On faith and healing

Jerry is schizophrenic.* He is able to live on his own when things are going well, although he is unable to hold a job or do much more than manage a daily routine. He is medicated and regularly spends time in a facility. He is a member of the church and for many years I was his home teacher.

One day at church, another ward member said that if Jerry prayed and fasted he might be cured. With enough faith, he said, we could do anything. This young man offered to give Jerry a blessing, which frightened Jerry. Jerry agreed to a blessing if I would give it. The other man suggested an anointing and blessing for the healing of the sick, but after having his options explained, Jerry elected for a blessing of comfort instead. My blessing was a plea for calm and peace in Jerry’s soul as I felt spiritually directed.

My first reaction was to be angry. It seemed to me that this young guy, long on abstract faith but short on actual experience with suffering, had planted a seed of false hope and possibly self-incrimination in the heart of a very sick man. Aside from that, my experience had taught me that a belief in the unseen was a tricky subject for Jerry because of his condition. And yet there was nothing really wrong with what this man had said. It was factually true. In theory, I did believe in the power of faith, that Christ made the lame walk and the blind see. Was my anger a manifestation of my weak faith?

A few weeks later, Jerry wanted to speak about the experience. He said that the idea of asking God to cure him terrified him. He said that such tremendous faith in God would require him to ‘get outside of [his] own head,’ or see something from another perspective than his own, namely from the perspective of God, and the disease would not allow him to do that. He asked, ‘What if I summon all of the faith I have when I’m feeling OK and I am still sick? Would that mean God wants me to be mentally ill?’ And then he asked the question I had been dreading: did I believe he could be cured?

As an answer, I told Jerry about Willem. Willem was a blind man whom I had taught on my mission and who eventually got baptized. Years later, when I went to visit him, he told me that after his baptism he expected to be cured of his blindness. He prayed, sometimes for hours, and fasted, sometimes for days, asked for a blessing from anyone who would do it, and even started to anoint his own eyes with consecrated oil. In the end, he gave up. Here’s what Willem said about it: ‘My blindness means something different than what I thought.’ I asked him what he meant, but he just shrugged and changed the subject. When I told Jerry this, he said nothing in response which is not unusual in a conversation with Jerry.

The questions of faith and miracles and suffering and despair are too easily treated as either morality tales or philosophical conundrums. In the actual experience of things, people have to come to terms with their own suffering and negotiate that with their faith. I’m not saying miracles don’t occur — they do, I’ve seen them — but they don’t happen according to any rules that I can detect or anybody else can explain to my satisfaction. Whether the miracles happen to us or not, the inability to really understand God’s intervention in individual lives is a humbling reality with which we all struggle to find some measure of peace. That peace seems to me to be as valuable as a cure.
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*Details about Jerry, including his name, have been changed.

Comments

  1. My sister was a paranoid schizophrenic. She would have hallucinations where she would see and/or hear God and Satan. They would argue over her. God will tell her to stop smoking. She once tried to kill herself because she’d seen God, and he was so beautiful, she just wanted to be with him.

    She did OK on medication, but if she went off it, which she did whenever she tried to live in her own, she always had trouble. She was in and out of half way houses her whole life.

    I use the past tense because she died twenty years ago.

    My other sister is now schizophrenic, as well. Her illness is not as bad though. She lives on her own (with a boyfriend, actually, which is good because she’s gone blind).

    I never once thought about the possibility that they could be healed via Priesthood power. My family aren’t members of the church. Do I think it’s possible? Sure. Do I think it would actually happen? Not really.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks for this, Norbert. Sword-sharp and insightful.

    [T]he inability to really understand God’s intervention in individual lives is a humbling reality with which we all struggle to find some measure of peace. That peace seems to me to be as valuable as a cure.

    Similarly, making peace with suffering––whether one’s own or otherwise––is sometimes, imo, just as miraculous as a cure.

  3. Back in the early and mid-nineteenth century, when healing was viewed as a sign that the church was true (other christians really didn’t start healing the sick through ritual administrations until the later part of the century), church leaders often made comments about how the reasons some are healed and others are not are often inscrutable.

    Wilford Woodruff, for example blessed his new born son in 1845 with all these wonderful promises of long life and power of the destroyer only to loose him on the trek west. Yet, he still had faith after the fact in the same types of blessings.

  4. As one who has been partially disabled since age 12 (over 60 years) I came to an enlightened understanding when I happened on Luke 9:11. ” And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.” when I was a young teenager, I had great faith that I could be made whole. This scripture explained it all to me. Not everyone needs healing. My life was changed and not all to the bad. Much good has come to me from the lifelong effects off polio more than six decades ago.

  5. Oops, sorry for the typos.

  6. One of my brothers was serving a mission years ago, and while on his bike, he was hit from behind by a drunk driver. He had his knees blown, a hip blown, extensive scars and road rash, and some brain damage to boot.

    The mission president told him that if he worked hard enough, he’d be fine. Had my brother checked out of the hospital and put him back in another bike area so he’d have that chance to work hard and get healed. The doctor seemed to think that ongoing physical therapy, rehabilitation, and perhaps some consultation with a neurosurgeon would be in order. No, no, all it takes is faith and hard work, and I’ve got this medical authority statement he signed in the MTC, so let’s take him to the car.

    Brother toughed it out for a few months, but came home early, and has problems to this day. He won a lawsuit against the driver, even though his companion testified for the drunk driver and got a job with the insurance company shortly thereafter.

    Could hard work, faith, prayer, and fasting cured my brother? Maybe. Are those things cheaper than medical science? Yup. Plus, we have the added benefit of when things don’t work out or the patient doesn’t improve, we can blame the person and simply claim that they didn’t have enough faith, didn’t pray hard enough, or must have some unresolved sins in their past. At least that’s what priesthood leaders said to my brother when things didn’t get better on their own, when he still can’t do math in his head, and when his sense of smell hasn’t returned.

    He’d planned on a medical career. He’s done all right for himself, but certain options are forever removed from his life. But, we can still thank that kind priesthood leader who put an arm around his shoulder (the one with imbedded gravel) and told him that maybe there’s a reason why the Lord wanted it this way.

  7. I would rank curing severe, long-term mental illness up there with curing an amputee.

    The Lord can make each of us whole, I just think that his perception of wholeness, or lack there of, is not always the same as ours.

  8. My aunt Cora was mentally ill — violently, murderously, suicidally mentally ill. She had always been a woman of great faith, which didn’t change with the breakdown; she wanted to be healed; she believed she could be healed; local priesthood leaders promised she would be healed; if anyone should have been healed, she should have been. She wasn’t. But she was blessed with an eventual calmness and cessation of the violence, and a sister who lovingly made a home for her for the rest of her long life.

    Faith and healing and protection from dangers and all other types of blessings are far more complex than we ever guess, I think, until we’re in the midst of a struggle and are forced to figure it out.

  9. My (intellectual) problem with healing is that I’ve never been a part of one that could not have been adequately explained by a natural process. Even making peace with suffering as LDG talks about in #2 can be explained away by a natural process. But I feel that I’ve been part of healings on multiple occasions not because of the event itself but because of how I felt at the time.

    I’ve wondered about God performing miracles for us that we can’t deny. Maybe he doesn’t do it (very often, anyway) because of the expectations that would put on us. If we’re judged according to what light and knowledge we’ve been given, perhaps giving us an undeniable miracle would end up condemning the vast majority of us, since we were no longer wandering by faith alone. Maybe we don’t get that kind of miracle unless our faith truly is superlative and the risk of us sinning against such light is small. I don’t think God wants to lose us by giving us more than we’re equipped to handle.

  10. Latter-day Guy, I completely agree that it is a miracle.

    Lawrence, thanks for that. Again, it may not be a satisfactory answer for everybody, but I imagine that’s what Willem meant as well.

    Michael, there is indeed a difference between faith on top of medical treatment and faith instead of medical treatment.

  11. ‘My blindness means something different than what I thought.’

    I love this, Norbert. It seems exactly like what God would say. (Although in my case, it’s sometimes got that snarky Princess Bride “I do not think that means what you think it means…” twang to it)

  12. Last Lemming says:

    I highly recommend Elder Oaks’ talk from the most recent General Priesthood session.

    http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1207-17,00.html

    The money quote is as follows:

    Young men and older men, please take special note of what I will say now. As we exercise the undoubted power of the priesthood of God and as we treasure His promise that He will hear and answer the prayer of faith, we must always remember that faith and the healing power of the priesthood cannot produce a result contrary to the will of Him whose priesthood it is.

    So the good news is that lack of healing cannot be used as evidence of a lack of faith. The bad news is that it can be used as evidence (in Jerry’s case) that God wants him to be mentally ill. This is hard to take, especially in the case of mental illness when the illness itself may make it impossible for the sufferer to learn the lessons that a polio survivor like Lawrence might internalize. So I guess those of us who do not suffer the mental illness are the ones who have lessons to be learned and we exercise our faith that the Jerry’s of the world will be healing in the resurrection.

  13. I really appreciated this post. Thank you.

    Elder Oaks also clearly addresses how faith does not negate the appropriate use or blessing of medical intervention.

    I have come to believe healing is much broader than just a linear solution to a problem or a clearly defined removal or cessation of pain. God can do anything He wants, but very often, He allows us to experience pain and, as He did for the people of Alma, can strengthen us (or others affected) to face that pain and thus increase faith in His power to succor His people. It’s not necessarily a failure of faith to not have something “fixed.” Sometimes it can require even more faith to endure well than to have a miraculous, instantaneous healing, imo.

  14. Ben Orchard says:

    @12 (Last Lemming).

    I don’t think that’s the necessary logical conclusion. I think it’s the exact same type of bad reasoning that leads people to the whole lack of healing == lack of faith. Saying that because you aren’t healed means that God wants you to be ill is a very different thing from saying a person isn’t healed because God doesn’t want them to be healed at that time. Going on to say that because God doesn’t want the person healed at that time means that God wants them to be mentally ill/disabled/or even physically ill/disabled requires additional assumptions that I’m not convinced are correct, let alone ‘given’.

    The problem with all that is that there are far too many unknowns about any given situation to be able to extrapolate the reasons a person is or isn’t healed.

    @9 (Martin). I would argue that just because you haven’t been part of a healing that couldn’t be rationalized as natural process doesn’t mean a lot. First off, there are a number of stories (which are, in fact, just stories until there is stronger evidence) regarding people being healed from blindness. There are no natural processes that I know of that would take a person blind from birth or another early age and restore their sight. We are getting closer to that scientifically, but it is still a ways off. Even restoring sight to someone that is TRULY blind but not from birth (not just ‘legally blind’) is a serious miracle. Science is getting closer to that, but without major major surgery, it just doesn’t even come close. Are the first-hand reports of blindness being healed true? I think some of them are. I think some are exaggerated, but generally I say true.

    Now the truth is that Elder Oak’s is right. We believe in miracles. Even from faith by those not of our church. Healing happens. Elder Oak’s is also right in saying that priesthood+faith+medicine is the best solution.

    I can attest that healing works. Not always the way we’d like, and sometimes a blessing can be very bittersweet. I don’t believe its a simple thing, but it can happen.

    As for Jerry…I do not wish upon anyone the terrible affliction that is Schizophrenia. I believe that such things are a genetic fluke triggered by environment. Recovery rates among schizophrenics are horrid, and sadly, difficult to predict. I hope he can find peace with himself, and medicine that allows him to function. That’s what I’d want.

  15. Healing takes many forms. I have been healed of spiritual infirmities in a miraculous way through the atonement . . .

    And I wonder sometimes–Are people like Jerry not cured because the test is really for the rest of us? How do we treat the “Jerrys” we come in contact with?

    I’m not making light of Jerry’s troubles, or of the miracles of healing that can occur. I’m just wondering about some of the possible reasons.

  16. The OP and comments are all really great, and present so many thoughts. I’m not about to try and completely understand what it feels like to be in the position of having a mental or physical disability, or even in a position of a care taker for one with the same. But I’ll just say couple things: 1) I’ve been part of things that absolutely cannot be explained by natural phenomena, Martin (9) (and I am and have always been mentally stable and sound my whole life), 2) God is manifest in each and every person and thing and scenario we encounter, and 3) God’s will, or his ‘ways’, or the ‘way’ he manifests himself to people are not always consistent with what we envision ourselves as wanting/being; some play one role while others play other roles so that God can be manifest to people. Your being (in mental or physical illness, or whatever state) will be a manifestation of divinity to someone else or many others during life. Each of us are divine in some way–even if it means we are in a situation of impairment or suffering.

    Don’t ask me to explain number 1) above.

  17. Norbert, I’m so glad I read through this post. You’ve distilled in a compellling way some of the lessons my wife and I have had to learn in the face of her on-going MS-like symptoms. We know that God could cure her — we have the faith. But He hasn’t. And so, to paraphrase what you said, maybe the fact that God doesn’t heal every injury or sickness means something different than what we originally thought.

    Thanks again for this difficult but inspiring post.

  18. The problem with all that is that there are far too many unknowns about any given situation to be able to extrapolate the reasons a person is or isn’t healed.

    I think any time we try to understand God, we are going to fall short. But I can’t help but feel, on the flip side, if sometimes we sell ourselves short, too, in being able to discern more of what may be going on with hard situations. Faith will never be perfect knowledge, but I think we can gain some knowledge to help with hard things.

    I think part of the process of exercising faith can be seeking to understand such hard situations. My experience is that truth can distill over time, that healing can be a process, and that sometimes it comes in ways that aren’t the original hope and desire, but real and wonderful nonetheless.

    For example, I was part of a poignant experience where as a ward we did about everything a ward could do to exercise faith, desiring a miraculous healing of a mom of 8 living children. When she died, I think many of us were able to feel very confident in the fact that her death was God’s will. We will fully never understand *why* it was, but it was remarkable to be able to feel a sense that we really had done “all we could do.” And there were many, many blessings that came of the process of coming together (the fruits of which we still enjoy around here).

    I personally feel that that can be an important part of the process of faith and even the process of healing — not just waiting for a specific outcome, but learning to discern what God’s will may be and where His healing hand is being manifest and how He might be working His wonders. After all, He shows His power in many ways, even daily in our lives. (I’m thinking of Pres. Eyring’s counsel to write down the daily evidences of the hand of God we see in our lives.)

    I also think about the hindsight that can come across generations sometimes. Think of how blessings given to Abraham and Sarah, or Joseph, or other ancient ones are still being fulfilled today. Which goes back to the reality that we just never fully know what God is up to.

  19. Eric, the way I read Martin’s comment is that even if natural processes can explain a healing, that doesn’t that mean God didn’t directly cause it, or that it wasn’t ‘miraculous’.

  20. As one with an eye condition that was partially cured through faith and prayer, I can attest to the fact that there are church members who think faith cures everything in all situations. As I was rejoicing over my partial healing, someone I considered a friend informed me that if I had better faith, I would have been cured completely.

    As a nurse in SLC, I’ve treated several ventilator-dependent complete quadriplegics, most of them church members. One could no longer tolerate allowing his parents to visit because they insisted that if he had faith, he would walk again. No one with his condition has regained any significant movement, let alone walked. A patient with a similar condition told me “I have faith. I know I will walk again. It may not be until the resurrection, and I am content to wait until the Lord’s time. But I will walk again.”

    These days I mostly treat serious and persistent mental illness. While some conditions are curable for some people through hard work in therapy and good drugs, there are other conditions that just don’t improve. Severe schizophrenia has an exceptionally poor prognosis. Drugs mask the worst symptoms, and therapy can make patients more comfortable with their scared and confused feelings, but the vast majority of cases have no hope of a cure. I wish I could help these patients understand what my paralyzed patient told me: “Someday He will heal me. It may be at the resurrection, but He will.”

    Telling people their faith can heal them is a type of victim-blaming. The Lord heals, but he doesn’t come at our beck and call. “He’s not a tame lion,” as C.S. Lewis put it. All the same, though, he does heal, and it takes our faith to accept his blessings. There’s a fine line, and I’m afraid that many church members have been duped into believing a
    “prosperity gospel” that has them trusting themselves instead of a God they can’t control.

  21. when elder oaks says this:

    “As we exercise the undoubted power of the priesthood of God and as we treasure His promise that He will hear and answer the prayer of faith, we must always remember that faith and the healing power of the priesthood cannot produce a result contrary to the will of Him whose priesthood it is.”

    what i get from it is this: when you give a blessing, you may as well go for broke, because god’s will will be done anyway. it’s like betting on black–you’ll probably be right about half the time.

  22. When my daughter was a baby, my wife tripped and dropped her on a thin floor with a concrete base. Before my wife and I took our daughter to the hospital, we were able to ask our LDS neighbor to help in giving her an anointing and a blessing. Because a relatively inexperienced radiologist missed a long crack that was found later in the x-ray, our daughter was sent home almost immediately to recover at home. The recovery went well, and I have always thought of it as a miraculous gift from God, although the less experienced radiologist perhaps had the right interpretation after all. Either way, the positive outcome made a positive contribution to my still-imperfect faith.

  23. What I appreciated most about Elder Oaks’ talk was that, without using the phrase, he made it clear that priesthood blessings don’t work the same as a vending machine: all we need is the correct change, and we get the outcome we ask for. When I was younger and more naive, I thought “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven” was a wonderful book. Now I think it is one of the most damaging books ever published, since it leads to the idea that the only reason people aren’t healed is because they don’t have sufficient faith. Heavenly Father is not Santa Claus.

    When our RS President accused my wife of not having sufficient faith to have been able to carry a living baby to full term, I had to bite my tongue to not tell her that if her husband had had enough faith he wouldn’t have had to have his knees replaced.

  24. Great talk which address this point in a variety of ways found here:
    http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=702
    Elder Spencer Kimball in 1955 makes several points have been really helpful for me to deal with the concept of “tragedy or destiny”.

  25. Latter-day Guy says:

    Drawing on the Powers of Heaven … is one of the most damaging books ever published.

    Yes, yes, a million times, YES!

  26. Just to set the record straight for Ben (#14) and Eric (#16), I actually do feel that I have been party to healings, both receiving and giving blessings, and I definitely felt the Lord was involved. However, I’ve never seen a situation where the healing was an incontrovertible miracle. I’ve never seen a missing limb restored, a quadriplegic rise up and walk, or Lupus, MS, or Alzheimer’s cured. I’ve seen cancers inexplicably go into remission and stuff like that, but these things happen sometimes without blessings or faith.

    The only point I was trying to make is that I think if such miracles do occur (and I am personally unaware of even one, but that means nothing), they must be rare, because otherwise they would stand to our condemnation when we didn’t live up to the knowledge that such a miracle would give us. Also, I feel struggling with faith is one of the primary purposes to our life, and that purpose would be sabotaged every time a worthy person with great faith was granted a miracle.

  27. I have suffered from chronic illness and disability most of my adult life. Over the years I have had many blessings and many prayers have been said by me and in my behalf. I can honestly say that faith has made me “whole” but it has not cured my illness.
    I can’t tell you how hurtful it is when someone suggests that if I have yet another priesthood blessing or just have faith, then I might be healed. The truth is, I think I’m just fine the way I am.

  28. Reading what I just wrote, it sounds a little pompous. What I mean to say is that I have come to accept my disability as part of who I am. About 95% of the time, I’m at peace with it.

  29. #20, #23
    Thank you. It’s these unfortunate traits in otherwise well-meaning Mormons that fill me with rage and make me want to rip somebody’s arm off and beat them to death with their own severed limb.

    For a church that spends so many Sunday School lessons on “avoiding the very appearance of evil”, it seems strange that so many members would stoop to such offensive behavior.

    Must have been God’s will. You just didn’t want it enough. Maybe you’ll pray harder next time. It’s probably because of your pride. Try fasting next time. Your faith wasn’t sufficient. God punished them because you didn’t believe in Him enough. There must be a lesson you’re supposed to learn from this. Have you considered that there must be some unresolved sins in your past that caused this, some forgotton wedge in tree somewhere?

    I contrast those with a statement from an evangelical friend of mine. “I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry for your suffering. Might I pray with you, right now? I’ll be keeping you in my prayers.” If I can get this kindness, this concern from the cashier at Costco, how much more should I give to those with whom I have covenanted with Christ to “Comfort those in need of comfort”, the very people I call my brother, my sister?

  30. CS Eric–not sure why you bite your tongue. Would have been an appropriate comment made in response to an emotional abusive one.

    When working in Florida with people with MR, I had a client also dx with schizophrenia. He told in his sweet voice about how he had stopped taking his meds as people in his Southern Baptist church told him with faith he would not need them. Of course this episode ended with a crisis hospitalization. Not one to mix religion with my job I made an exception. I told him that I believed God gave certain people the ability to develop those drugs that help him, that my belief was that God gave us the meds. He replied, again in the sweetest voice “I think I’ll believe that too”.

  31. Alex (19) Yeah, I can see that interpretation. I understood it to mean miracles are results that cannot be explained by natural phenomenon. Maybe Martin can weigh in and explain what he meant.

    Although the term ‘miracle’ itself is a charged word with myriad meanings to each person, I have tended to think of it generally as an unexpected positive outcome given the circumstances. So, yeah, I feel miracles can include results that can easily be explained by natural phenomenon and those that cannot. A miracle is a miracle, no matter how we try and explain or attribute it.

    I also very much appreciate this sentiment in the OP: “Whether the miracles happen to us or not, the inability to really understand God’s intervention in individual lives is a humbling reality with which we all struggle to find some measure of peace.” I think for some who are the recipients of what they see are miracles, this inability to understand may be as unsettling some times than for those hoping for a miracle that never arrives. For example, for me there were a number of miracles that occurred as part of the restoration of the gospel. But those who were privy to those miracles had to live and be accountable to them, and their lives were full of temporal torment, challenge, wonder, pain, suffering, and ultimately death for some. Throughout the restoration period, those privy to these miraculous events were always left with more questions and wonder after each event. So query whether being privy or being the recipient of a miracle is relatively ‘easier’ (or however you want to characterize it) than feeling as though you hoped for a miracle that never arrived.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, you’re one of my favorite writers. This post was profound and meaningful to me. Thanks.

  33. I appreciate the OP, and the opportunity to reflect on how God intersects with our lives. I’m heartened by the suggestion of so many that “healing” includes learning to live with our burdens instead of having them removed. To paraphrase Wendy’s patient, “I think I’ll believe that, too.”

    I echo the sadness that some members think out loud too much. Who am I to judge if someone else has enough faith or not? I figure if someone has enough faith to show up for another day of living, that’s pretty good.

    Michael, thanks for sharing the kind example of your evangelical friend. A good lesson for us all.

    We have dear friends (not members of the LDS church, but very believing in their Christian denomination) whose daughter had a rare form of cancer. She survived (two years cancer free so far), but she watched many of her friends in the hospital die. What a difficult lesson for her to learn about faith and God’s blessings, as many of her friends were the beneficiaries of as many prayers as she was. But somehow she did manage it and she is a delightful and hopefull teenager today, one who still cherishes the faith of her parents and shares it when she continues to visit her friends who are still in treatment.

  34. Antoinette says:

    I’m not a member of the church (yet) I’m an investigator, and I like BCC. This was a great piece because this is a bit of reflection on my own life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2007. I had just turned 20. I had the same question about my faithfulness to God and I was continually praying to him to take it away, to, in essence, “cure” it. However, being born into a medical family (mom’s a nurse, dad was an Army medic), I knew that mental illness is mostly treated with medication and managed with therapy and constant support.
    I had to reconcile this with my faith in God.
    I don’t think God so much “wants” or “wills” for people to develop mental illness…rather, I think he allows these situations to happen to help us grow, to help us see a bigger picture. I do believe in the power of the priesthood, that’s one of the reasons why I want to join the Church, however, in cases like these, I believe that the priesthood power is crucial in the miracle of acceptance and healing in the form of God filling and mending those wounds caused by the trauma of either being diagnosed with or experiencing mental illness.
    I’ve accepted the fact that I have Bipolar disorder, and I believe that Heavenly Father has led me to the Church because of it; it’s brought me closer to him and Jesus Christ. I truly understand the love that Christ was talking about now more than ever.
    There’s a difference between “I am” Bipolar or schizophrenic, and “I have” BPD or schizophrenia and a person “is” or “has.”
    I now say that I HAVE BPD because BPD is not who I am. It doesn’t have that much power of my life now, it’s not my personality, it’s not my life. This difference may seem subtle, but the “I have” is empowering, it really is because it represents the idea that I’m still the same person, and that for the most part, I’m in control of it, not it in control of me.
    Anyway, I say all that to say that I think the Church has it right when it comes to its position on mental illness, treatment, management and reconciling it with faith, prayer, and advocation of honesty and respect for persons who have mental illness.

  35. Antoinette, that was beautiful. Thank you. I love this: “I believe that the priesthood power is crucial in the miracle of acceptance and healing in the form of God filling and mending those wounds caused by the trauma of either being diagnosed with or experiencing mental illness.”

    I feel this applies to me with my struggles with chronic health issues, too. Acceptance that trials are part of life, and learning to lean on Christ for help facing such trials, is a healing process in and of itself.

  36. Antoinette, thanks for sharing that.

    My immediate thought was that Jesus healed the ten lepers, but to only did he said, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.”

    My mother has a form of schizophrenia that is kept in remission only by medication. Her life is whole, however, through medication and faith and the Priesthood.

  37. Welcome, Antoinette. Many of us know mental illness well, whether in ourselves or in the people that matter most to us. I remember wondering why God had not cured my father of his profound mental illness but reflected that in the Church and Gospel he was better than he would have been otherwise. I think of God as someone who helps us to make things better than they are or have been, not someone who magically guarantees that lives are lived without pain, on a golden yacht floating in a sea of chocolate milk.

  38. Anonymous for this says:

    Wonderful post, Norbert. You have great insight into the crux of the matter. Peace, not a cure-all, is what faith has to offer our family.

    The worst thing anyone has said to me or my schizophrenic husband is “All you need is the right natural herbs and enough faith and you wouldn’t need those secular medications.” I just sat there with my mouth open as she walked away. She was in her 90s, a granola grandma, and from another generation/century, I get that, but really? Schizophrenics have enough problems staying on their meds as it is. Please, please never tell a person with mental illness not to take their meds. Don’t even hint at it.

  39. I think the kind of healing miracles we experience today are those where the Lord supports the afflicted in trials and difficulties. I’ve seen and experienced these kinds of miracles many, many times.

    Do miraculous healings occur. I’ve never witnesses one but I know of some.

    For those interested, I suggest reading a talk give by Elder Oaks, Miracles.

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=0371759235d0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  40. I became a member of the gospel when I was 13 years old. I was the only one of my family to be baptised into the LDS faith. I grew up being taught by my YW leaders and believing that if I just could be married in the temple, my life would be blissful and complete. My parents divorced because my dad is manic depressive. I have a son with asperger’s syndrome and a daughter with big OCD issues. I had a bishop once in Michigan talk about healing people as it was once done when Christ was on the earth during the New Testament times. Like, “why don’t we do it now?” He was my home teacher and I wanted so badly for him to impart that healing power. “Do it!” I thought. “Why are we talking about it?” I wanted it to be just like that video moment when Jesus found the man that no one else saw, pulled back the covering to expose the man at the pool of Bethesda and healed him right there! It never happened and I feel silly for thinking that way but I still long for it with all my heart. Now I am here in a ward that I don’t think tries to make me feel this way but I still do….I feel less than righteous for being the mother of a family that is not picture perfect on Sunday. I have a GA in my ward. Why can he not heal my children? Why can he not see that in my eyes? Why do I even hold that hope in my heart? Why are we told that if we will keep the commandments, we will prosper in the land or that only if we ask that it is be given unto us? I know that God will not give me a stone when I have asked for bread, but there are days I am not sure that I will ever see Him again because I question His reasons for allowing this in my family as if He loved us less because I am a convert and not from a pioneer family! What a crazy Utah paradigm! I long to be at peace with this and not be angry about it. I have found that when I listen to Elder Maxwell’s Plow in Hope, Elder Holland’s However Long and Hard the Road and S. Michael Wilcox’s The Fourth Watch, I remember that “Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces” and that I cannot give up on that 13 year old girl’s dream.

  41. The rule that covers these cases is called The Great Parsimony. Remember when Jesus commented:

    Luke 4:27 (New International Version)
    And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.

    After Naaman was cured every one knew that God can cure leprosy. So much praying, so much spiritual attention was the result of curing one man. God does not have to cure many people to get everyone’s attention. I think there is a psychological term for this, maybe random reinforcement.

    God is the ultimate monopolist. He controls the spiritual input and output of this world. His goal is to maximize the production of spirits going to the Celestial Kingdom, which he does by strictly controlling the spiritual IO of this planet. Too much healing, for example, then it becomes a rote exercise. Too little and it will be forgotten. So, cure Naaman and everyone will notice and bend their lives to spiritual things.

    God does not want us to be cured, only enlightened. We keep forgetting that. There must be a special enlightenment which comes from schizophrenia, a disease which killed my sister. This enlightenment can only become apparent when this life is over.

    We have been discussing free will this last week. Yes, God can not abridge your agency but he can put you in a canyon where there is only one direction to go and tell you to move.

  42. Thanks so much for so many of you sharing your experiences with this. I have been edified by the comments.

  43. Love this thought-provoking and relevant post. Thanks, Norbert!

  44. StillConfused says:

    My foster sister is dying of cancer. It has spread to her organs including her liver. Her days on this earth are few. She requested a ward fast and prayer. So after sacrament meeting a man stood at the pulpit and offered a prayer. He prayed that the fasting and prayers of the congregation would be heard and that she would be healed of this cancer.

    Frankly I was pissed off. This prayer did not comply with reality. So when she dies in a few months, people will think that their prayers and fasting were not “good” enough. Plus my foster sister has postponed her end of life planning (she has a young daughter and is a single mom) in hopes of a miracle cure.

  45. ClaudiaHen says:

    I have bipolar II disorder. For years, I prayed for God to heal me. I had so many righteous desires. I only wanted to be a better mother, a better wife, a better worker in the kingdom. Why could he not heal me and allow me to the freedom to become the “full” person that I longed to be?

    And then I got angry. I did everything right, yet I felt cursed, betrayed by the body he gave me. I had committed no sin to deserve my trial.

    It’s only been in the last year after eight years of struggle that I’ve come to peace with it. I’m still working on trying to find the right medication and sometime I might hit on the right combination of meds. Maybe not. But, it is alright, for He is with me.

    And I would go through it again because of all the lessons I have learned. It has molded me into the person I am today. I would not have the faith in Christ that I have without it. I would be missing my great compassion for others who suffer. I would maybe think that money and prestige and the honors of men were important. Instead I am grateful for the days when I am well enough to get out of bed and do the dishes. I always have time for my children. They are always welcome to come sit near and be with me for as long as they like.

    Most of all, I have come to know my Savior. I am whole in him. My value is not in what I can do, but in who I am. Like Annette express, I am not my bipolar disorder. I am a cherished daughter of God. He loves me unconditionally. He loves each of unconditionally.

    I do not know all his purposes, but I have tasted of the transforming power of his love, and for that I would walk through any trial he offers me. I submit my will to his in all things.

  46. (41) RW, (34) Antoinnette, others, such good comments and posts. It’s enriching to see these perspectives. I also like the comments above that conclude that much of life is “acceptance.” In this way, I think acceptance is synonymous with “submission” to the way things are, the present moment, or in deist terms, “God’s will.” We learn to submit to his will moment to moment, and then we are able to see how all things testify of God and are divine.

    One other instance I was thinking of last night after Norbert’s OP was when Christ was asked whether the blind boy or his parent’s had sinned for him to be born blind. Christ’s response speaks to the perspective of acceptance, submission to God’s will, and the instructive nature of the way things are. He said, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

    At first glance, the response is not very satisfactory if you happen to be the boy that suffers in his blindness. And we are are all left with a few thoughts: What ‘works’ of God? And ‘manifest’ to who?! But as the comments and the OP suggest, although the boy may suffer and feel frustration in his disability, he may be able to experience peace at some point by submitting to God, and accepting that he may be an instrument in God’s hands to manifest God’s works to other observers who encounter him in life. In that way, his disability can become a powerful, moving experience for another one of God’s children. God’s ‘works’ that are ‘manifest’ to those who are observing are the works of humility, love, gratitude, compassion, submission, service, and on and on and on.

    Excellent OP and topic, thank you.

  47. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m reading a very interesting book called “Lincoln’s Melancholy” that speaks to some of this. I’m having one of those experiences where I feel like I’m racing ahead in an alley that used to be blind to me. Great discussion.

  48. “I’m not saying miracles don’t occur — they do, I’ve seen them — but they don’t happen according to any rules that I can detect or anybody else can explain to my satisfaction.”

    It seems that one rule is that minor illnesses that usually resolve by themselves can be “cured,” while more serious illnesses cannot be. The placebo effect is powerful, and I think grounds enough for many “faith healings.” I’ve never heard of modern examples of people healing traumatic brain injury, amputated limbs, blindness, or birth-defects. Stories in the scriptures of such healings may only be stories.

  49. Reading some of these stories makes me think of something Elder Holland once said in a Mission Presidents’ conference. He was speaking about the difficulties of mission work, but I think of it every time I’m facing a difficulty in my own life.

    “I am convinced that missionary work (read: life) is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?”

    And when we read about Christ healing people with such great afflictions, we should remember that he was pretty in-tune with God’s will.

  50. Elder Holland’s complete message found in the March 2001 Ensign: Missionary Work and the Atonement

  51. To be honest, I’m not really sure what to make sure of blessings. Just before a surgery for an injury, I had a blessing and was told many things, including that I would be 100% after the surgery – made whole. I subsequently had 2 more surgeries on the same area. There is still pain every day. I’ve accepted the fact that I will still have pain the rest of my life, but what, besides comfort, was the result of the blessing.

    If the surgery worked, that was “God’s will” and a “healing” occurred. If the surgery didn’t work, that was “God’s will” as well and was to help me accept the fact that it didn’t work. I’m not really sure the point of the blessing. It seems that at the end of the day, “God’s will” happens regardless of the outcome. It’s much like the Muslims saying “Inshallah” – God’s will…

  52. Anon: I think if people are honest, they will discover lots of blessings that didn’t work. My sister-in-law died of cancer shortly after getting married and having a child. She was given multiple blessings that she would be healed and live a full life. But despite the best medical care, she died – despite the specific blessings that she wouldn’t. It is silly to think we can somehow alter “God’s will” just by the asking. Would God let you suffer from an illness, or even die, if you just forgot to petition Him? Would he really change “His will” if you did? Would the feeble act of asking God for a favor really effect the outcome?

    Despite my families, and my sister-in-law’s best efforts, it didn’t seem to help her. Nor does it help many others. The only things that seem to “get healed” are the things that resolve spontaneously anyway.

  53. 51 and 52, that’s just not my experience. I have seen miraculous healings as the result of blessings, but I have also seen the healing not come. I’ve also seen healing come through faithful prayers on non-members of our church, and I’ve seen those who are not healed despite those same prayers.

    Elder Oaks’ talk from last conference has been referenced a number of times and it is a valuable resource in understanding these things.

    One of the reasons we seek blessings is because the New Testament says we should, that we should bring the sick to the elders of the church to be annointed. That request for a blessing is, in itself, a sign of faith. Being ready to accept the Lord’s will is a sign of humility.

    That these stories can be heartbreaking is quite tender to be sure.

  54. Paul: you say sometimes people get healed and sometimes they don’t? Isn’t this just what you would expect if God NEVER intervened? Sometimes people would get better, sometimes they wouldn’t. But this happens naturally – without God’s intervention. It seems that it depends more on how serious the illness is, and how good the medical care is that we have access to. For example, if God doesn’t like it when babies or mothers die during childbirth, then why are the maternal/infant mortality rates sky-high in third-world countries like Haiti or Ethiopia? Are they any less deserving of His blessings when these poor people cry out to Him to save their wife, daughter, or son?

    Why would God be so fickle in his bestowal of blessings to some people who get healed, and not bestow blessings to others who don’t – seemingly by whimsy?

    Of course the fall back defense when healings don’t work is that “we need to have faith and accept God’s will.” Why would it be God’s will that a young mother die of cancer? Was she needed more on the other side? Did God need her more than her son or husband?

    Sorry, but that defense is a rather poor excuse for the fact that God doesn’t intervene in our lives the way we WISH He would.

  55. Josh — But it’s not my defense.

    I cannot tell you why some people die and others don’t.

    I can tell you that I have witnessed spontaneous healing of significant magnitude that I do not believe would have happened without divine intervention. I cannot convince you that I am right, however.

    I can also tell you that I have seen others seek healing and not find it, but find comfort, instead. And as other posters have suggested, that may be a type of healing for that person.

    The fact that there are acts of God that I do not understand means I do not understand. It does not mean that I do not believe.

  56. I think it’s just easier to accept the fact that people get sick and die. It’s a part of life. If you think that God can intervene in that natural process sometimes (never permanently though, since we all eventually get sick and die) then we set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment. If we assume God CAN heal us, then it’s natural to ask WHY He doesn’t sometimes. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this. I think it’s a false hope and wishful thinking.

  57. The prosperity doctrine . . . puritanism’s ugly head.

    Just a few thoughts . . .

    I’ve tried mentioning examples of Paul, President Kimball, and others to rebuff the prosperity doctrine when it comes up in church. The majority of my fellow congregants can’t abide that logic as they see things in more absolute ways. Also, since illness is highly causative of poverty (I’ve stats showing that 50% of bankruptsies in Choo-tah are caused by medical bills and NOT a lack of savings or a prodigal son lifestyle) the sick most often can’t hide TWO blaring “examples” of what others perceive as unrighteousness– their illness and poverty. Would it help if we focused more on the poor ploughboy Prophet or rebutted the suppositions that Jesus and Joseph were in fact wealthy contractors of their day? (Isn’t it interesting how our “facts” about the nature of religious heads tends to mirror our own desires and struggle for power?)

    I recently read Nibley’s essay on ‘Treasures in Heaven’ and heartily recommend it as a game-set-match explanation of misunderstandings from the BoM which arise as the ‘prosperity doctrine’. It’s a very insightful piece about health and temporal blessings, the priesthood, and God.

  58. “when you give a blessing, you may as well go for broke, because god’s will will be done anyway. it’s like betting on black–you’ll probably be right about half the time.”

    “It is silly to think we can somehow alter “God’s will” just by the asking. Would God let you suffer from an illness, or even die, if you just forgot to petition Him? Would he really change “His will” if you did? Would the feeble act of asking God for a favor really effect the outcome?”

    I think these satements, form two different commenters are misunderstandings of blessing and healing.

    First, we shouldn’t bless to heal just as a crapshoot, though I’m sure we often do. We should first seek to discover God’s will, and bless the person in accordance with it, and to have acceptance of it. This is not easy or comfortable at times.

    Second, we never bless or pray that God will alter his will. In my experience, God doesn’t heal someone because he changed his mind and decided that the person doesn’t deserve cancer after all. It doesn’t work that way. Healing happens because it is already in accord with the will of God that the person be healed.

    Healing can happen through faith, when consistent with the will of God, but a lack of healing doesn’t mean that a person has too little faith because God’s purposes may be fulfilled more fully by no healing at that time. This is because, as has been said, God’s purposes do not usually involve us all having easy or placid lives. Challenges and difficulties of one kind or another are what we are really here for.

    The more we seek to understand the will of God, rather than trying to impose our own will, the more likely it is that we will find peace.

  59. Josh, there’s no question that sickness and dying are part of life, nor is there any question that ultimately, we will all die either with or without illness.

    But this doesn’t mean that faith is without power or is not real. People have been healed by faith, both physically and spiritually. Statements like yours are self-fulfilling because if we subscribe to that way of thinking, we will guarantee that no healing will occur because there will be no faith.

  60. “miracles” are just unexplainable good things that happen.

  61. MCQ says: “Statements like yours are self-fulfilling because if we subscribe to that way of thinking, we will guarantee that no healing will occur because there will be no faith.”

    We all had faith my sister-in-law would be healed, but she died anyway. Are you saying we didn’t have enough faith? I refute that. I’m sure many other people have had faith their loved one’s would be healed too, only to watch them die as well.

  62. In a recent RS lesson on healing, or priesthood blessings, the teacher handed out little packets of statements, one of which would be a false one. One of the statements was something about members being encouraged to refrain from sharing details about the outcomes of healing blessings. I pegged that one as a lie, but it turned out to be one of the truths. I’m sorry not to have the source. The ensuing discussion included thoughts about not wanting to broadcast things of a sacred nature, and also thoughts that our space for developing faith may get squeezed if we’re confronted with many undeniable instances of miraculous happenings. I don’t hold those points up as useful ideas to answer deep questions of suffering. I only reference (without the actual reference, so what good is it, you may well ask) church counsel not to broadcast reports of healings as something relevant to those who wonder why they don’t hear accounts of genuine healing.

  63. I think the church counsels people not to share experiences, because (1) it keeps the experiences safely out of bounds for any sort of rational inquiry, and (2) it might actually decrease people’s belief in faith healing because you would hear some unbelievable stories.

  64. I see blessings as more of a consecration of our illness than a petition to remove it. We consecrate our time, our talents, our money, our energy to God… but not our illness. It’s like the only thing we want to offer up to God is the good stuff. I say offer it all up to Him.

  65. Josh, I do think that sharing sacred experiences with those who wouldn’t appreciate them is faith-destroying. The unappreciative person would just think the story weird, thus cementing her non-belief, and the believing person would likely find her sacred experience subject to scorn, which is not only painful but possibly doubt-inducing.

    I personally have had several experiences in which I felt the Lord was involved in healings. As I said earlier, none of these experiences qualify as a veritable miracle, and a bystander could certainly explain them away. My only evidence is the way I felt.

    I have no idea how to explain what happened with your sister-in-law. I haven’t had an experience like that.

  66. My sister had breast cancer and my dad gave her a blessing. During the blessing he stopped, started again, stopped and then eventually finished the blessing. This was unusual for my dad.

    He wanted to give her a healing blessing but was unable to form the words and eventually gave up and pronounced that she would be at peace and we’d all be able to cope and things like that. He never once was able to say she would be healed or anything like it.

    She died eight months later several months before she ‘should’ have, before the terrible pain and debilitation of cancer treatment rendered her comatose on morphine.

    I just think – if my dad had kept trying, would it eventually have been like the Lord’s answer to Joseph Smith re: Martin Harris? Would He let my dad say the words he really wanted to say if Dad had ‘asked’ long enough?

    Maybe.

    Dad never gave my sister a healing blessing when he gave her that administration and she wasn’t supposed to get one. She got what Dad blessed her (and us) with – a peaceful passing and eight months for us all to say goodbye and cope. How many people prayed for her to be healed? Who knows. Have they been disillusioned? Perhaps.

    I just think we have to be really careful not to let what we want override what God wants. Then ‘His will’ maybe won’t come as a shock to us.

    Perhaps.

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