that everyone we meet is, in their own unique way, a mirror image of their Creator.

The difficult part about this, of course, is that we each reflect this image to greater or lesser degrees. It can become extremely difficult to believe that God’s image is being reflected within those who commit overtly evil acts, or are living within difficult or questionable circumstances.

And yet, we see in Christ’s life and words that the circumstances or actions of those around him were never enough to stop him from seeing the image of God within them, and activating his own “spiritual mirror neurons” to extend to them the love and redemption of the triune God. In the Sermon on the Mount, he puts it like this: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’…And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).

This was exactly how Christ himself lived: as if everyone around him bore the very image of God. And that’s the example he calls us to follow: one where we pray for our enemies, turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile. By seeing God’s image in others and responding in selfless love as He did, a beautiful process takes place: sanctification, through which we each begin to mirror God more fully and clearly ourselves. 

Gracious Father, the more about you we come to understand, and how you have built certain elements into our human existence, the more we marvel. Help us more and more to see the image of God in those around us, and to respond to that in the way you expect us to respond. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by Joseph Tkach


About the Author:
Joseph Tkach is the President of Grace Communion International (the Denominational name of The Worldwide Church of God UK), and resides in California, USA.

Local Congregation:
You are welcome to attend one of our local Church congregations located throughout the UK and Ireland. For details of your nearest local congregation, check on our website, www.gracecom.church under the ‘Churches’ tab, or ring +44 (0)1858 437099.

Email: admin@daybyday.org.uk

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