When a strong, hard-working and talented craftsman sits slumped in mental confusion unable to fasten a snap or string two thoughts together into meaningful speech, the reality is clear. The outer man is decaying. The brain as a function of the physical body is wasting away. What is left?
I have been mulling over these things with particular concern this past week as my own Dad has taken a sharp turn for the worse in his journey with Alzheimer’s. How can I pray for him? What understanding do I need in order to see things from God’s perspective? Our bodies are described as ‘tents’ that house the ‘inner man’, temporary wind-blown affairs that grow tattered and burdensome, tents in which we groan in anticipation of the real deal, the imperishable version.
What resides in the tent that is our body? A soul with an eternal destiny, whether that be endless torment or unending life! As I understand it the soul is the very center of my being, my ‘heart’. From it emanate the values and beliefs that shape who I am as a person. So what happens when the brain goes ‘haywire’ and the body is no longer able to communicate who I am to people around me? [Incidentally, this belief in an immaterial part of us is not to be taken for granted. Secularists will mostly deny it, and those who acknowledge an unseen reality want to attribute it to brain chemicals or some such ‘scientifically’ verifiable substance.] Who am I then? Am I utterly alone in my plight?
I was sitting here this morning considering briefly how to pray for my Dad when these words came to my attention: “Though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom.8:10) A precious comfort is given to the believer, for not only does his ‘tent’ house his own soul, but God’s spirit has also come to dwell there. He has brought to life the spirit of the man and is able to commune with him there by His Spirit. The inner man is alive and well! The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are indeed God’s children. (Rom. 8:16) Sweet reality, no matter what is happening on the outside, the inner man is being renewed day by day, ever being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. This is the believer’s destiny! The whole creation is said to be waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. Who’s to say whether Alzheimer’s cannot be part of the refining process by which God perfects his saints? Does God stop working all things for the good of those who love him when they have lost their mental abilities? Does His Spirit vacate its residence in us because of physical disease? No, in fact His Spirit is given as a guarantee of our inheritance to come—that imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us, guarded by God’s power through faith. (I Pet. 1:4-9)
And it gets even better, there’s more to the work of the Spirit. How am I to pray? How is my dad to pray if his mind won’t work? When no one understands his confusion? When he feels abandoned by his own family and sits forlorn chin in hands… Can the Spirit stir in his spirit to elicit prayer, to give comfort? I believe so. We are given a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in Romans 8: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (8:26-27) Does it get any better than that?! The verse following reminds that God is working in everything for the good of the one who loves Him. What is this good? Conformity to the image of His own Son—via choosing, calling, justifying, and at last glorifying! Is Alzheimer’s disease an obstacle to His purposes. Will it separate one from the love of God? Assuredly not. The lyrics to the powerful hymn “The Love of God” further attest to this fact. Are you aware where the 3rd stanza originated? It was found written on the wall of an inmate’s room in an insane assylum:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
So how do I pray for my dad these days? I am praying from Paul’s prayers that God will grant him to be strengthened with all power through His Spirit in his inner man, so that being rooted and grounded in Christ he may be able to comprehend the full extent of God’s love for him and in so doing, be filled up with all the fullness of the God who is Love. (Eph.3:16-18)
Not a bad prayer to pray for any of us I’d say—till we all come to maturity in Christ and the perishable has put on the imperishable.
Praise be to God who leads us in triumph in Christ! (I Cor.15:56)
May your New Year be filled with the awareness of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—Christ in us, our hope of glory.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.