[by Dean Smith] A study conducted in 2003 by researchers at the University of California and reported in the Journal Science revealed rejection has the same impact on the brain as physical pain.
Scientists created a computer program that simulated a ball throwing game between a live participant and two computer simulations.
The 13 test subjects (four men and nine women) were hooked up to an MRI and invited to play the game. They were told the other two players (operated by the computer) were actually controlled by live people.
The computer simulation involved a simple game of catch between the three players. The MRI tracked brain responses during the game.
Initially, the computer played along, but after the test subject had caught the ball seven times, the computer ignored the live subject and only threw the ball back and forth between the animations. However, the test subjects believed they were purposely being ignored by the live participants in the game.
As the game progressed into the rejection part, the MRI scans noted heightened activity in the test subject’s anterior cingulated cortex (ACC). This is the area of the brain activated when a person encounters physical pain.
The scan also showed a direct correlation between the level of distress felt by the test subjects and the amount of activity in the ACC.
The ACC essentially triggers an alarm so the body will move away from dangerous situations such as a hot burner. Clearly, the ACC was triggering alarm bells over the rejection the players were experiencing.
The scientists concluded the pain of rejection is as real as physical pain.
From this we gain a better understanding of the suffering of Christ graphically portrayed in Isaiah 53. In addition to the physical suffering, we are struck by references to the rejection Jesus experienced in verses 2 and 3:
V 2 “For He grew up before him like a tender shoot
And like a root out of parched ground He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon him Nor appearance that we should be attracted to him
V 3 He was despised and forsaken of men
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised and we did not esteem him (Isaiah 53:2-3 NASV)
Verse 2 provides a perspective on the rejection Jesus suffered in childhood, which is referenced in the phrase “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot.” However, the added phrase “root out of parched ground,” may suggest a life of poverty — on the other side of the tracks.
Even Jesus’ childhood home, Nazareth, had a negative stigma attached to it. When Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus, he asks if any good thing can come out of Nazareth (John 1:46), obviously a common belief of the day. Some suggest when people referred to the Lord as “Jesus of Nazareth”, they intended it as insult (Luke 18:37).
However, Isaiah provides a clearer description of Jesus’ childhood when the prophet says, “He hath no stately form” or appearance “that we should be attracted to Him.”
In every school there is the “cool” crowd and certainly Nazareth was no different. There was something about the popular kids that attracted people. It may have been their notoriety in sports, their cool behavior, their money or their good looks.
Jesus was not part of the “cool” group. I suspect His keen interest in the things of God, even at the age of 12, probably resulted in derision instead of praise from His peers (Luke 2:39-47).
Hebrews 5:8 sums up these early years, when it says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.”
In verse 3, the rejection followed Jesus into adulthood. We read that He was despised which means “accorded little value, undervaluing.”
The same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 25:34 where we are told Esau despised his birthright and again in 1 Samuel 17:42, when Goliath despised David.
In Jesus’ life there was underestimation of His potential. No one believed He would amount to anything. The people of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, scoffed at the notion Jesus was anything significant when He started His ministry (Matthew 13:53-57; Luke 4:22).
They labeled Him as a son of a carpenter and their minds He would amount to nothing more. Some were even offended by His success (Matthew 13:57). They were offended because Jesus didn’t fit the “failure” label they had attached to Him. In the school yearbook, there were others deemed most likely to succeed.
Jesus was despised by people living in a despised town. He was the lowest of the low.
Forsaken of Men
In verse 3, we have the third reference to rejection. He was “forsaken of men.” The word differs from despised as it implies low value or low-caste. The word even has the idea of being less than human.
Throughout history people have been mistreated because they were thought less than human, the Jews and Slavic people under Nazism, the Negroes in the US and Assyrian Christians under the Turks.
In their commentary, Keil and Delitzsch believe the word “men” used in this verse is more accurately translated “lords” and believe this referred to the rejection Jesus experienced from the leaders of His day.
Jesus was clearly looked down upon by those in authority and sometimes their put downs were less than subtle. It was the scribes who accused Jesus of being demon possessed ( Mark 3:22-30). At one point, the scribes and pharisees may have even inferred Jesus was a bastard (John 8:41). Their accusation before the crowds was clear. How could Jesus be a religious leader with this type of lineage?
This rejection is clearly spelled out in Mark 8:31, “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.”
Hid their face
The last rejection is noted in the last half of verse 3, where it says “And like one from whom men hid their face.” It means exactly what it says.
We have all been in situations where a person’s behavior embarrassed us. We felt sorry for them and may even feel uncomfortable around them.
Jesus had a similar stigma attached to Him. In Mark 3:21, members of his extended family tried to take him into custody believing Jesus had lost his mind. In the end, probably out of embarrassment and pressure from friends, His mother and brothers came to Jesus wanting to talk some sense into Him ( vss 31-35).
At times, Jesus brothers were so embarrassed when He stopped by to visit, they tried to con Christ into leaving under the pretense He needed to be out performing miracles (John 7:3-5). When you understand they didn’t believe in Him (v 5), it is obvious they were saying this in a mocking way.
In the end, Christ’s death on the cross was ultimately an act of rejection. On the eve of Passover, the Romans traditionally released a Jewish prisoner. When Pilate offered the crowd the choice of either Jesus or Barabbas, they clamored for Barabbas, a known murderer (Matthew 27:16).
Rejection is one of the most hurtful and demeaning emotional experiences we can go through. However, Jesus came to heal us from the deep wounds attached to rejection.
The first step in the healing process is found in Jesus’ words on the cross, “Lord forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Likewise we must forgive those who rejected us.
- Rejection really hurts finds brain study (newscientist.com:October 3, 2003)
- Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
- Keil and Delitzsch commentary of the Old Testament