What Your Body Knows about God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve and Thrive
By Rob Moll
Rob Moll, a former colleague at Christianity Today, has written a fascinating and important exposition of the observation by the Psalmist that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In What Your Body Knows about God, Rob examines a raft of studies that show how our brain has been wired to allow us to connect with God and with others.
“Today,” Rob writes in this 2014 volume, “scientists are suggesting that the brain is designed for spiritual experience.” Then he demonstrates that design via the latest research on prayer, intimacy, community, and service.
“We can often be tempted to think of our spiritual lives as something external–a collection of things we do: church attendance, Bible reading, prayer, service,” Rob says. “Or it is a set of beliefs that we hold. However, our relationship with God is profoundly connected to what is happening inside of us, in our bodies. Experiences of God, ranging from typical feelings of devotion while singing praises to God to the ultimate transcendent union with God, have an impact on the rest of our bodies. These experiences can affect everything from our health to our relationships.”
Rob notes that prayer, for example, engages many brain systems at once: the frontal lobe for rational thinking; the limbic system for emotion; the amygdala to be calmed; the anterior cingulate to produce compassion. His book makes clear that our spiritual experiences are both mediated to us and interpreted for us by our bodies. This can be, at least for me, both disconcerting and encouraging.
It is disconcerting to realize that a lot of the feelings I have when engaged in worship or prayer may come from a chemical produced in my brain called dopamine. Can my fellowship with the mysterious Trinity who created the universe and me be boiled down to a chemical reaction? And, if so, does that make it less real? Are the secular evolutionists right that religion is simply an evolved response to the challenges of human existence … and nothing more? I wish Rob had grappled a little more with such philosophical questions arising from the research he discusses so ably in What Your Body Knows about God.
For myself, as someone whose first response to scientific skepticism is usually to tremble, perhaps I need to remind myself that God created matter and took on our flesh, the dust of which we are made. He was not embarrassed by it but hallowed it and worked within its limits and possibilities even as we do.
The encouragement comes as we realize the graciousness of God, who has so wired us physically that we work best, and enjoy life most, when we do what He says. God expects us to pray and worship and serve, and when we do, as a general rule, we are blessed with health, happiness, and connection. As many have said, what God requires, He supplies. And as Rob says, “Science shows we can indeed become people who do the good we would like to do by shaping the habits of our bodies and even the cells of our brains.”