“Why is it important that Jesus’ brain is perfect?” David asked. David is one of my students at Covenant Theological Seminary. I teach Master’s-level counselors about how faith and neuroscience interact to improve their abilities as counselors.

I believe that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I don’t understand it, but I choose to believe it. Scripture tells us that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and that Jesus is “like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), which includes his brain.

Jesus was without sin; his brain developed fully-faithful to its design. Jesus has the only perfect brain.

As I explore with my students how faith contributes to healthy brain development, it’s important to accept that Jesus’s brain is perfect. Healthy growth requires a perfect target. Neuroplasticity is constant and needs to be harnessed. Without a perfect target, unhealthy growth happens.My former colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have tried to describe the perfect brain. They’ve been mapping brains as close to perfection as humanly possible [1, 2]. These brains provide standards against which other brains can be compared. Doctors and scientists throughout the world now use these maps to study brains that may not be developing properly.

When a brain is damaged or is not developing properly, we can help.

One of the ways that brains don’t develop properly involves the neural networks that guide our character. Poor character development is not readily seen with our current brain-imaging technology. However, as we observe behavior carefully, we can infer that these neural networks are less-than-perfect. The character related neural networks have not been developed properly.

“But how can you know that a person’s character is less-than-perfect? Who are you to judge?” David demands humility.

We can do this by using Jesus as our standard for character. As a perfect brain designed to fit optimally within God’s created reality, the behavior of Jesus provides the perfect standard.

“OK, I believe that, but what practical difference can it make? As a counselor or as a parent, what can I do with that?” David likes to apply what he learns. I do, too.

Character develops as the brain develops its dominant neural networks. Mom and Dad guide the development of these networks through their discipline. They challenge their child to exhibit good behavior, using themselves as the standard. Later, teachers and friends challenge the adolescent and young adult to make choices that shape her character related neural networks.

We know that when we stop challenging the brain, it stops developing. Brain rehabilitation professionals use “just-right challenges” to stimulate neural network development.

What is the just-right challenge for character development? What standard should be used by parents and teachers and friends to shape the character networks?

Jesus is our proper standard.

Setting Jesus as our standard for character development insures that we will never stop developing because we can never achieve his perfection.

“OK, but what does that get us? What’s the practical payoff?” David’s practicality is relentless!

The practical payoff is that we fit better within the world for which we were designed. We have more emotional resilience, better physical health, and we live longer. Thousands of studies now support these benefits.

And because our character influences the character development of others, we gradually move humanity towards who God designed us to be.

For more information about the intersection of faith and neuroscience in our daily lives, read Your Faithful Brain: Designed for so Much More! For more information about character development, look at our website. For counselors who would like to learn how to facilitate character development through the Healthy Hippocampus Exercise, please contact us.

1. Almli, C.R., M.J. Rivkin, and R.C. McKinstry, The NIH MRI study of normal brain development (Objective-2): newborns, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Neuroimage, 2007. 35(1): p. 308-25.
2. Waber, D.P., et al., The NIH MRI study of normal brain development: performance of a population based sample of healthy children aged 6 to 18 years on a neuropsychological battery. J Int Neuropsychol Soc, 2007. 13(5): p. 729-46.