Saturday, February 27, 2010

For The Kingdom of Heaven's Sake

The nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew records a number of Christ's teachings relating to entrance into the kingdom of heaven. In each case, some of those who followed Him found His sayings to be hard to bear.

The Pharisees asked Jesus whether divorce was permissible, and Jesus told them that even though Moses had allowed a provision for divorcing a wife, God's desire was to have married couples stay together, just as He had created Adam and Eve and commanded them to remain together and to "cleave" to each other. He allowed for divorce in the case of adultery, but otherwise, He said, divorce was not part of the plan of God.

His disciples responded, in essence, "well, if it's that difficult to divorce a woman if you don't like her, maybe it's better to not get married at all." But Jesus made it clear that the general rule, however difficult, was that men and women should marry and stay married, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (Matt 19:12). But while affirming the general rule, Christ allowed for an exception: some men, He said, were eunuchs, and weren't candidates for marriage in the traditional sense.

Eunuchs, men who had been castrated before puberty, often served as palace servants, advisers, or officials in Jesus' day. Rulers considered them ideal for such positions because, lacking the ability to have posterity, they wouldn't try to seize power and create their own dynasty. Denied the possibility of a normal marriage and sexual relations with a woman because of a condition forced upon them in childhood, without any choice on their part, these men seemed to fall outside the purview of the Adam-and-Eve story, and indeed all of religious law regulating marriage, divorce, and family life. In Jewish circles, eunuchs had no place. Unmarried men were considered loose cannons; since they were not bound by the civilizing influences of family life, they could not be trusted. Their community, in this respect, was much like our own, filled with a single-minded devotion to the nuclear family that gives rise to our oft-quoted accusation that an unmarried man beyond a certain age is a "menace to society."

But, as in so many other areas, Jesus didn't buy in to the stereotypes and expectations of His culture. He didn't feel threatened by those who didn't "fit the mold," whatever the reason. In fact, He identified three groups of people who, while beyond the pale of proper Jewish society, were not outside the reach of His love. “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” (Matthew 19:12).

According to the law of Moses, eunuchs were categorically forbidden from entering the temple and participating in the rituals that bound the people to one another and to their God (Deuteronomy 23:1). But, despite their condition, they were not rejected by the Lord. As Isaiah had prophesied, “neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-5). Though they could not take part in the blessings of family life or in the ritual observances that God had commanded, He promised that those who lived a holy life, who obeyed His commandments even in their particular difficulties, would not be denied any blessing in His sight. Their memorial before the face of God would be better than the posterity they might have had. Their exaltation would be greater than the religious positions they had been denied. Those who were “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” would never be forgotten before God.

The first Gentile convert to Christianity, an Ethiopian, was such a man. He read the scriptures, and humbly asked Phillip to teach him about Christ. “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). He was what you might call a “golden investigator,” a man who feared God, and knew that God had not forgotten him. In fact, the Lord sent an angel to instruct Phillip to go to a place in the desert where this man would be, as a sign to him and to the rest of us that the Lord will honor all who serve Him, whatever their race, nationality, or circumstance.

In our society, we lack this class of palace servants. So who are the eunuchs of our day? Some, the Lord said, were eunuchs “from their mother’s womb.” Perhaps these include those who suffer from birth defects, physical or mental handicaps that keep them from the activities and joys of normal life. Some, He said, are “made eunuchs of men.” Perhaps these include those who experienced childhood abuse and who still labor under its physical and emotional consequences, which shackle them and keep them from normal human intimacy. And finally, there are some “which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Perhaps these include those who experience unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction, and who, with the kingdom of heaven in mind, deny themselves the companionship they crave in order to obey the God they worship, who lead lives of holy surrender in a society rife with misunderstanding, “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19).

It is my testimony that the Lord still loves—nay, especially loves—those whom the world hates—the outcast, the downtrodden, the poor, the misfits, the lepers, the ones who live on the fringes of society, who are rejected by their fellows. He is their God and they are His children. In His house they are loved. In His house they are given an everlasting memorial and a great name.

They should also be given these things in our houses, if we are to be the Lord’s people. The Lord asks His people to take in the outcasts, not only in their soup kitchens and in their hospitals, but also in their homes and in their hearts. He asks us to embrace, not to ostracize. His arm is always stretched out in mercy, and He calls us to follow His example. His last acts in mortality were to heal a man who came to arrest Him, to reassure a thief who hung beside Him, and to plead for forgiveness for the men who killed Him.

Later in the same chapter, Matthew recounts that Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler, a righteous man who had kept all the commandments from his youth. His question was also about the kingdom of heaven, “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). He had kept all the commandments and had done nothing wrong—so Christ required only one thing of him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (v. 21). This the young man was unwilling to do. Perhaps he justified himself, the way we do when we’re unwilling to make a great sacrifice. Surely, he thought, a large endowment will do? I have a lot of money in my bank account—perhaps I could start a homeless shelter for the poor! If I just give away all my money, they’ll only use it to buy booze, right? I’m noble for holding onto my wealth—it means I have more to give away! Why should I give away all my money and join this band of poor people following the homeless, wandering preacher? What good will that do?

The nobleman went away sad, and Jesus observed, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). Many attempts have been made in Biblical scholarship to explain away this extreme statement of the Master, with little success. The disciples in His day, too, were shocked, as they had been over questions of marriage and divorce, and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25) Christ answered: “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). We know that God can accomplish even this, and we can be sure that if a camel passes through the eye of a needle, that camel is going to look very different on the other side. It’s the same way with us.

The more I get to know Jesus, the more He turns my life on its head and makes me question what I thought I knew. In His world, eunuchs have children, dead men talk, sinners are saved, camels walk through needles, poor men are made rich, and little children are the leaders. To bring about these great miracles, however, the sacrifice of all things is required, for “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things” (Lectures on Faith 6:7). Some become poor in the world so that they can have treasure in heaven. Others become “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” We each make sacred covenants in holy places that we will give the Lord all that we have, with the promise that “every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matt 19:29).

Christ literally gave everything to obey the God He loved, to our eternal benefit. He asks the same of us. It is my firm testimony that for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, any sacrifice is worthwhile.

“Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand” (Doc. & Cov. 58:2-4).

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tell Me Why These Things Are So

As mortals, whenever we run up against things we don't understand, we tend to start asking questions. Chief among these is the simple request for an explanation, "Why?" This inquisitiveness has led to countless scientific discoveries, as curious observers have sought to understand and explain their world.

We have the same tendency in other areas of our lives--we want life to make sense. We want events to fit into nice little boxes with the proper "Cause" and "Effect" on the labels. We want to understand our world's many complexities. Maybe then we can have more control over our lives. Maybe understanding all the reasons would help us feel less like our lives are meaningless conglomerations of random chance. Maybe we would feel less powerless in the face of history's fateful unfolding.

When a child dies or a plane crashes, when we're diagnosed with a debilitating illness or suffer a devastating blow, our anguished cries to the heavens often begin with, "Why?"

Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why, God, why?

I've noticed that God doesn't seem particularly interested in answering my "Why?" questions. A quick poll of some close friends indicates it's not just me. And when I turned to the scriptures, I realized that it's a long-standing habit of God's.

When God showed Moses a vision of the world, Moses' question was also, "Why?", and it went unanswered. "And it came to pass that Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so?...And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me" (Moses 1:30-31). To paraphrase, God was saying, "I created the world for my own reasons, and I'm not inclined to share them with you just yet."

Isaiah quoted the Lord, who told His people, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways...For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). He doesn't think the way we think, and doesn't feel bound to explain his thought processes to us.

The book of Job records the story of a man who "was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). Cursed with the loss of all his earthly possessions, his children, his health, and finally, the loyalty of his friends, Job pleaded with God for answers, demanding an explanation for his suffering. Certain of his righteousness, and sure that his punishment was undeserved, Job used legal language in his fierce insistence on an explanation, wishing "that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us...I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me" (Job 9:32-33,10:2, NIV). Job noted the unfairness of his treatment, citing examples of wicked men who live in peace and wealth, undisturbed by the God they mock, while Job, who kept the law with exactness, was left with a life in shambles, rejected by his community and bereft of all his property. He pleaded for understanding, for the Lord to point out his sin, asking the Lord, when he could find no answer within himself, "Why?"

"Summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?" (13:18-25) "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say" (23:3-5). "Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing" (31:35).

For thirty-six chapters of the book of Job, Job's friends rebuked him for his supposed sins, and Job defended himself against their accusations and bemoaned his fate. And through it all, Job searched for an explanation, declaring each law he had kept, each commandment unbroken, repeatedly asking the Lord why he had been punished, while all around him the wicked prospered--Why, God? Why this? Why now? Why me?

I read his story again not too long ago, and found myself rooting for Job. Even though my mind knew that Job's trials were the Lord's way of testing his faithfulness, I still found myself sympathizing with his pleas--Why, God? Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous mourn? Why all the suffering in the lives of the innocent? Why have you structured the world this way? Why do my prayers go unanswered, my petitions unheeded? Why did you heal the centurion's son but not my loved one?

I found myself straining for the answer. Surely, God would answer Job, the "perfect and upright" man? And perhaps, in that answer, I could find some modicum of peace in the painful confusion of my own world.

In the last chapters of the book of Job, God spoke to Job "out of the whirlwind" (38:1), saying, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone... Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth...when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?

"Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place... Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?... Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

"What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:2-22, NIV)

The Lord went on, speaking of His omniscience, which stood in stark contrast to Job's feeble mortal understanding: "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?...What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm?...Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?... Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?... Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are'?

"Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?" (Job 38:23-36).

Throughout the rest of His discourse, the Lord listed many natural phenomena, asking Job if he could explain or control the forces of nature, the animals, the planets, and the stars. The Lord's demonstration of power is impressive, and in the end, Job repented of his folly, and recommitted himself to serve the Lord. The Lord chastised Job's friends, who had condemned him, and declared that Job had been righteous, an affirmation that must have been reassuring to a man condemned by his brethren. The story ends with Job living "happily ever after," when "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10).

And yet...

And yet, most strikingly, the Lord never answered Job's question. In the end, all that Job had and more was restored to him, but Job never got to know the Lord's reasons for inflicting his punishment. The Lord never answered Job's plea for understanding, and Job and his audience are still left wondering, "Why?"

It's a singularly unsatisfying conclusion to the account of a righteous man with a profound, heartfelt, plea. And yet it's instructive for all of us, when our prayers go unanswered. It teaches us that questioning the Lord's motives is ultimately fruitless. It teaches us that because the Lord's knowledge is infinite, and His love is perfect, we can have confidence in His direction of our lives and His custody of our souls, even when we cannot understand His ways or fathom His purposes.

Christ, on the cross, marveled that His Father would leave Him alone during His time of greatest need, that the God He had served would abandon His Only Begotten Son to die a shameful death in utter loneliness. His last plea on the cross was a cry for an explanation--"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Why, God, why?

But at that anguished cry, the heavens again were silent, and the Son of God, the Creator of worlds without end, died without an answer.

And yet we continue to ask. Why should we expect what our Lord went without? "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (Doc. & Cov. 122:8). Do we think ourselves greater than the Master we serve?

So why doesn't the Lord answer our "why?" questions? That's a bit of a circular inquiry, to be sure, since it is also a "why?" question. But let me take a crack at it anyway.

A friend suggested to me a reason, and as I’ve thought it over, I’ve recognized the merit in his idea. He observed that if every part of life made perfect sense, if we could see the end from the beginning, if we could have a perfect understanding of the Lord's purposes in shaping us as He does, it would eliminate the need for us to exercise faith in Him. It would be too simple. We would already see the wisdom in the Lord's plan, and the only rational thing to do would be to submit willingly, with a perfect knowledge of the outcome. Faith would be lost, and spiritual growth would go with it. In the words of Alma, "there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it" (Alma 32:17-18).

The Lord denies us this knowledge so that we have the chance to rely on Him in faith, a chance only available to us if our "why?" questions are left unanswered, for "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21).

When we walk by faith, and not by sight, the emptiness of soul we experience when a perfect knowledge is denied us is filled by a “perfect brightness of hope,” which leads to “a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20). This hope “groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doc. & Cov. 50:24), a day when we will see the things we have hoped for, and rejoice in the knowledge that comes, not as a sign to convince us, but as a reward for our patience and a natural consequence of our faith. In that day, “God shall wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8), and we will kneel before the Lord and, with perfect understanding, acknowledge that His judgments and His purposes are just, that His plan was perfect and His love complete.

Until that day, let’s trust Him. Let us go forward in faith, with confidence in the Lord’s plan for each of us, trusting in “the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19). As we do so, our power will increase and we will come to know the Savior for ourselves, "that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure" (Moroni 7:48).

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Faith To Be Healed: Part III

Our faith, like Zeezrom’s, must not be a belief that the Lord will spare us from death or affliction, but rather a turning of our lives over to Him, a conforming of our wills to His. The Lord left His peace with His apostles of old, commanding them, “let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Such an attitude toward the trials of life is only possible with faith in the Lord’s power to heal. When He left, Christ did not promise to take away all sicknesses or temptations—in fact, He told his disciples that they would suffer tribulation—but He did promise to grant His peace, to heal His children, to make them whole (John 16:33).

The Lord likewise promised the people of Limhi healing, although he did not immediately take away their trial. Said He, “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for…I will…ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while ye are in bondage” (Mosiah 24:14, 15, emphasis added). In this instance, the Lord healed His children by giving them strength to submit to His will. He didn’t immediately free the people from their Lamanite oppressors, nor did He cease requiring them to bear heavy burdens, He simply gave them the strength to bear up under those heavy loads. The trial was still there, but the hurt was gone, and their captivity became a growing experience in submitting to the will of the Lord, rather than an unbearable hardship that made them bitter and angry.

In our lives, the Lord does not always calm the stormy seas, although He can. He doesn’t always take away our sicknesses and hurts, although that too is within His power. Sometimes He lets the storms rage and calms His children. Elder Richard G. Scott explained, “It is important to understand that His healing can mean being cured, or having your burdens eased, or even coming to realize that it is worth it to endure to the end patiently, for God needs brave sons and daughters who are willing to be polished when in His wisdom that is His will” (Richard G. Scott, “To Be Healed,” Ensign, May 1994, 7).

When we have the faith to be healed we understand that the Lord has His eye on us and His hand in our lives, and, relying on His guidance, we yield our wills to His and accept the comfort—the wholeness—that only He can give. We rely on the assurance borne of the Spirit that the Lord can heal us, that He will make us whole and restore that which was lost through the actions of others, the happenings of life, or through our own disobedience. We submit to His will, and we follow the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who expressed their faith that their God could deliver them from the fiery furnace, “but if not”—if the Lord had other plans—still they would be true, because their trust in the assurance written in their hearts that God knew and took care of them was enough to overpower their fear of death (Daniel 3:17-18).

Malachi and Nephi both prophesied that the Lord would arise “with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2; 2 Nephi 25:13). Throughout the Bible, wings are used as a symbol of power, and are found only on heavenly beings. The Lord explained the image of the winged beasts in the book of Revelation, saying that “their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc” (D&C 77:4). Wings provide an escape from enemies, serve a powerful mode of transportation, and display one’s beauty and glory. Wings covered the mercy seat in the ancient temple, (Ex. 25:20) and were used as a symbol of divine protection throughout the writings of the prophets. Wrote the Psalmist, “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings” (Psalm 36:7).

The Lord Himself tells His children on numerous occasions that He is inclined to gather them, “even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,” (Matthew 23:37 etc.). In matters of sin, the Lord is able to stand between us and the demands of justice because His perfect sacrifice atones for our sins, and through our obedience and faith in Him He is able to extend to us His mercy, His shield, His covering. The original text is instructive in this matter; the Hebrew word for atonement, “kaphar,” also means “to cover, as with pitch” (See Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hebrew # 3722, p.1405 ) Through His Atonement the Lord covers us, protects us, and fills in the gaps that otherwise would let in anger, despair, and sin—that which would sink our souls in the stormy seas of life. Our faith in Him and in His Atonement will enable Him to heal us with those same powerful wings with which He covers us.

But just as chicks who refuse to hear the voice and accept the protection of their mother cannot be gathered, so we must pay the price for our rejection of His sacrifice. The Lord’s words to Joseph Smith on this matter were simple yet powerful: “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16-17). Repentance, the second principle of the gospel, is an outgrowth of faith, and both are required to be made free from the bondage of sin (Articles of Faith 1:4). In order for the Lord to gather, cover, and heal us, we must believe in Him, have faith in Him, and trust Him with the direction of our lives and the completion of our souls.

The Lord asks us today, as He asked the Nephites two millennia ago, “O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13). If we turn to Him in faith, His eternal promise is that He will heal us—that He will make us whole.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith To Be Healed: Part II

The forgiveness of sins and the physical alleviation of suffering, whether in this life or in the next as an eternally perfected and glorified being, are conditioned on faith and together constitute being made “whole,” or being truly healed. The Lord’s words to Enos are indicative of this dual meaning—“Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee…because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen…wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1:5, 8). Ten lepers were “cleansed” of their sickness through obedience, but only the one who recognized and had faith in the power of his Healer was made whole (Luke 17:12-19). The Greek word here translated as “whole” is sōzō, which indicates its spiritual implications. Sōzō means “to save, rescue, deliver; to heal…to be in right relationship with God, with the implication that the condition before salvation was one of grave danger or distress.” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek # 4982, p. 1535. [Kohlenberger and Swanson, 2001, Zondervan Grand Rapids, Michigan]) Clearly the wholeness available through the power of God extends to both physical and spiritual ailments.

James, in teaching this principle, asks, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). James here clarifies this process of becoming whole, noting that those whose desire and faith to be healed compels them to request the administration of the priesthood will not only receive physical blessings but will be reconciled to God as well.

This power of healing, made possible through Jesus Christ and claimed through our faith, is stronger still. Through that power, not only can we be relieved of sickness and forgiven of sins; we can also have our natures changed and so be made free of the natural man that inclines us to pit our will against God’s. Isaiah testified of Christ, that “with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). In other words, because Christ willingly submitted to the indignities of his mortal torment and was in all things obedient to the will of His Father, He has the power to mold our wills to His, to “take away the stony heart” and give men “a new heart…a heart of flesh,” to change us so that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Ezekiel 36:26; Mosiah 5:2).

Christ became subject to the infirmities and temptations of a mortal body, and, having overcome the power of the devil, is able to free us from his bondage. Wrote Paul, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Because Christ has overcome His flesh, He has obtained the power to subdue the natural man within us. Through His Atonement, He took upon Himself not only the penalties for the sins of all mankind, but also the sins themselves, the natural man that makes us enemies to God. Through the Atonement, Christ not only enabled us to become “at-one” with God; He also became “at-one” with us. He suffered the aggregate agony of the incompleteness of fallen man, and, having overcome all things, has and ever will have the power to make us whole.

Jesus Christ has the power to heal us, quite literally, of everything. He can heal every hurt, every sickness, every heartache, and every sin. The Lord’s healing power can, by our faith, be invoked, “upon a world afflicted with greed and contention, upon families distressed by argument and selfishness, upon individuals burdened with sin and troubles and sorrows.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 52) Through faith, everything that is incomplete—bodies, souls, relationships, and nations—can be made whole by the very same power, the infinite and eternal power of a God’s atonement. Indeed, the One who created all things, descended below all things and has risen above all things can surely make all things whole (D&C 63:59; 88:6, 41; Ephesians 4:10; Mosiah 5:15).

Of necessity the Lord conditions His healing upon our faith—our trust in the assurance given by the Holy Ghost that His Atonement really does cover everything, and that its power really can make us whole. He asks us to believe on His name, even the name of Jesus Christ, which literally testifies that, “The Anointed One, Jehovah saves.”

From Alma’s interview with the critically ill Zeezrom we learn an important principle—that faith to be healed is not a mere belief that God can or will free one from sickness, but is rather a reliance on the assurance of Christ’s divinity and power. This reliance on and testimony of Christ is what bestows power unto healing. Jacob spoke of the acquisition and basis of this powerful faith, saying, “We search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy” (Jacob 4:6). The spirit of prophecy, the scriptures tell us, is “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10; Alma 6:8). Jacob continues, describing the power that this testimony bestows: “And having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea” (Jacob 4:6). Jacob makes clear that access to the Lord’s power over nature—in which must be included the health of the body—is available only through an unshakeable faith in Him.

Said Alma to Zeezrom, “If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed” (Alma 15:8). Immediately after his physical recovery, Zeezrom was baptized and thus made whole by the same power and through the same faith that had been the condition of his miraculous cure (Alma 15:12).

So it is in our own lives. Faith to be healed provides a power unto physical healing if it is the Lord’s will that we be healed. As He revealed to Joseph Smith, “it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed” (D&C 42:48, emphasis added). There are, of course, those with exceeding faith who die due to ailments that the Lord has the power to cure. Elder Talmage explained, “Not always are the administrations of the elders followed by immediate healings; the afflicted may be permitted to suffer in body, perhaps for the accomplishment of good purposes, and in the time appointed all must experience bodily death.” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, p. 205 [Deseret Book Company, SLC, Utah, 1984]) But even those who die possessing this great faith are healed, for these are they who do “have…hope of a glorious resurrection” (D&C 42:45). To these the Lord promises that they “shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:46).

Joseph Smith was one such man, of whom the Lord proclaimed, “they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil” (3 Nephi 21:10). Although the Lord allowed the Prophet to be murdered by a mob, he was received into heaven and is a “partake[r] of all blessings which were held in reserve for” him (D&C 138:52). One could not ask for a greater healing than, in death, to be taken back into the presence of God and receive of His fullness. Thus comes the Lord’s injunction; “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

Likewise, we should not lose faith because of the sometimes inexplicable power of those sicknesses which kill the body. Despite our physical impairments, which may or may not persist throughout this life despite our exceeding faith, the exercise of our faith to be healed will always lead to a spiritual nearness with God, a repair of a repeatedly broken relationship with our Creator, and a newness of life. And if in faith we endure to the end of our course, “a crown of righteousness” awaits us in the eternal rest of the Lord (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

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