Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can You Keep the Faith When You Lose Your Mind?

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.


  1. There is a great chapter in Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner who talks about her soon to be father in law. She mentions the importance of rote prayer. Though this man didn't often remember who was who & where the kitchen was in his house, he was able to pray the prayers during the service. It challenged my views on the Common Book of Prayer & really how important it is esp. when your "mind" may be going. Check it out!

    Another note, my mother truly believes that people can accept Christ in this diminshed mental state. She feels that the person is more like a child & can accept Christ easier. She recently led a neighbor to the Lord who has dementia. She has been following up & though this woman's mind is not healed, my mother has seen some change in her.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,...so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, 'LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.'" I Cor. 1:26-31 (excerpts)

  3. This is an interesting thought, because in some people it's their intelligence that tend to make them turn from God. A lot of agnostics/atheists I know push God away because they can not comprehend scientifically that there is a God. I really believe that God is in all of us (yes, even if we are trying to push Him away)....and will make every effort to get everyone to get to know Him. So, yes, even in a poor state of mind, God will speak to you. Perhaps, even more....because you're mind is less crowded with the thoughts of this world. Just my thoughts.

  4. I think what we can rely on here is that God promises to bring the good work he begins in us to completion. Even if our mental capacities degenerate at the end of our life, if God has been at work kin us he will continue to work somehow, and Christ's sacrifice on our behalf will count toward us.

  5. Spiritual healing is one of the topics that causes me to question what faith I have left. Your question about healing mental retardation is an important one - many of my friends who point to the healing power of their faith point to diseases that are hidden from the rest of the world. Chronic pain cannot be seen. Neither can cancer (at least not until the terminal stages), alcoholism, schizophrenia, or many of the other problems that I have been told have been cured through faith and the power of prayer.

    I have never heard of a person with mental retardation or alzheimers being cured. I have never heard of a burn victim regrowing their skin, or an amputee regrowing a leg. The things that seem to be healed are all problems that can either heal naturally on their own sometimes, or can be attributed to doctor's misdiagnosis.

    These are the things that gnaw at my faith, and that I hope someone can give me an honest, solid answer to.


  6. Louie, I wish I could give you an honest, solid answer. I don't really understand it, either, and the best I can say is that God is too big for us to be able to understand His ways.

    Philip Yancey also had an interesting idea in The Jesus I Never Knew -- something to the effect that Jesus' healings were never meant to make us believe but only to let us know our belief is focused on the right person. (He said it much better than that, though, and I can't find the quote anymore.)


Thanks for your comments! Agree or disagree, but please comment respectfully.