Savants Syndrome and our Faith
This morning I read a fascinating article about people who suffered brain injuries only to develop miraculous and extraordinary abilities they did not possess prior to the accident. For example, one man was attacked outside of a bar in 2002 and suffered a concussion, PTSD, and apparently mathematical genius! Prior to the attack, he was a furniture salesman with a math proficiency in pre-algebra. But after the attack, he could “visualize complex math and physics topics.” Other’s developed musical expertise or artistic genius.
As stunning and “impossible” as these stories occurred to me, what caught attention was the quote from Mara Klemich, PhD, “The fact that extraordinary skills can surface post-brain related injury or diseases raises fascinating questions about dormant capacity potentially existing within us all!”1
I believe Dr. Klemich is onto something profound. After all, the text of Scripture tells us we were made like gods to be lords and ladies in authority over the earth and all that is in it. We alone of the animal world were given the image and likeness of the Triune God. In fact the capacity for greatness is, by God’s design, embedded in all of our lives – body and soul!
But as it is, we live our days in frustrating tension. In everything we do we desire greatness. We desire to be good at our efforts. But on our best days we sense the inability to be what we’re capable of becoming. Each of us have sins we swore off years ago, habits we’ve teeter tottered with, insecurities about money, the future, our children, etc. We know we should be more but we are not. We know we should be great in all of our endeavors but there are far more failures and foibles than victories and successes.
Scott Sauls writes, “There is great paradox to life in Jesus Christ. We are on our way home but we’re not there yet. We long to be better than we are, but can’t quite figure out how to move forward, or even where to begin. The new has come, but the old, fleshly self remains with us. We are being made more like Christ, but our sin and selfishness and narcissism and idolatrous leanings are always there, threatening – even promising – to stunt progress. We move two steps forward then one step back and sometimes three.”2
It is true that God has all of his children in a process called sanctification – like a potter molding a lump of clay. But it is not true that we can always see or perceive God’s slight pressing and forming. Sauls points out the frequent use of botanical imagery when it comes to speaking of our transformation into the greatness of Christ – becoming like him. If you sat and watched a plant grow you’d grow irritated that it’s just not doing anything. It’s over a long period of un-watched time that you look at the plant and notice all the remarkable growth occurring.
But while we are, in fact, en route to greatness (Christ likeness or new humanity) – one decisive life event will be the catastrophe that triggers our live’s greatest form of Savant Syndrome. I’m referring to death. Death is the greatest “accident” a person can experience. It is the greatest bodily injury one can sustain. Like these rare and even miraculous changes some have experienced after brain trauma, everyone in Christ must still experience the trauma of bodily death. But once we come through, once we open our eyes we will see what we’ve been capable of but never able to fully realize.
More accurately speaking, once our bodies are resurrected and rejoined to our spiritual substance – our whole person will be what it was originally designed to be: with genius, greatness, wisdom, virtue, creativity, and accomplishment. Dr. Klemich is right, there is a dormant capacity of extraordinary greatness sleeping or even stunted within us all. It is the “Imago Dei” the image of God – the glory and crown of God’s creation that was buried under the rubble of the Fall but resurrected again in glory. Having passed through the death sentence of decay for having eaten the forbidden fruit, we then will rise with the life-pardon of Christ’s victory making death merely a trigger for permanent greatness.
And all the disappointing efforts to be good, to have a good outlook, to stop yelling, stop worrying, stop being insecure, stop wasting time, stop neglecting spiritual good, stop pursuing money, stop looking at bad things, stop being so un-Christian, all of that will, in the blink of an eye be gone and we will have arrived a new-human with powerful abilities for glory only this time, humbled at the cost of our reformation.
As one very tough year closes and another more promising fresh year begins tomorrow (if the Lord allows), let us each take comfort in God’s promise to finish what he started. Let us take comfort that Christ is the first-fruit or prototype of what God says we will become. No matter how ashamed we are at the abundance of our failures, let us rest again in the even greater abundance of His grace and forgiveness. “God is even more prone to forgive than we are prone to sin – that where our sin abounds, his grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).”3
2 Scott Sauls, Irresistible Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 6.
3 Ibid, 19.