Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where to Stop the Buck?

Short note.  In Philosophy class, we were going over Descartes' Mind/Body dualism and the question posed by Princess something-or-other to Descartes: :"By what means can a pure thinking substance (mind) cause a material substance (body) to move?  After some banter back and forth, and progression on to Malebranche's occasionalism, I noticed that there's always the next question.  What I mean is, you can continue asking "why" and "how" of every explanation given for any state of affairs ad infinitum.  As some atheists love to do in the following manner:
Q. "How did the Universe come to be"?
A. "God made it"
Q. "Who made God?"

You see what I mean.  But here's the thing: The Scientific endeavor that is now in progress won't take "just because" for an answer on anything.  There must be an explanation for everything, every process, every motion, every force, EVERYTHING.  Yet Science is in search of a "Theory of Everything" (T.O.E.).  But if Science remains consistent, it can never have a TOE, because the moment it decides that everything reduces to strings or whatever, then there is still the inevitable question "what causes those thingamajigs to exist and act that way?" and the search must go on infinitely.

So it seems to me, as useful as this habit of questioning has proved to be, there must be at least one place, possibly many, where the buck stops, where the questioning process itself is meaningless, where we have something, someONE, of Whom when asked "Why does He/It exist and function in such a way" the only answer possible will not be "because of this or that internal mechanism/thingie" but must simply be "just because" - NO FURTHER EXPLANATION POSSIBLE.

Something like when you have a guy who sees a flaming bush that tells him to take his shoes off and go tell the Egyptian dictator to let the Hebrews go, and the guy asks "Who should I say sent me", gets the answer:


Alzheimers, Identity, Covenant.

What if I don't remember God?  What If I stop being "me"?

That is, what if I get alzheimer's?

A conversation with a fellow student/co-worker @ SPU who's been assigned this book for her psych class made me think about something I once wanted to write a blog about.
One of the chapters in the book talks about Alzheimers, and asks "if you have a soul, how come neuron degradation causes you to lose your memories and sense of God, and even your recollection of being a Christian?" I don't know what the book says in reply, if anything (from her description, it sounds like it just presents several accounts as challenges to the idea that we have souls and non-material memories).  That's not necessarily what I had to say.  But I have thought about this before.

A couple months ago I was listening to a John MacArthur sermon on being a pastor and he mentioned his old mentor Charles Feinberg who had died of Alzheimers.  He told (in brief) the story of how this ridiculously intelligent and holy Messianic Jew had deteriorated to the point where he no longer remembered that he had believed in Jesus as Messiah, and thought he was still a rabbinic orthodox Jew.

Needless to say, that thought troubled me quite a bit.  Macarthur didn't seem to think of it as a problem, but to me it was a horrible thought...that I (or anyone) could possibly because of a degenerative disease reject and disregard God?  Wouldn't God keep that from happening?  Apparently not.  So, disturbed, I searched for other stories of people with alzheimers who had during that time lost their memories of God/scripture, prayer, became nasty and foul-mouthed, etc...

But after having thought about it, I realized that there are many temporary times that I "forget God' - when I'm waking up after a hard school/work week and no sleep, and it takes like 5 minutes to remember my own name.  Am I no longer "me" then?  Have I lost my salvation?  How about when I'm asleep?  Obviously, the "real me" is more than whatever consciousness is getting processed through my neurons at any given moment. Well then, what am I?

Scripture says that "Your life is hidden with Christ in God"  "We know that we are children of God, what we shall be is not yet known." "You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places"  It sounds as if the real you, the real center of you-ness, is in the hand of God somewhere, safeguarded despite whatever nasty things might happen to your body or mental acuity.  So you being you doesn't depend on any absolute continuity of mental function - thank goodness!  Otherwise you would constantly be blipping in and out of existence every time you zoned out, were on heavy medication, fell asleep or got hit on the head.

And as far as "losing your faith" via Alzheimers, I recalled that our relationship to God is based on a covenant, like a marriage covenant.  And that made me think of the movie "The Notebook" (yes, yes, I know.)  In the story, a man cares for his wife who has alzheimers and doesn't remember him, even telling him to get lost at some points  of the movie.  The husband, of course, doesn't leave her but continues to care for her very lovingly.  If a human being responds in such a way to the other member of a covenant when they contract alzheimers, then how could we think that God, who allowed his creature to contract the disease, would do any less?

Alzheimers is terminal, but just like zoning out after a hard day's/night's work, it's temporary.  It doesn't last forever.  God will raise you from the dead and renew your body in the pattern of New Creation - all neurons intact - and you won't have alzheimers' any more.  Yes, it lasts longer, but it is ultimately just as temporary of a condition as any other we experience.

All that to say,

1.) our "souls", our authentic selves, are in God's hands and are being formed by a process connected to our lives here on earth but in a way so little revealed it's difficult to speculate how it works until the day "the sons of God (you &I) are revealed".  Therefore, we ought not to be bothered by the conundrums of consciousness here on earth.
2.) God's in a covenant relationship with us, like marriage.  There are certain conditions to covenants (if we deny him, He will deny us), but inherent is the fact of God's faithfulness even if we lose faith for some time (if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself).

The prospect of Alzheimer's or other Dementia is still pretty terrifying, but it is comforting to contemplate that they are not the end, that even if we forget Him, God does not forget us - that we are in a large and compassionate Hand.