Jul 1, 2005

Spiritual Alzheimer's

4 Min Read

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder …. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12–15).

My father died of complications caused by Alzheimer’s in 1995. As the disease progressed, his brilliant mind began to disappear into the relentless dark fog from which it would not emerge in this life. Sometimes, when he seemed restless, one of our family members would start singing a hymn, and he would smile and soon add his voice. He could remember the words if there was someone to sing with him. But then the sickness seemed jealous that he could do even that much, and the singing stopped.

I thought about that this week when I read the words Peter wrote to his congregation: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them ….” Why did they need to be reminded of something that they already knew? In fact, Peter said that they were “established” in the truth that they had. So why did they need to be reminded of something deeply ingrained in their thinking? The answer is intriguing and also strategic to the Christian’s daily life.

Innumerable times in Scripture, God tells His people to “remember.” He commands us, “Do not forget.” Is He referring to a momentary lapse in our physical memory that causes us to forget a 2:00 p.m. meeting? No, such a lapse in memory is usually about our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. God is telling us not to forget Him, to remember what He has done for us, to remember the foundations and promises of the Gospel. How can we forget God? How can we fail to remember His magnificent grace?

Alzheimer’s is an attack upon the brain that takes place within our own bodies. Connections between cells become petrified, and they no longer carry those unseen, lightning fast bits of information. Just so, we naturally possess a bent toward sin and an antipathy toward God. That dark disposition constantly attacks our thoughts and memory of God. I am apt to forget His past and His ever present mercies and selfishly complain in bitterness about some pain or anguish in my life. I am apt to forget His holiness and my unworthiness and think that God is obligated to me, that He owes me goodness. I am apt to forget His omniscience and wisdom and to elevate myself to the position of “Advisor to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” I am apt to forget my total dependence upon Him.

There was no pill for my father to take to stop the insidious onslaught of Alzheimer’s. There was no cure that would release him from its ever-tightening grip. He forgot those closest to him. He forgot who he was. However, there is wonderful news for those suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s. God has given His children a new nature — a memory of the sacred. He has reinforced that ability to remember with the continual presence of the Holy Spirit. We have new, Spirit-empowered eyes that are continually able to see Him in His creation. We have new, Spirit-assisted ears that are able to hear and understand His words. We have a new, Spirit-inspired heart that is able to love Him even in the midst of providence that has brought suffering.

A few years ago, on a cold and snowy morning, Della Osborne’s house burned down. When I arrived, there was a dark, square pile of ashes, where her white house had once stood. Underneath that still smoldering mass, were the bodies of her three young daughters. I walked into her neighbor’s house, already in tears over the loss. I hugged my friend, this lady who cleaned houses, kept the church nursery, and often took care of our children when we were away. We cried. What could I say to her? Surely, on this ghastly morning, spiritual Alzheimer’s had carried away her memory of the sacred. Feeling inadequate to say anything, I retreated to the Bible. Della said, “Before you read I want to say something.” I just knew that she was about to scream out against heaven from the depths of her grief. Instead, I heard the greatest confession of faith I have ever heard under such crushing circumstances. “John, before you read, I want you to know that this morning God is on His throne. He reigns and He is good.” We then read some ancient words of God about His complete dominion and His power to comfort. That morning, when I was sure the dark inclination to deny the goodness of God raged within, Della remembered. She refused to forget.

For those suffering from the debilitating effects of physical Alzheimer’s, know this: when you can remember Him no more, God will remember you. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:15–16)

I remember my dad and smile. I cherish those memories. But as wonderful as those thoughts are, they pale in comparison to the reveling in my mind when I remember my Creator and Redeemer.