WHY WOULD GOD ALLOW US TO LOSE OUR MINDS? WANDERING THROUGH A THEODICY OF ALZHEIMER’S

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is one of the most devastating and widespread neurological illnesses for the elderly. This paper will seek to provide an answer to what many inevitably ask, “Why would God allow us to lose our minds to Alzheimer’s?” Initially, it may seem that the Bible has little if anything to say about mental illness, let alone AD. Nevertheless, Scripture does provide a foundation and framing for an answer that defends the goodness and love of God while retaining an element of mystery.
Part One will focus on Alzheimer’s Disease itself and clarify the implications of the question. First, it must begin with an accurate understanding of AD and its neurological/behavioral manifestations (Glannon). The disease causes cortical atrophy, plaques outside brain’s neurons, and tangles inside the neurons, which result in memory loss, personality change, dementia, and a phenomenon known as wandering (Silverstein, et al.). Second, related implications need to be discerned. In other words, the person affected by AD has attendant concerns (Rao/Asha). These are linked to attitudes like fear, regret, anger, resentment, etc. In addition, the focus here will be on clarifying three main implications related to their challenge to God’s involvement in AD: personhood, autonomy, and burden. In other words, this disease challenges the essence of personhood and the loss of self, which leads to the inability to live out personal life dreams and goals (DeBaggio, Weaver, Bryden, Capps, Post). Related is the challenge of the perceived loss of autonomy in light of capacity and capability of decision-making (O’Connor/Purves). These issues culminate in the burden AD places upon family and caregivers.
Part Two will develop three elements that flow from the theological framing of the AD theodicy. First, the source of AD is rooted in the Adamic Fall, with specific reference to the consequences of death and natural evil (Rom 5:12; 8:21; etc.). Yet how does the Fall bring about this brain deterioration disease? In short, it is found in the Fall’s attendant aging process and its types of physiological degeneration (Gillen). Second, all disease will be shown to be compatible with the main models of God’s goodness and love in light of His providence and human free will. Third, it must be demonstrated that the Fall’s destructive effects do not erase personhood. Selfhood is not just an intuitive social/relational construct (Kitwood; O’Connor/Purves), nor merely reducible to select human functions or medical/legal definitions. Even AD sufferers retain the image of God and remain a part of the crown of God’s creation.
Part Three will provide a concluding discussion on practical outcomes based on this study’s trajectory. Several questions surface. How does this theological framing help people to trust in God’s providence and experience hope? How might a sound theodicy assist the emotions that inevitably accompany AD? And what value is there in soul- and connection-building theodicies?

2 thoughts on “WHY WOULD GOD ALLOW US TO LOSE OUR MINDS? WANDERING THROUGH A THEODICY OF ALZHEIMER’S”

Leave a Comment