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Breaking All the Barriers
Image: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery / Getty Images
Descent of the Holy Ghost, by Alessandro Filipepi Botticelli, 1500-1510

At the World Cup opening ceremony next week in São Paulo, a paralyzed Brazilian will walk onto the field and kick the ceremonial first ball. The young man or woman will be aided by the newest iteration in a line of mind-controlled exoskeletons—if everything goes according to plan. The pilot will wear a 3D-printed helmet and a concealed cap of electrodes. All he or she needs to do is think about the necessary movements, and "the brain–machine interface will convert human intent into robotic motion," The Atlantic reported.

Duke University neuroscientist and Brazilian native Miguel Nicolelis is leading the initiative, and he and his team are working frantically to prepare for the exoskeleton's debut. Nicolelis told the BBC, "This is just the beginning. . . . Our proposal was always to demonstrate the technology in the World Cup as the first, symbolic step of a new approach in the care of patients with paralysis."

However, critics are dubious the exoskeleton will be capable of everything Nicolelis and his team are promising. So far, mind-controlled exoskeletons have only been able to send "start" and "stop" signals. Andrew Schwartz, a neuroprosthetics researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, told MIT Technology Review, "Everything you'll see in the demo will be fancy robotics, not brain control, and it will probably all be preprogrammed." And Tim Vogels, a computational and theoretical neuroscientist at Oxford University, told TheAtlantic, "Do I see any hurdles? There are tons of them, right? There are only hurdles."

I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity God has given us humans. We use this gift not only to imitate his beautiful creativity, but also to overcome limitations, like Nicolelis and his team are attempting to do. When we see a problem, we work hard to solve it. It's what we do. Sure, other creatures have the ability to problem-solve. But humans are unrivaled in their dexterity. Even as we continue to make incredible progress in defying limitations, however, we will never be able to escape hurdles. And there are some things we just can't do as humans. There is always something beyond our reach, problems we can't solve, barriers we cannot break. The hard, cold facts of life reinforce that. And so does Pentecost.

More than Charismata and Mission

In a 2007 edition of Newsweek magazine, author and radio personality Garrison Keillor was asked to choose the five most important books of all time. He surprised some readers by ranking the Book of Acts at the top of his list. "The flames lit on their little heads," he wrote, "and bravely and dangerously went they onward."

Keillor was right about the importance of Acts, for it spotlights the work of the Holy Spirit. It's not that the Holy Spirit was absent before Pentecost. Scripture shows the Spirit working at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2), elsewhere in Old Testament history, and in the Gospels. But Acts accents the work of the Spirit in an entirely new way.

Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together in one place. We don't know exactly what they were doing. They could have been eating, socializing, or praying. Then suddenly "a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting" (2:2). They were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (2:3).

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Breaking All the Barriers