Families who see a loved one age and develop Alzheimer's witness one of life's more horrifying transformations. Names are forgotten. Shared memories are no longer shared, but disappear into the vacuum of nothingness. Dementia is hard in all cases and especially so when the person had a bright, active mind. The loss of what one once had in abundance is more than ironic-it brings suffering for those who witness the loss.The human race is not unlike an Alzheimer's patient in some respects. We live among the ruins of lost greatness. Made in the image and likeness of God, we have turned from God and pursued the idols of our hands: wealth, power, greed, and lust. As such, we don't reflect God's likeness in harmony with our original design. We're frustrated and disoriented, because we've lost knowledge about who we once were in relationship to God.
Writing in the early life of the church, Athanasius reminded us of the goodness of God even after our true identity became lost to us. Things could have been much worse-it was within God's rights to judge us for our sin. Our first parents knew the penalty for failing to trust God's commands was death. God could have ended the human race with the first sin, but he did not. Athanasius writes that "it was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by him should be brought to nothing."
Moved by compassion for our condition, Athanasius points out that God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came as a man, to restore us to our former place as image bearers for God. He died on the cross to cancel the sentence of death, showing by it that God was still just and couldn't simply turn a blind eye to the sin of the world. But he also came not just to die, but to live a life and to show us again the likeness of the God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:5).
We might have lost our likeness to God in our sin, but Jesus came to restore it. Athanasius points out that in his day, painters would never throw out a canvas if the panel became stained or obscured. Instead, the subject would sit for it again and be redrawn on the same canvas. If you want to truly become the person you were designed to be, it will not be found in the common notion of "being true to yourself." Instead, it will only come if you allow Jesus, the true image of God, to draw all of his life and work overtop of yours.