Alzheimer’s and the Imago Dei

January 9, 2015

Alzheimer’s may be the most feared disease of any in our culture because of the slow and painful way it sucks the life of out of people we love and the burden it places on caregivers. How should Christians think about this disease in a way that’s unique from the rest of the culture? How does the Christian concept of imago dei force us to consider the dignity of those held by the grip of Alzheimers? This is a question I posed to Dr. Benjamin Mast, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and an Associate Clinical Professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville. He’s the author of a brand new book, Second Forgetting, Remembering the Power of the Gospel in Alzheimer’s. 

What is unique about the biblical ethic of the imago dei that changes that way we think about Alzheimer’s patients?

We live in a hyper cognitive society where our personhood and value are often closely tied to intellectual ability and achievement, and in this context people with Alzheimer’s are often seen and treated as less than full persons. If we are only the sum of our cognitive capacities then Alzheimer’s would indeed take away our personhood. The Biblical understanding of the person was never tied to intelligence or even to our ability to contribute something to society. Our identity is deeply rooted in our status as image bearers of God. Even in our broken cognitive state, we are nonetheless fully redeemed, fully known and fully loved by God. Not even Alzheimer’s can separate us from the love of God or remove us from his sustaining care.

The biblical view of personhood gives us hope. Even when Alzheimer’s robs a person of the ability to speak and we can no longer know their thoughts or heart, God knows them and intercedes with prayers on their behalf. Even the most severely impaired people matter to God and they should matter to us. They deserve honor, respect, and loving care, even when they cannot respond with spoken gratitude. We love our neighbor with Alzheimer’s because God loves us, not because they love us back.

Read the rest of the interview here: