Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

If a person were a Christian and served God faithfully before getting Dementia will God condemn them for sins committed after getting Dementia? That is, if they do not remember to ask for His forgiveness?

Sincerely, Debra

Dear Debra,

Dementia is a terrible thing. We all know someone, or of someone, who is mentally degenerating. Also, we all know of one or more families who are facing years of long-term debilitating care for a loved one who is losing his/her mind.

One of the pastors in our church, we’ll call him Paul, had a dementia-ridden mother-in-law who was under he and his wife’s care. She was living with them and their children. The tension at home was increasing with each passing day.

One morning at work he was telling us about an incident the night before when mother-in-law had a headache. Paul came into the kitchen to find her taking aspirin to remove her headache pain. How many doses had she taken? Fortunately, it was not enough to warrant stomach pumping. The aspirin bottle was rather full. So, Paul took the bottle of aspirin away and hid it from mother-in-law.

Paul proceeded to make a light-hearted joke about how tempting it was to leave the aspirin bottle open on the counter. Their problem would be solved by morning! We all chuckled. It was funny.

Then, Paul began to cry.

Debra, about the only passage in the Bible that has to do directly with dementia is found in  Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 . Solomon painted a poetical picture of what it’s like to grow old and die. It is not a pretty picture. Every part of the body is slowing down and declining—including the brain and the mind—until finally the “golden bowl” is broken.

You ask, can someone with dementia sin? Of course they can! In the early stages of dementia people are still cognizant of their actions and responsible for what they do. They are able to repent, confess and ask for forgiveness. However, I believe that there comes a time in the latter stages when they have little concept of where they are and what they are doing. Suppose that one in the last stages of dementia picks up a knife in anger and stabs someone—and within minutes the act is entirely forgotten. Their behavior is certainly sinful. However, it is not possible for that demented one to deal appropriately with the consequences—including confession and repentance in order to receive forgiveness.

In this case I can’t imagine that God would hold this sin against the demented one. God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness will surely be forthcoming.

Now, let’s be clear that no one goes to Heaven based on whether or not they have unforgiven sin when they die. When we received Christ all of our sins were forever forgiven. Nothing we can do in the future can take away salvation—whether we lose our minds or not (Read Romans 8:28-39).

Those in the final stages can certainly commit sinful acts. But, it matters little whether or not they ask for forgiveness. According to the Bible, the blood Jesus shed on the cross covers all of our sin.