Who and Where Is My Neighbor?

A fascinating new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is shedding new light on how humans think of distance. It appears that part of our brain views of spatial, relational, and time based distances as much the same. So when we say,

He is a close friend. 

The car is parked nearby. 

our brains see those things in much the same way. Also, when we say

The M82 Supernova is 12,000,000 light years away. 

We aren’t very close of friends. 

we correspond those ideas. The same is true for statements of time. We attach them to the meanings above.

The movie is starting soon. 

All three- soon, near, and close- are viewed the same. The same is said for- distant, far, deep in the future.

Spatial near and far distances exist in our minds in much the same way as familial or friendly relationships. We also incorporate close time and distant time, so things happening soon seem like close friends or close things. We seem to exist in our brains as true centers of the universe where all things, events, spatial distance, and relationships exist in varying concentric circles with us as the center.  While other parts of the brain do understand the difference between these diverse concepts, the region the study looked at blends them together.

I take comfort in this. When my wife is close to me, she is close to me in all senses of the world. This may explain why time slows when we experience highly intimate moments. She is close physically and also emotionally and in time. My love for her is near in relational distance, physical space, and time. She is close, near and soon.  It also explains why we miss people when they are distant. They are far, apart, and forever away. We struggle to disconnect all three of those.

And so we have a God who is there. God is soon. God is now. God is present. We do not have a God who connects to us in only one way. God is not only relationship but the presence is felt in time and space and emotion. When God feels distant it feels like galaxies separate us. When God is close, God is also sudden and now.

Maybe we can learn from this part of our brain. To see our neighbor as all three. Close. Near. Soon.

Maybe we can learn to experience God in this way. Close. Near. Soon.

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