My aunt, the person who introduced me to Jesus, has Alzheimer’s disease. The woman who was the most “in-charge” person of our family now looks lost among her family, can no longer go to the bathroom alone, and speaks mainly babble with a few irrelevant Pennsylvania Dutch words mixed in.
Knowing that my aunt used to be a woman of faith, I wonder how she relates to God now. She no longer plays the piano in church or hosts visiting missionaries in her home or puts us to work after Thanksgiving dinner, wrapping boxes of tissues she will deliver as Christmas gifts to the people in local nursing homes. She cannot read her Bible or pray in a language other humans can understand. Is she able to believe the basic Christian doctrines, even when she is probably no longer aware of them? Does she remember how to pray at all? Or does she know Jesus even more intimately now than she ever did before?
My own faith tends to be more intellectual than emotional. I am more likely to challenge a bit of unsound theology than to cry during a praise song (though I always seem to cry at baptisms!) For this reason, I find it difficult to grasp how someone who cannot understand that Jesus died can still have faith in Him. Yet, I’m sure it must be possible because God wants everyone to come to Him (2 Peter 3:9) and would at least give everyone the opportunity to know Him.
I find it interesting that the Bible describes Jesus healing physical ailments and spiritual problems, but never a disease that caused diminished mental capacity. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here!) Neither have I heard of anyone who was healed of Alzheimer ’s disease or severe mental retardation since the Ascension, though I have heard of people miraculously cured of cancer, alcohol addictions, and even gunshot wounds. Could it be that God doesn’t see diminished brainpower as a disability?
Though I consider intelligence one of my strengths, it seems likely to me that those who have been born with less intelligence as most of us (and those who have lost their minds to disease) must have different spiritual gifts. Could someone who is unable to interact intelligently with other humans be able to speak with God more directly than we are? I pray that if I ever do lose my ability to think clearly, I will still be able to keep my faith.