Spiritual Alzheimer’s

May 22, 2005 / No. 3255

Dear radio friends,

     Remember these names of God:  El ro’i (God who sees); El-shaddai (God almighty, or God all-sufficient); El-gabore (mighty God); Jehovah-jireh (the Lord will provide); Jehovah-meqadosh (the Lord most holy); Jehovah-shammah (the Lord is there); Jehovah-shalom (the Lord, our peace).  Remember.  Do not forget.

     Remember these names:  Tom Brady (quarterback of New England Patriots); Ozzie Osborne (well, if you don’t know who that is, I’m not going to tell you); Dixie Chicks (reportedly a singing group); Tom Cruz (movie star); Terri Hatchet (one of the desperate housewives).

     What is the point?  The point is this:  All of God’s children have what may be called spiritual Alzheimer’s disease.  We cannot remember what we should; and we do remember what we should not, causing us to humble ourselves before God, to adore God for His infinite patience, love, and faithfulness, and calling us to repent and praise God for His faithfulness of remembering us.

     I am going to talk today about spiritual Alzheimer’s.  We often ask the question, Why the Lord sends certain diseases upon His children, dreadful diseases?  Especially we ask those questions when the person is old and we would say, “Is not their journey now complete; may they not be delivered and taken to Thy presence?”  Very often in the last days of our life the Lord sends to us some of the heaviest burdens and afflictions.  We might ask that question concerning Alzheimer’s disease.  We have an answer, I believe, at least a partial answer why the Lord sends such diseases — especially with the disease of Alzheimer’s.  I believe that therein the Lord reflects our spiritual state, that among all of His children, even those who are the most mentally keen and sharp, there is the sin of spiritual Alzheimer’s.  We do not remember the names, the mercies, the goodness of our God.  We do not remember where we are at as God’s children, causing us to humble ourselves, to repent, to adore God for His infinite patience upon us, and to praise Him for His faithfulness.

     When I refer today to the disease of Alzheimer’s, I in no way wish to minimize the heaviness of this affliction, and that only the mighty grace of God is able to bear us up under such a way.  It is indeed a most difficult and dreadful affliction.  We are told that Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.  It is the loss of memory and of mental capacity.  And it has become much more publicly recognized in recent years.  It is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that results in memory loss, impaired thinking, and personality change, as well as frustration and anger.  It is a disease that follows a process that could go on up to twenty years.  It is a disease that is always fatal and primarily begins after the age of 65.  However, we are told, ten percent of those who are afflicted begin to experience the symptoms already in their forties and fifties.  The symptoms are readily recognized.  There is the loss of short-term memory (the loss of people’s names and the loss of where you are at); the loss of cognitive abilities (that is, the abilities of the brain to reason, to make decisions, and to make judgments).  There is the loss of sense of time or the ability to function, to eat, to clothe oneself.  Very often, those who are afflicted with it will no longer recognize their husband or wife, their own family, their children, their friends.  And one begins to revert to earlier times, most often from the ages of 10-17, so that their childhood or teenage years are relived.  Along with the symptoms there is often depression, withdrawal, stubbornness, frustration, confusion, irritability.  A disease that is dreadful.  And we are told that the symptoms are especially prominent at the close of the day.

     Recently I received a note from a young lady who has worked in a nursing home among those who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  I had asked her about this dreadful ailment, and she took the time to write a few lines.  I would like to share with you what she sent to me.

     She writes:  “I’ll just tell you a little bit about life without a memory.  I have worked at the same job for three years.  I can name three residents who might remember me from day-to-day.  I could have spent sixteen hours with them the day before and they won’t know my name the next morning.  Most of them will recognize me as someone they trust, but that is all.  I guess one of the best ways I can put it is:  Try to imagine waking up every morning and not knowing where you are, where your wife or husband is, not knowing the person who is checking in on you every hour, and not even knowing who you are.

     “One of the saddest things that I have seen for the family is that very often they no longer remember their children even when the children are present.  They think that they are young.

     “Another sad thing I remember was caring for an old lady whose husband had died a couple of hours before.  She sat by his bedside while he died, not understanding that he was dying, and becoming frustrated with him because the family was there and he wasn’t responding.  He died.  But she did not remember.  The family told her but she forgot within ten minutes.  For the family, it was either lie about it and say he is in the hospital, or tell her over and over and over again that her husband was dead, breaking her heart over and over and over again.  It was very hard for the family and for her.

     “A common occurrence for people with Alzheimer’s is that they revert to their younger days.  One lady I took care of got up every morning to go to school.  Actually, that was the only way that we could get her out of bed.  Many days, in her mind, she had been walking to school all day without food or water and had lost her little brother or sister on the way.

     “Violence is another common thing.  I guess I would be violent too if someone I didn’t recognize came in and tried to make me change my clothes or to get cleaned up.  Alzheimer’s takes away the ability to do the simplest things, such as:  buttoning your shirt, taking your clothes off, using the bathroom.  After some time it begins to so work on people that the person no longer remembers how to sit up, stand up, or walk.

     “Just think.  Constant confusion.  That sick feeling in your stomach when you don’t know what is happening and you are totally lost.”

     Going back to the point of our program today, God’s people, all of them, have what might be called spiritual Alzheimer’s.  In that disease there is an accurate reflection of our spiritual life and of the infinite patience of God with us.  Is it not true — as you reflect upon your own spiritual life, do you not see it?  Only now, as we look into spiritual Alzheimer’s, there will be, at the conclusion, good news, very good news!  There is a cure for this.

     The symptoms of spiritual Alzheimer’s are with the people of God.  They are with you and they are with me.  First of all, can you remember God’s name?  Can you remember God’s name as readily as you can remember other names?  Was it five minutes ago that I gave the explanation of the meaning of God’s name El-gabore?  You remember?  El ro’i.  El-shaddai.  Jehovah-jireh.  Jehovah-meqadosh.  Tom Cruz.  Terri Hatchet.  Do you remember?  Do you have selective memory?

     When we talk of spiritual Alzheimer’s we are talking about a disease not of the mind but of the heart.  For all true spiritual knowledge is a knowledge of the heart.  And if that spiritual knowledge does not abide in the heart, it is not real.  We can forget God’s name in a moment of  trial.  When we do not understand what is happening to us, then we do not remember His name!  Jehovah-jireh (the Lord will provide).  Or, in a moment of temptation — was it Friday night, with a group of young people?  Perhaps you did not want to go but you were invited.  There was going to be drinking, a party, and you went there.  You said you would not drink, but then, yes, you did.  And then other things happened.  What was His name?  Do you remember the name of God — the God that you confess:  El-ro’i (God who sees all), Jehovah-shammah (the Lord is there)?

     What about the other day when you were at the job (or in the school) and you cursed, you swore?  Did you remember the name of God?

     But there is also among us a loss of short-term memory, a short-term memory of what God has done.  We seem not to be able to remember very far, very long, the great, staggering blessings of God.  What blessings, you ask?  You see what I mean?  Forgiveness of sins.  Can there be a greater blessing than that?  All of our sins forgiven.  Have you ever asked, What has He done for me lately?  Where is He?  How can you, how can I, forget?  He pardons all our iniquities — the infinite debt and weight of sin, graciously forgiven in Jesus Christ.  And we ask:  exactly what has God done for us?  All the physical blessings — everything that we possess — life and breath and food.  Is it not so often true that as children of God we open our Bibles, quickly do our devotions, and are up within five minutes to consume His goodness?  And when we have consumed His goodness, we forget that it was God who gave and we return to Him no thanks.

     How long do you remember the lessons that He teaches you in the way of trial?  How long do you remember the greatness of His grace upon you when He calls you to walk in the way of trial?  We have a very short memory.  We require a very patient and loving God who needs to tell us over and over and over again.  He is far more patient with us than we will ever be with another human being.

     But then there is also the symptom in our spiritual Alzheimer’s that we forget.  We forget where we are, we forget where we are going.  We forget what day it is — for the time is short and the day of the Lord is at hand.  We forget who we are:  we are pilgrim-strangers on the way to eternal glory.  We forget where we are going and where our home is:  in heaven with Jesus Christ.  We begin to think that this world is our home.

     Where are you today?  Do you remember?  Do you know what life is today?  Do you know, young person, that you are on a battlefield, a spiritual battlefield?  Do you know and do you remember your Friend, your Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can cause you to stand up in this battlefield through faith in Him?  Where are you going?  Do you know where you are at?  So often, as children of God, we lose our way, we do not remember, we cannot say where we are at.

     Yes, Alzheimer’s disease is a dreadful thing.  But do you not see that all of God’s children suffer from spiritual Alzheimer’s?  We forget the name of God.  What was the meaning of Jehovah-jireh?  I said it twice now:  the Lord will provide.  What was El-ro’i?  Do you remember?  The God who sees.  Jehovah-meqadosh?  Do you remember that one?  Lord God Most Holy.  Tom Cruz?  Do you remember?

     I said that there is a good message about this.  The good word is this:  there is a cure.  The cure of spiritual Alzheimer’s is repentance.  The grace of repentance restores memory.  I do not have time today to go through the Scriptures and show you that, but you can do your own study.  Do a study of the word “remember” in the Scriptures and find out how often that word “remember” is associated and connected with repentance.  I’ll give you just one example:  The prodigal son.  It was repentance that stirred his memory of his father’s house.  Apart from repentance he did not remember anything.  He could not have told you his father’s name.  He could not have told you much of his father’s house while he was in the way of sin.  But when repentance came, his memory became sharp.  We must repent.  That is the cure for our spiritual Alzheimer’s.

     But there is another word here.  That word is this:  We must remember the Lord in the days of our youth.  In physical Alzheimer’s, one resorts very commonly to the days of his youth.  Now, follow me carefully, young people.  I trust that you are listening.  Very often we are told when we are young, “Remember the Lord, for you could die.”  Perhaps the Lord in this year, in your school life, has touched your life by taking away a classmate and bringing to you the reality, the sobering reality, of the certainty of death — that we could die at any moment — and, by faith, given you to trust in a faithful God who lives and reigns forever.  But now my point is that, as a young person, you ought not remember the name of God just because you could die today.  You must take heed to your spiritual life today because the spiritual life you live today (12, 13, 16-years old) could well be the spiritual life you live when you are 80.  You may live till you are 80.  You may live till you are 75 or 85.  The Lord may send to you dementia.  You will resort to the days of your youth.  How are you living now?  Those things that fill your life right now, not just because you might die tomorrow, but those things that fill your life right now might indeed be the quality, the character, of your life when you are 80.  How do you want to die?  At what spiritual level will you die?  Where is your heart right now, today?  In the Lord Jesus Christ it matters.  It always matters.  The things of this world — fornication, drunkenness, cursing, swearing.  Where is the level of your spiritual life today?  For its level could well be the level of your last hour.

     Then the third thing we want to remember, in conclusion, is this:  the wonderful fact that Jehovah remembers me.  Is that not a glorious thing?  Is there anything greater than this in all of the Scriptures?  Isaiah says in chapter 49 that God has engraven us upon the palms of His hands, so that He cannot forget.  Yes, there are things God cannot do.  He cannot go contrary to Himself.  He is a faithful God.  He will always remember.  He never forget His children, for they are seared into His heart through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son.  He remembers each name.  He remembers each moment.  He never takes His eye from His children.  He always knows.  Jehovah will remember me.  Oh, what grace, what peace.  What shame I have that I must confess that so often I do not remember Him.  But He always remembers me!

     Jehovah remembers.  You who suffer under Alzheimer’s, the physical disease, and family members, remember:  God remembers your loved one.  And, remember this:  that Jehovah is not dependent upon a cognitive brain, that is, a brain that is functioning to be able to communicate with His child.  He draws near to the soul.  No matter how confused the mind may be, He draws near to the soul through the Word of God.  So read the Word of God to your loved one.  Be sure to go and visit them.  Be sure you do that.  Be sure you pray.  Be sure you read God’s Word, for I tell you, I tell you on the authority of God Himself, that God communes with the spirit of His children.  If their mind does not function, this presents to God no impediment.  God is able to communicate with those who cannot communicate to you, through His Word and by His Spirit.

     So, remember the name of your God today.  Hold fast to Him in faith and dependence upon Him in Jesus Christ.  And rejoice that all the trials of this present time serve, they work, our salvation, until that last day when we shall stand before Him and our memory will be perfect.  We will know all.  And we will remember the name of our God.

     Let us pray.

      Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word.  And we pray that Thou wilt bless it now to our hearts.  We admit, we confess, that our memory now, due to our sins, is so selective that it seems that sin can engrave itself upon our mind, and the spiritual things so quickly fly away.  Give us to lay hold upon the spiritual reality and to forsake everything that is evil, that we might walk in the light of Thee.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.