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71 | What Ephesians 4:26 has to say about our Amygdala?

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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast I want to talk about some interesting advice the Apostle Paul gave about 2,000 years ago, and how it affects our amygdala.

Researchers the University of Miami recently reported on their study that concludes holding resentments and negativity in your mind can affect your mental and psychological well being.

The researchers came to this conclusion after studying the impact that negative emotions have on our amygdala which is an almond shaped structure located on either side of our cerebrum.

At least one of its roles involves handling our memory and emotions, such as anger, aggressiveness, fear and anxiety.

The researchers discovered that the longer a person holds onto negative emotions in their amygdala, the more this negativity impacts their well being.

The researchers came to this conclusion after studying 52 volunteers.

First they had the people answer a series of questions that covered their current emotional state and as well past and ongoing stressful issues.

The volunteers were then asked to rank 180 photos — 60 that displayed negative situations, 60 that displayed positive situations and 60 that were neutral.

As they were doing this, the researchers conducted fMRI scans of their brains to track blood flow that indicated what parts of their brains were being used and for how long.

The researchers discovered that those who allowed negative emotions to linger longer in their minds as the looked at the negative images had a more negative outlook on life than those who didn’t.

Those who got rid of these negative emotions and memories quicker not only reported having healthier and happier lives at the time, but researchers noted they were reporting the same thing when they were followed up with at a later date.

While many studies have looked at the impact that intense negative emotions can have on people, literally impacting their physical health, there have not been studies looking at the impact of lingering negative emotions.

Speaking on behalf of the researchers, lead author Nikki Puccetti said:

“One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, the unhappier you report being.”

In other words, holding onto the negativity of one situation, spills over into other events in your life, making them appear worse than they actually are. Simply, it distorts our reality.

Life is full of good and bad. It can be very stressful at times and horrible things can be thrown at us.

We can’t stop this from happening but it is vital that we handle life’s stresses properly.

In Ephesians 4:26, Paul gives us a bit advice. In the first part of the verse, he starts off by saying:

Be angry and sin not.

As humans, we come with a full package of emotions and anger is simply a normal human response. It is not a sin to get angry. Many Christians may find it hard to believe, but it not a sin to get angry.

We know from the Gospels that at times even Jesus got angry.

Jesus was angry when the pharisees criticized the Lord for healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath (Mark 3:4-5). Earlier, Jesus had told the pharisees that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of man, but the pharisees had so twisted the law, that man was now serving the Sabbath which is why they opposed the healing.

Then later the Lord created a whip and drove the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals out of the temple, because of their corruption that was taking advantage of the people seeking forgiveness through Temple sacrifices.

Jesus was not smiling and wishing everyone a wonderful day as He did this.

Sometimes anger is warranted, even justified.

But then after telling us that anger is not a sin, the Apostle Paul continues in verse 26 adding this huge qualifier.

He warns:

“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”

In other words, there comes a point when we must deal with the anger and stop dwelling on whatever caused it.

We have to quit thinking about it.

And it needs to happen sooner than later.

Sometimes, we get angry because things go wrong. We spill our food. Our car gets a flat tire or breaks down. We break something.

These are things we can’t change. But we stop brooding about them and move on.

But there are also times, when people are the source of our anger. People can offend us. They take advantage of us. Betray us.

They can make us angry.

But things are different when it comes to people.

Before we can move on, we first need to forgive.

Through out the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly taught about forgiving those who offend us and even forgiving our enemies who take our cloak by offering them our shirt.

Though we have every right to be angry, when it happens the Apostle Paul says don’t go to bed angry. In other words, we need to forgive, and we need to forgive quickly.

And I believe the writer of Hebrews offers a clue on what happens when we go to bed angry. We begin to internalize what was up to that point an external event.

When we don’t quickly forgive, this unresolved anger sits as a seed in our heart and slowly begins to grow. The writer of Hebrews describes describes the end result, a root of bitterness.

He writes:

15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Hebrews 12:15

We need to quickly deal with our anger because it can sprout a root of bitterness and when that happens it takes on a life of its own. At times, I have wondered if we go to sleep angry that our subconscious serves as a seed bed stimulating the growth.

As that root grows deeper into our heart, we no longer need external events to spark our anger, because it now springs from a root of bitterness inside us.

Many years ago, my wife and I had a newly married Christian couple over to our home for a visit. To this day, I can’t recall what we were talking about, but suddenly, in the midst of what had been a pleasant conversation, the husband inexplicably exploded in rage.

It wasn’t just a small spark, it was an outright caustic explosion that shocked all of us, including his wife.

After his rage subsided, I asked what was going on.

Why was he so angry?

He sheepishly looked at me and said he didn’t know. And I believe he was being completely truthful. He didn’t know why, because his outburst made no sense.

But something deep inside him had sparked his rage.

Since his anger overwhelmingly exceeded the incident, this indicated it was not about what was happening at the moment, it was springing from a root of bitterness inside him.

This root of bitterness was tainting everything he heard and saw, making it much worse than it actually was.

This root of bitterness was distorting his reality and he was seeing offences that didn’t even exist.

Fifth century Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote:

“Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

It is warning to all of us, don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t let negativity linger in your mind.

Deal with it quickly.

Forgive quickly.

READ: Holding on to negative emotions can have a lasting impact on your well-being

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