I recently had the opportunity of visiting a friend whose devout Christian mother now has dementia. Instead of leaving at the end of the visit with a spirit of heaviness, I left pretty much encouraged in the Lord. I will tell you why.
For those who do not know what dementia is, imagine having started reading this article and then as though as from sleep you catch yourself asking: Hey who am I? What am I doing on this blog? This is usually what happens in the early stages of dementia. You see, dementia comes with it’s rigors which include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning. Some of the effects of dementia can be emotionally distressing for family members and carers alike. We live in a time and age where a large section of our population will be heading into a ripe old age. By now you will have noticed (unless you are called Pat Robertson) that even our churches do have the elderly who are struggling with dementia, these are lovely brothers and sisters in the Lord who will have grown up living lives as a testimony of the redemptive work of the gospel. Dementia has been with us since the fall of man and will be till the end of all time on this side of eternity. One patient once lamented, “It’s like I’m going down a ladder into a dark hole with no way out. I feel like Job and ask God why.”
So what happens when one reaches old age and due to dementia or other health problems a previously devout Christian renounces his faith or even doesn’t recognise the gospel any more? What happens when they no longer can make it to church or attend Holy Communion or joyously join in to do street evangelism? Are they suddenly lost to God too? These are several of the questions we were discussing as we encouraged our selves.
Is dementia supposed to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? I believe not. It actually should make us run back to the gospel of hope.
Paul reminds us : For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8: 38-39)
Dementia therefore cannot separate me from the love of God that is in Christ. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And the same God knows that in my old age my body and mind will age and wear thin but His promise to sustain my soul in fellowship with Him carries its seal not only for this life time but also into the age to come.
The doctrine of election, like every truth about God, involves mystery and sometimes stirs controversy. But should be a source of comfort for every believer – even those beginning to see the dreary effects of dementia. We do not know who else he has chosen among those who do not yet believe, nor why it was his good pleasure to choose us in particular. What we do know is, first, that had we not been chosen for life we would not be believers now (for only the elect are brought to faith), and, second, that as elect believers we may rely on God to finish in us the good work that he started (1 Cor. 1:8-9; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18). Knowledge of one’s election thus brings comfort and joy. God will still remember me in that dark hour when my body and mind do not work together.
Finally I will finish with the words of Matthew Henry:
“What a change will certainly be made with us if we should live to be old! Those who, when they were young, had strength of body and vigor of mind, and could easily go through business and hardship, and take the pleasures they had a mind to, when they shall be old, will find their strength gone, like Samson, when his hair was cut and he could not shake himself as at other times… It is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it; for what is our chief end but this, to die to the Lord, at the word of the Lord? When we die patiently, submitting to the will of God—die cheerfully, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God,—and die usefully, witnessing to the truth and goodness of religion and encouraging others, we glorify God in dying: and this is the earnest expectation and hope of all good Christians, as it was Paul’s, that Christ may be magnified in them living and dying.”