Hebrews 11:10 gives one of the greatest statements of the life of faith, a statement that has inspired the hearts of countless believers. Verse 10 tells us what kept Abraham going all those long years: “For he was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” It is easy for us to think of those who lived long ago as primitives, as men necessarily possessing a very feeble comprehension. But it is clear that Abraham had a highly developed sense of his spiritual position. What was it we ask, that allowed this man to live so heroically in such difficulties? The answer is here: “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations.”
Imagine how many times Abraham looked out from the flaps of his tent at some city or settlement in the land of his sojourn. He must have yearned for the comfort that comes with a permanent home. He had a keen desire for the things offered in that land, dusty as it was, a longing to settle down and to live in peace and rest. But our text tells us plainly that by faith he lifted his eyes upward to a city far surpassing anything set before his eyes, a city with foundations designed and built not by Canaanite kings but by the Lord of heaven. There is an obvious comparison between the tents in which Abraham lived, cities and dwellings without foundations and the city to come, the City of God, with its eternal foundations. Abraham longed for foundations but he chose the eternal perspective instead of that which passes away.
Abraham applied to his situation what we often call an eternal perspective. He considered his present in light of his future inheritance with God. This is how Christian faith is sustained in the midst of deprivation and trial. In contrast to the “buy now—pay later” attitude prevalent in the world, the Christian is willing to pay now and receive later. What makes Christians willing to make such sacrifices? Hope based on faith that the future holds something far better than the present. Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
An eternal perspective acquired from God’s Word is essential for any consistent and enduring Christian walk. One example of this is how I’ve been dealing with my dad’s dementia. Much like Abraham, I have to have an eternal perspective based in God’s Word. The Bible tells us when Jesus returns, He will bring an end to all suffering and disease. This promise of God has helped me immensely to persevere in my own Christian life, not giving up but pressing on towards Jesus. This is the key to coping with family members with mental illness, specifically the need to understand that the promises of God are as deep and wide as the character of God. Since God is as deep and as wide as it goes, God will remain true to the promises contained in His Word. This is good news if you have a parent with mental illness. This doesn’t mean I don’t cry and get sad or even heart-broken, but it does provide a framework, a reason if you will for my hope. The promises of God direct our hope not towards ourselves but towards God.
My dad’s dementia has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with. As I studied Hebrews 11:8-10, I was left with a fresh vision of God and His promises and how they are sustaining me through this season of life. First, in Hebrews 11:8-10 we see Abraham grounding his life in God and a vision for the future with God at the center of all of history. As I’ve been thinking about this truth, I’ve been reminded that I need not rely on myself. One day Jesus will return and on that day He will destroy all of His enemies. On that day, Jesus will reign supreme and He will end all sickness and disease. This promise of God helps me more than anything to understand that my dad’s disease and all disease will have an end. To put it another way, I don’t have a five step plan for how you can cope with family members with dementia or mental illness. God didn’t give such a plan; however, He did give us promises and those promises are rooted in His character and revealed in His Word. Those promises help people like you and me who are facing a horrible disease that cripples our loved ones and robs them of their memory.
When I think of what my dad’s dementia will do to his mind I break down in tears. It is sad to see an accomplished man such as my father who served for 20 plus years in the military, obtaining the rank of LTC in the US Army, as well as 40 plus years in his profession as a physical therapist, slowly waste away. It is sad to see a man like my dad who is extremely intelligent slowly reduced to a vegetable. I would be lying to you if this wasn’t hard for me and causes me to tear.
You see it’s not enough to just profess to be a Christian. You must become a possessor of your faith. James teaches that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). The point he is making there is that don’t just declare how good you are at walking the Christian life and deceive yourself. Instead of thinking “I’m just a Christian”, take possession of your faith. The difference between being a professor and a possessor of your faith is whether you implement your faith into all of life. In my situation with my dad, I am being challenged that in a lot of ways I say I’m a Christian and I believe in sound biblical doctrine, but yet during this situation I have to really assess, “Do I really believe the Bible? Do I really believe that God is good and that His plans will not be thwarted?” To ask such questions is not unbelief. It is actually very healthy because I am fully submitted to the truth of the Word of God.
Don’t just pledge allegiance to your ideas. Become fully engrossed and committed to the Word of God. Refrain from being a mere professor one who can recite a thousand mysteries and yet doesn’t live out what they say they believe. To do that is hypocrisy and hypocrisy is foolish. To believe sound doctrine is to be changed by the grace of God from one degree to another through the ministry of the Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit. The promises of God provide the framework for Christians by grounding our hope not in ourselves but in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is how I cope with my dad’s dementia even on days when it seems everything is falling apart. The promises of God can bear all the weight of our lives, because behind them is the character of an unchanging God who is faithful. That last sentence is the key to not just dealing with family members who have a mental illness. It forms the crux of how to deal with trials, difficulty and all of life by casting ourselves upon the faithfulness of God whose promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ.