Why Adventist Young People Must Fight for Their Identity, and How to Do It

Neuroscientist details some of the tools the human brain has, with God’s help, to succeed.

Marcos Paseggi
Why Adventist Young People Must Fight for Their Identity, and How to Do It
Neuroscientist Rosana Alves explained why Seventh-day Adventist young people must fight for their identity, and how they can do it, in a plenary session at the 2024 South American Division Maranata Youth Convention in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 30. [Photo: Ellen Lopes]

“Is there any one of you who arrived at this event in search of a great love?” neuroscientist Rosana Alves asked the crowd attending the morning plenary session at the 2024 Maranata South American Division Youth Convention in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 30. “Today we are going to discuss how to have the best relationships,” she added.

Alves, who for decades has researched on topics related to the human brain and psychology, used the Bible story of the first temptation of Jesus to help Adventist young people understand what they are up against and what to do about it.

“Satan will always make the most of our weaknesses … those of us who might have some emotional weakness … those of us who were born with a genetic vulnerability or weakness … depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder,” Alves said. “He will try to convince abused girls to either accept any kind of ‘love’ or close themselves to a life of positive, meaningful affective interactions.”

A Fight for Our Identity

According to Alves, Satan doesn’t want you to know that you have a God who takes care of you even in the midst of your weaknesses. “Just like he did with Jesus, his goal is to steal our identity,” she said. “But our identity comes from heaven, our genetics comes from God. Never forget that.”

Alves emphasized some ways in which Satan wants to destroy our identity. She quoted the latest scientific studies showing evidence that any amount of alcohol is harmful, and that there is no such thing as “social drinking.” She also quoted studies showing how premarital sex significantly increases physical and emotional issues down the road, including suicide ideation.

The reason for Satan’s attacks is clear. “He has lost his heavenly identity, and now he’s jealous of all of you,” she said. “But if we stick to God’s identity for us, we have the certainty, the guarantee of a happy, abundant life.”

Reflecting again on Jesus’ first temptation in the desert, Alves called Adventist young people to choose God’s ways over Satan’s offers. “You have to make the decision whether you will accept the stones Satan is offering now or wait for the banquet God has prepared for you,” Alves said.

A Confused Youth

Recent surveys have revealed that most Brazilian young people value science and want the government to invest in science, but at the same time they can’t name even one Brazilian scientist, Alves reported. The most common source for scientific “knowledge” is social media, the study acknowledges. The same survey showed that 67 percent of Brazilian young people can’t differentiate between facts and opinions. When asked to research on a specific topic, they acknowledged their basic source was what influencers say on social media.

But, Alves said, Adventist young people should be different. “The fact that you are here shows that you know better,” she said. “You have been chosen to assist those young people with confused identities.”

Another worrying trend in Brazil and around the world is what has been called “agamia,” those millions of young people who are not looking forward to getting married, forming a family, and having children. “These young people eschew any close relationship with another human being,” Alves said. “They avoid any romantical or intimate relationship that includes any kind of commitment.”

She explained what is the number one concern for this generation. “The environment,” Alves said. “They want to save the environment, the planet, but what for? They don’t want to get married or have children, so, who’s going to live in such a planet?”

Alves mentioned other issues affecting our identity, such as the loneliness epidemic, which, according to some studies, “is more harmful than smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” she said. “Millions of young people do not want to share meaningful time with anyone, but at the same time, they are desperate to have someone to talk to. Do you understand the kind of confusion they are living in?”

As an antidote to that, Alves called Adventist young people to become “experts in problem solving,” to help other confused young people find their identity.

The Role of Emotional Regulation

God doesn’t only tell us what to do; He points us to ways of achieving what He wants from us, Alves said. In the next few minutes, she shared some tools or paths toward relational fulfillment.

One of them is emotional regulation, Alves said, which helps us to face life’s challenges without giving up and enjoy emotional health. “Emotional regulation puts a brake on me when I try to do something I know shouldn’t be doing,” she explained.

She also explained that it is something which must be learned from the beginning, “that I shouldn’t have all I want, when I want it, and in the way I want it.” She added, “It is something you must learn with the help of Jesus.”

Cognitive Reappraisal

At the same time, another tool, cognitive reappraisal, can help us develop our emotional regulation, Alves explained. “A cognitive reappraisal helps us to stop and think about what we are supposed to do.”

She explained how many of our reactions are based on the limbic system of our brains. It is where deep emotions are. Those emotions can be useful to produce intended changes. “For instance, sadness is an emotion that helps us to reflect,” Alves said. “It helps us to decide if we are going to follow on the same path we were, or if we’d rather choose a different one.”

Accordingly, Alves explained, a human brain includes a structure that no animal has, where the seat of free will is located. “God created it that way because He made us in His likeness,” she said. “And He wants to help us develop the ability of carrying out cognitive reappraisals, because it is related to our identity.”

A Sense of Belonging

What many people in this world lack is a sense of belonging, of knowing that they belong to Someone, Alves emphasized. “They lack the worldview that allows them to understand that well beyond us being born and living here randomly, God has chosen us for a special mission,” she said. Alves explained that such awareness gives meaning to our lives. Because “much more important than belonging to someone here, to your dad and your mom, to finding a life partner and having children, it’s the fact that you belong to the kingdom of God. You have heavenly genetics! Never forget that!” she said. “You belong to God!”

Marcos Paseggi

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review