Over the last several months my family has faced a number of challenges—ranging from specific illnesses and injuries to general life hurdles. Through it all we’ve been surrounded by the loving support of family and friends. Whether through encouraging Facebook comments, prayer groups, or meals and flowers, everyone has a different way of letting us know they are standing with us.
Even an introvert like me has to admit that community is vital to human health—physically, mentally, and spiritually. The Bible’s been declaring this message for thousands of years. In the very beginning, the only thing God noted as “not good” about His creation was Adam’s loneliness—so He created Eve. Acts 2:42–47 describes the fellowship of the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….All the believers were together and had everything in common.” God Himself lives in community through the Trinity.
RTB founder Hugh Ross kicked off 2013 with two Science News Flash podcasts about research that supports the necessity of fellowship. (Listen to “Gratitude Can Improve Your Life” and “Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice.”)
Saying “Thank You”
It’s no secret that an attitude of gratitude is good for us. Scripture teaches this (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18) and scientists have found that gratefulness can improve your autoimmune system and result in better sleep. A Yahoo! News article pointed to scientific studies that show we gain even more advantages from thankfulness—at the same time, passing along the blessings—when we share our reasons for gratitude with others.
In other words, we get better results from communicating gratefulness to others, instead of just keeping it to ourselves. Hugh notes that scientists have also observed the opposite effects when studying people who do not practice gratitude. Moreover, gratitude also impacts our ability to forgive people for their offenses against us.
Best of the Times and Worst of Times
For decades researchers have found that providing help to someone in a difficult circumstance can produce at least three different reactions: positive, neutral, or negative. The reason for these varied responses remained a mystery until a new study, titled “Safely Test the Alarm,” shed light on this puzzle.
The paper reveals that providing support in good times—not just bad times—is key for a consistent positive outcome from help offered in difficulties. In other words, someone who is suffering is more likely to respond positively to proffered help if the helper has been there for happy times, too. Hugh makes a connection between this research report and the biblical instructions to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” He speculates that people need to see consistent and genuine participation in their lives on the part of family and friends.
In other words, we need to invest fully in each other (even if that investment looks different for different relationships). For my own family, we received just as much support and love upon the birth of our daughter as we have during the more recent challenges—and from many of the same people.
There’s a lot to garner from these studies. Hugh comments in the gratitude episode,
I’m encouraged as a Christian and as an astronomer, that there are people actually trying to put these biblical ideas to the scientific test…What’s fun for me is that there’s now scientific studies backing up what the Bible’s been teaching for thousands of years.
What stands out to me is how much we need each other. Humans are meant to live in healthy, loving relationships. Isolation and anonymity seems to lead to the nasty, ungracious comments about “other people” I’ve seen online. Of course we all need solitude from time to time or perhaps we need to rethink certain friendships, but without “other people” we miss out on some pretty awesome physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual perks.
Resources: Get more Bible-based insights into science headlines with our flagship podcast, Science News Flash.