Questions like: “Is there a God? Do humans have souls? Are we special…different from other animals? Do we have free will? What’s the meaning of life? Since evil exists so prevalently…can there be…a good God? Is there life after death?” And in a deeply coherent and amazingly comprehensible way as we read this book we peel away towards answers.
That’s because our inquiry into these ageless questions is by a gifted teacher, Jay Lombard, MD. As a neurologist (with psychiatric training), a neuroscientist, a fine story teller and a man of faith he makes understandable our emotional and intellectual quest into complexity. We don’t get muddled by questions that can confound us. Instead our vision sharpens through the clear lens Dr. Lombard uses, which refracts using medicine, science, and intellectual and spiritual inquiry.
Lombard is unwilling to reduce the wonder of our minds (and the spirituality that derives from its essence) to the mere chemistry of brain neurons and their electrical circuits, yet his approach is not that of a theologian or philosopher (even though he is learned in both fields). He is a physician and a neuroscientist. We learn about how brain and mind are intimately connected yet not the same. And how to see them differently and use that understanding to assist in having a faith that does not battle with science.
Dr. Lombard’s God is a personal one. The God he portrays is one of infinite connection. The word religion, he explains, derives from the Latin “to bind together”. The connections are among us as humans, within us as body and soul, with the universe and ultimately with God. It is these connections that foster our mental and spiritual growth; upon them our survival depends. This theme runs throughout this short but rich book. We can witness and appreciate a God grounded in connections from life’s abundance of love, compassion and mercy – qualities of the immanence of God within us and our communities. Empathy, the essential foundation for love, is hard wired into our brains with special cells called mirror neurons. And intention, how we lead our lives, is both there as an essence and forever developing as we proceed through the arduous process we call living.
Free will and determinism to not collide in Lombard’s thinking. They interplay over the course of time. He tells us that God did not “create robots “. We have and we create purpose. Good and evil both exist, of course, and he offers that “cancer cells provide a perfect analogy of a biological evil.” We humans can and do go awry, destroy others and communities, as cancers kill healthy cells and destroy their human host. Life can be blessed and it can be awful. That too challenges and can nourish our faith.
As we read this book, we do not encounter concrete explanations of the ineffable but rather we have stories, clinical experiences from Lombard’s career, scientific studies and analogies, deconstructions of symbols and symbolic thinking, and examples from literature, religion and philosophy. Neuroscience, as he explains, is a portal to the brain and mind that can illuminate meaning, purpose and faith. As we read on in this book, we enter the vortex of ideas he presents, which moves us towards what may well be essence of God.
Faith, for Lombard, is not nor should it be blind. The evidence to inspire our faith is there as we open our eyes to everyday life.
For what really matters is service, kindness, love, healing and forgiveness.