I have a lizard brain. So do you. The most basic, instinctive, least complicated part of the human brain owes its origins to the connection we have with lizards. The limbic brain, with its flight or fight software, is right at the stem of our brain. The mammalian brain and the frontal lobe are evolutionary advances toward greater complexity of thought and processing. (Yes, a Christian pastor can – and I believe should – see evolution as a marvelous manifestation of divine providence and creation). Before we learned to learn tasks and do algebra, we reacted. Raw emotion rules.
My lizard brain shows itself when somebody cuts in front of me in traffic and I mutter (or yell), “Idiot!” My lizard brain is what perceives a slight or an insult, even if it never really happened, and I get angry or hurt. My lizard brain is on full display when a social media post sets me into a tailspin. When a disagreement leads me to think about cutting myself off from family or an old friend, the lizard is in charge.
I have been in many conversations over the last couple of years where the loss of the human ability to reason and think has been noted and mourned. Everyone is angry. No one is thinking. One of the biggest reasons is that we live in a culture that has learned to pander to and elevate the lizard brain over other more complex functions. Why? Well, it works!
When a politician uses fear and misinformation to whip supporters into a frenzy of blind acceptance, it is an appeal to the lizard brain to fight. When the same politician (of any stripe) dismisses real problems and people it is an invitation to flee. It is easier to appeal to our most base emotions than to engage people in actual thought.
When an advertiser suggests that you will be less of a parent or spouse because you did not buy your loved one the latest smartphone or stylish shoe, it is an appeal to the lizard brain. When the school or a coach lay on the guilt to get us to fill even more slots in an overcrowded calendar, it is an appeal to the lizard within.
The lizard brain leads us to seek division, self-protection, self-interest. It leads us to lash out and either run away or fight. Those are the only options. And Lord, are we a society of flight and fight!
By appealing to the lizard brain, the world around us, the powers that be, and our own family become harsh taskmasters, capable of putting the human soul in chains. Living in a constant state of stress and anxiety, fear is the tea in which we steep. We can’t break free to be the fully functioning human beings who possess a divine spark of love. You can’t think clearly when you are absorbed in the fight or looking for the nearest escape hatch.
The freedom we are offered through the good news of Jesus Christ is, in part, a freedom from the oppression of the inner lizard. The ability to live without fear, to live for others, to hold on to love and hope instead of the fear that drives us into flight or fight is a gift given in Christ.
You see, in Christ I have nothing to fear. There is no impulse to flee from the reality before me. There is no power that can cause me to fight. I am beloved. I am holy because Christ is holy. I don’t need the new smartphone or shoes because I am perfectly free and loved in Christ. That freedom allows me to think, to love, to grow and not worry about being wrong.
We will never overcome the division and hate of this world with our lizard brains running on anxiety and fear. We will never come together if our lizard brains only know flight or fight. Instead, we need to use the brains God gave us to think, and we need to draw on faith to soothe the beast within.
Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 38:7-8
The most frequent command from God in all of scripture is, “Do not fear.” That is an address to the lizard within. Instead, praise the God who saves you and think.
Tim Olson - Lead Pastor