We are defective copies of imperfect copies of flawed copies. Humanity’s fall into sin introduced, not only death but also physical decay and disease. We admit as much every Sunday in our Confession of Sin: “We are by nature sinful” (LSB 151, 167).
“Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). So, here’s the depressing part: The human race is in a physical death spiral. Science even confirms this.
Research into the human genome reveals we are genetically decaying and losing information, not “evolving” and gaining information. Geneticists discovered the human genome is becoming more corrupted with each passing generation through mutations. Now, if such aberrations improved us and made us stronger and more robust, why not celebrate? They don’t. At best, these mutations are neutral (as best as we can tell); at worst, they harm.
Our genes play a part in someone getting cancer, suffering from Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s, even the rate we age. The action between our genes and our environment also influence something called “epigenetics,” which genes turn on and off. Both biology and environment impact what takes place on a cellular and genetic level within our bodies.
Our genes are decaying—the result of genetic mutation. This genetic decline continues undiminished since our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, inflicting a shockwave of sin and death. Since that saddest of days, mutations are even more frequent. Is Rheumatoid Arthritis such a mutation? In the bones of the dead more than a few hundred years old, we find no cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
So, what of Alzheimer’s? Statisticians and scientists both agree: The disease is on the rise. Is our environment setting off this cascade, or genetic degradation, or both? Is this affliction what some call, “Type 3 Diabetes”? I am unsure—but few families are left unscathed, including mine.
So, I travel to Washington to relieve my sister of her duties in caring for our parents. Alzheimer’s afflicts both my mom and dad, which twists both their minds in disastrous ways. Depending on how long they live, they may forget who they are, or even who Jesus is. How is their salvation now affected?
Now, if our salvation were the result of our intellect, that would be problematic. For if someone doesn’t even recognize who Jesus is, how can he be saved? How about this? Can an infant name his mother, understand her characteristics, and describe who she is? No. Here’s a better question. Does the baby trust his mother and realize all is well when she holds him? Yes.
Faith and salvation do not depend on our knowledge—or intellectual consent. Salvation does not depend on us but God. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8), which He gives in the ways He chooses to do so.
Think of the infant. Scripture tells us baptism “saves” (1 Peter 3:21) and gives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Born—did you bring about your physical birth? Nope. You are the result of what your mom and dad chose to do. So, also in matters of salvation: The Holy Spirit gives someone spiritual birth in the waters of baptism and brings him into God’s kingdom (John 3:3, 5).
Faith is a gift and not the product of our intellect. Someone losing his intelligence doesn’t mean his trust in God has shriveled into nothingness! “My grace is enough for you because my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). “Nothing in creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
You did not “choose” to become a child of God—even if your experience or feelings tell you so when God first gave you spiritual life. For “you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” empty of spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1). To become someone’s child involves birth—baptism. God creates faith in our hearts in the ways He wants to; He is also the One who nourishes our trust in Him, even into eternal life.
When family members or friends suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, find solace in what God tells us. He is the One who will preserve them in the one, true faith.
By God’s grace, because of Jesus, the Christian will joy in God’s presence for all eternity—even those now afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Since someone’s belief in God is not the product of his intellectual abilities, even the loss of one’s “brain power” does not mean someone’s trust in God is gone or withered away. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…. they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them” (Revelation 14:13). Amen.