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.
*Details about Jerry, including his name, have been changed.