Dementia, Part 3: More Dangers of Spiritual Dementia
Posted by February 28, 2017on
While dealing with the effects of dementia on my mother, I thought about the spiritual dementia afflicting mankind and threatening us. Here are three more aspects.
In the previous two blog posts, I described the debilitating and discouraging effects of dementia on my mother and how it led me to consider a spiritual analogy to this dreaded condition. Here are three more aspects of spiritual dementia.
1. Left/right confusion.
Remember the Ninevites who, God said, could not tell their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11)? People with dementia often cannot remember what left means and what right means (hence the switching of shoes), or which tap is the hot water and which is the cold (which can be very dangerous). So telling them, “Turn off the hot water,” followed by “the one on the left,” doesn’t necessarily help them, which can be very frustrating for the caregiver.
Those with spiritual dementia show a similar confusion about what is right and wrong, good and bad.
2. Lack of direction.
Perhaps an extension of the left-right confusion is that people with dementia often lose their sense of direction. This phenomenon is not well understood. Some, like my mother, can’t find their way from one room to another (although they’ve traced that path hundreds of times before). These dementia patients don’t wander off; they need help getting where they’re going, simply because they do not know how to get from point A to point B.
Other dementia patients are restless and frequently wander and stray. (It’s said that right-handed people will keep turning right and left-handed people will keep turning left—a valuable piece of information when reporting a missing dementia patient who wandered off.)
People without God in their lives also lack direction. They literally “lose their way.” There are no familiar landmarks. They have problems, and they don’t know how to solve them. And they don’t understand why they can’t solve them. They may be bright, attractive and successful, but they have no spiritual direction due to spiritual dementia.
There is another aspect to this. Our congregation meets in a city over 90 minutes away from our home, and we travel there by car. Riding in the back seat, my mother usually fell asleep on the way there—but never on the way back! Almost every week, like clockwork, about halfway to two-thirds of the way home, the fretful complaints would start: “We’ve passed that same tree about five times! Why are you driving in circles? Why don’t you just head home? I want to go home!”
How often must the Israelites have felt that way, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years! They were being punished, true, yet even when we are close to God, we sometimes don’t understand why He is leading us along the path we are taking. It seems like we are passing the same tree five times—and maybe we are if we need to have a lesson repeated.
But many times, there is no aspect of punishment. Like children or elderly dementia patients, we may feel like the person in control of the vehicle is driving aimlessly and inconveniencing us. People with spiritual dementia can’t perceive that God is there and in control and knows what He is doing. They think they know better than the Driver. We must always remember that God the Father and Jesus Christ care tenderly for us and will help us get to the Kingdom if we will only trust Them.
3. Inability to recognize familiar faces.
Sometimes people with dementia are suspicious or paranoid of even people they once loved deeply. They unjustly accuse their loved ones of stealing or other offenses. It is very painful for a spouse of 50 years or more to have the person look them right in the face and say, “Who are you?” or to be accused of having stolen jewelry (which, in reality, was misplaced by the person with dementia).
Similarly, a person with spiritual dementia cannot recognize the true God. Many people have wrong impressions of God and fear Him unjustly (“God will send me to hell for doing this”) or see Him differently than He really is (“God’s grace does away with the need to keep His law”). People often don’t recognize the genuine love and justness of the true God. To know God better, consider subscribing to our new seven-day Journey “Knowing God.”
The next time you feel distant from God, ask yourself, “Do I suffer from symptoms of spiritual dementia?” and ask God to help you draw close to Him again, and to once again “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
Read Blog 1 and Blog 2 of this series.
To learn more about thinking like Christ, read our article “Reading the Mind of God.”