It has been a few months since I wrote a blog post about dementia. I finished reading John Swinton’s Dementia: Living in the Memories of God. In it, Swinton constructs a theology of God’s memory. God does not remember in the same way as humans do because human memories are stored in an organic brain, and God does not have a brain. Memory is not simply a recall of facts; it is more complex than this. We deliberately remember some things and forget others. The facts we remember are overlaid with positive or negative associations, with emotions. God’s memory is different to ours. He does not merely recall facts but knows his human creatures fully.
Memory loss is a key aspect of dementia. Some things are remembered and others forgotten, especially recent events. People with dementia sometimes forget family and friends. When we think about our lives and what they might mean, we often think in terms of our memories. Our lives are an accumulation of events and relationships. But what if you cannot remember those events and relationships? What if the memories that sum up the life of the person erode away? Is there a person left?
I wanted to think about memory and memory loss in a different way. The Bible tells us that we will one day face the judgement of God. This is often considered to be a bad thing and something people want to avoid. Now if you have decided to live your life without God then it will no doubt be a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God on that day. However, for those who trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord, the day of judgement is something for which we offer God praise. He is just and good. That day will bring his justice to light (Rev 16:7).
But it also serves to show us something about what our lives actually mean. Life has meaning because our deeds are not forgotten. God remembers everything we do. Our deeds are recorded in his book (Ps 139:16; Rev 20:12). Everything we do matters. This has direct application to the problem of memory loss in dementia. Although the person may forget much of their life, this does not mean that the life becomes meaningless. God never forgets what you have done, even if you forget it. What we do in Christ is not forgotten.