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Mormonism and priesthood/Healing the sick
Healing the sick
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- Question: Why doesn't God always heal the sick when they are given priesthood blessings?
- Question: Do we have any record of Joseph Smith performing healings or other miracles by the power of Christ's priesthood?
Question: Why doesn't God always heal the sick when they are given priesthood blessings?
The healing power of faith and the priesthood cannot produce a result contrary to the will of the Lord
God does heal the sick. There are many miraculous accounts of healing in and outside of the church. However, as D&C 42:48 states, it is not always the will of the Lord for every individual to be healed:
And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained this very well:
[W]e 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. This principle is taught in the revelation directing that the elders of the Church shall lay their hands upon the sick. The Lord’s promise is 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). Similarly, in another modern revelation the Lord declares that when one “asketh according to the will of God … it is done even as he asketh” (D&C 46:30).
From all of this we learn that even the servants of the Lord, exercising His divine power in a circumstance where there is sufficient faith to be healed, cannot give a priesthood blessing that will cause a person to be healed if that healing is not the will of the Lord.
As children of God, knowing of His great love and His ultimate knowledge of what is best for our eternal welfare, we trust in Him. The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and faith means trust.
The words of the blessing are not essential and cannot override the will of the Lord
The words spoken in a priesthood blessing may not be fulfilled if they are not in accordance with the will of the Lord. Likewise, a person may receive blessings not stated by the priesthood holder if they are in accordance with the will of the Lord and the faith of the individual.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not. Conversely, if the officiator yields to personal desire or inexperience and gives commands or words of blessing in excess of what the Lord chooses to bestow according to the faith of the individual, those words will not be fulfilled. 
God wants us to be His hands to alleviate suffering
Many people ask whether God intervenes in our lives. It is true that he does from time to time. But, perhaps a more important question is whether we are intervening in each others' lives. Should we pray that God will heal the sick? Yes. But, more importantly, are we "visiting the sick and administering to their relief?"  Perhaps God is more concerned with what we are doing to intervene in the lives of others than with intervening directly himself.
Spencer W. Kimball stated it this way: "God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom." 
If God chose to heal all the sick through direct intervention, we would have fewer opportunities to be blessed by charitable service. Perhaps God allows many individuals to suffer without healing so that we can bless them and be blessed by our service to them. After all, "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." 
One purpose of mortality is to learn through our experience
One of the purposes of life is to learn, through our own experience, how to discern between good and evil and to treasure the good. When we accepted the Father's plan, we also accepted the pain, anguish, heartache, suffering and death that it entails. However, when we act in faith and call upon God, He may take "the burdens which [are] laid upon" us and make them "light." He may choose to "strengthen [us] that [we can] bear up [our] burdens with ease."  He often does this instead of removing our burdens outright through healing or other means.
As taught by Elder Orson F. Whitney:
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. 
In this light, opposition and heartache are not simply an uncomfortable reality, they are actually central to the plan. Therefore, if God were to always heal the sick, he would do so at the peril of his own plan for us.
Suffering caused by sickness can help lead us to sanctification
Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
Our needed conversions are often achieved more readily by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquillity. … Father Lehi promised his son Jacob that God would ‘consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain’ (2 Nephi 2:2). The Prophet Joseph was promised that ‘thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high’ (D&C 121:7–8).
Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call ‘the furnace of affliction’ (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Nephi 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become. 
Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, 'Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!' 
Permanent healing will come to all through the resurrection
At the time of the resurrection, "the soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame." 
Until then, any medical or miracle healing is only temporary. The ultimate healing was already planned before the foundations of the world and will be brought about through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Question: Do we have any record of Joseph Smith performing healings or other miracles by the power of Christ's priesthood?
Accounts of healings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are at least as well attested historically as those recorded in the Gospels
Both sincere and insincere persons have asked this question. The Saints believe in healings and other miracles through Christ's priesthood power, but are cautious about sharing such events. However, such events are mainly for the comfort and blessing of the Saints, and are not intended to convince others or act as a "sign." Said Elder B.H. Roberts, quoting the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name they shall do many wonderful works; in my name 2 they shall cast out devils; in my name they shall heal the sick; in my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; and the tongue of the dumb shall speak; and if any man shall administer poison unto them, it shall not hurt them; and the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them. But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation. (DC 84:65-73)
[Elder Roberts then continues] The last part of the passage I have written in Italics that it might be the clearer understood that this promise of the miraculous gifts enumerated was not made that servants of God in the new dispensation might have evidence of what are commonly looked upon as miracles to point to in attestation of their divine authority; but are blessings given to the saints for their profit and salvation. For the very reasons that they were not given as evidence of divine authority, but as a promise of blessing to the saints, they will become all the stronger proof of divine authority in the ministry of the new dispensation, provided it can be proven that they follow those who believe. And I want to say, also, that because of the commandment that the servants of God shall not boast of these powers before the world is the very reason that so little has been said of them as proof of the divine mission of our New Witness; and even now I make their chief weight as evidence consist in the fact that their enjoyment is the fulfillment of a promise made by the God of heaven through Joseph Smith, which if it had not been fulfilled would prove him beyond all question an impostor. But I affirm that these promises are fulfilled in the experience of those who believe in, and accept the new dispensation...:1:253-254
In the month of April, 1830, Joseph Smith was visiting at the house of a Mr. Joseph Knight, at Colesville, Broome County, New York. This gentleman had rendered the prophet some timely assistance while translating the Book of Mormon, and he was anxious that Mr. Knight and his family should receive the truth. While in Mr. Knight's neighborhood the prophet held a number of meetings. Among those who attended regularly was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and the prophet had many serious conversations on the subject of man's salvation. In the meetings held the people prayed much, and in one of the aforesaid conversations with the prophet, Newel Knight promised that he would pray publicly. When the time came, however, his heart failed him, and he refused, saying that he would wait until he got into the woods by himself. The next morning when he attempted to pray in the woods, he was over-whelmed with a sense of having neglected his duty the evening before, in not praying in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy and continued to grow worse both in body and mind, until upon reaching home his appearance was such as to alarm his wife. He sent for the prophet, who, when he came found Newel in a sad condition and suffering greatly. His visage and limbs were distorted and twisted in every shape imaginable. At last he was caught up off the floor and tossed about most fearfully. The neighbors hearing of his condition came running in. After he had suffered for a time the prophet succeeded in getting him by the hand, when Newel immediately spoke to him, saying he knew he was possessed of the devil, and that the prophet had power to cast him out. "If you know I can, it shall be, done," replied the prophet; and then almost unconsciously he rebuked Satan and commanded him to depart from the man. Immediately Newel's contortions stopped, and he spoke out and said he saw the devil leave him and vanish from sight.
"This was the first miracle which was done in this church, or by any member of it," writes the prophet; "and it was done not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God and by the power of Godliness; therefore let the honor and praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.":1:254-255
Words of Oliver B. Huntington: Soon after Joseph settled in Kirtland, members of the Church began to gather to that place. The name of Joseph Smith and his power with God aroused everybody either for good or for bad. Mrs. John Johnson, who lived at the town of Hiram, forty miles distant from Kirtland, heard of the wonderful man that could receive revelations from God, heal the sick and see angels. She had a stiff arm that she wanted healed and made useful like the other, so she induced her husband to take a journey to Kirtland to see the Prophet.
Joseph asked her if she believed that God could make him instrumental in healing her arm which had been stiff a long time.
She answered that she believed her arm could be healed.
The Prophet only remarked that he would visit her the next day.
The next day Joseph came to Bishop Newel K. Whitney's home where Mr. Johnson and his wife were staying. There were a Campbellite doctor and a Methodist preacher in the room. He took Mrs. Johnson by the hand and without sitting down or standing on ceremonies, and after a very short mental prayer, pronounced her arm whole in the name of Jesus Christ. He left the house immediately.
When he was gone, the preacher asked if her arm was well. She immediately stretched out her arm straight, remarking at the same time, "It's as well as the other."
The next day the preacher came to the house of Philo Dibble, who lived a little out of town, and related what he saw, and then tried to account for it upon natural principles, saying that when Joseph pronounced that arm whole in the name of Jesus Christ, it frightened her so badly that it threw her in a heavy perspiration and relaxed the cords, and the result was that she could straighten her arm.
When the knowledge of the miracle was had among the Saints, some of the brethren asked the Prophet if the arm would remain sound. Joseph answered, "The arm is as sound as the other and is as liable to accidents or to be hurt as the other."
The following account of a miraculous healing is to be found in Hayden' History of the Disciples (Campbellites); and is the statement of witnesses hostile to the prophet and the work in which he was engaged:
- "Ezra Booth, of Mantua, a Methodist preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities, in company with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and some other citizens of this place, visited Smith at his house in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith, partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned upon the subject of supernatural gifts; such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said: 'Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men on the earth to cure her?' A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: "Woman, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole; and immediately left the room. The company were awestricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain.":1:255-256
24-25 June 1834
This night the cholera burst forth among us, and about midnight it was manifested in its most virulent form. Our ears were saluted with cries and moanings, and lamentations on every hand; even those on guard fell to the earth with their guns in their hands, so sudden and powerful was the attack of this terrible disease. At the commencement, I attempted to lay on hands for their recovery, but I quickly learned by painful experience, that when the great Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, and makes known His determination, man must not attempt to stay His hand. The moment I attempted to rebuke the disease I was attacked, and had I not desisted in my attempt to save the life of a brother, I would have sacrificed my own. The disease seized upon me like the talons of a hawk, and I said to the brethren: "If my work were done, you would have to put me in the ground without a coffin.". . .
When the cholera made its appearance, Elder John S. Carter was the first man who stepped forward to rebuke it, and upon this, was instantly seized, and became the first victim in the camp.:2:114-115
11-13 October 1835
Waited on my father again, who was very sick. In secret prayer in the morning, the Lord said, "My servant, thy father shall live." . . . We called on the Lord in mighty prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, and laid our hands on him, and rebuked the disease. And God heard and answered our prayers—to the great joy and satisfaction of our souls. Our aged father arose and dressed himself, shouted, and praised the Lord. Called Brother William Smith, who had retired to rest, that he might praise the Lord with us, by joining in songs of praise to the Most High...Visited my father, who was very much recovered from his sickness, indeed, which caused us to marvel at the might, power, and condescension of our Heavenly Father, in answering our prayers in his behalf.:2:289-290
10 December 1835
This afternoon I was called, in company with President David Whitmer, to visit Angeline Works. We found her very sick, and so much deranged that she did not recognize her friends and intimate acquaintances. We prayed for her and laid hands on her in the name of Jesus Christ, and commanded her in His name to receive her senses, which were immediately restored. We also prayed that she might be restored to health; and she said she was better.:2:328
22 July 1839
(Wilford Woodruff): On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1839, [the Prophet] arose reflecting upon the situation of the Saints of God in their persecutions and afflictions. He called upon the Lord in prayer, and the power of God rested mightily upon him. And as Jesus healed all the sick around Him in His day, so Joseph, the Prophet of God, healed all around on this occasion. He healed all in his house and dooryard, then, in company with Sidney Rigdon and several of the Twelve, he went through among the sick lying on the bank of the river, and he commanded them in a loud voice, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come up and be made whole, and they were all healed.
When he healed all that were sick on the east side of the river, they crossed the Mississippi River to Montrose, where we were. The first house they went into was President Brigham Young's. He was sick on his bed at the time. The Prophet went into his house and healed him, and they all came out together. As they were passing by my door, Brother Joseph said, "Brother Woodruff, follow me."
These were the only words spoken by any of the company from the time they left Brother Brigham's house till we crossed the public square and entered Brother Elijah Fordham's house. Brother Fordham had been dying for an hour, and we expected each minute would be his last.
I felt the power of God that was overwhelming His prophet. When we entered the house, Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham and took him by the right hand; in his left hand he held his hat.
He saw that Brother Fordham's eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.
After taking hold of his hand, the Prophet looked down into the dying man's face and said, "Brother Fordham, do you not know me?"
At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.
Joseph again said, "Elijah, do you not know me?"
With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, "Yes."
The Prophet then said, "Have you not faith to be healed?"
The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was, "I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think I might have been."
He had the appearance of a man waking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.
Joseph then said, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?"
"I do, Brother Joseph," was the response.
Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead, "Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!"
The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation. Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act. His feet were done up in Indian-meal poultices. He kicked them off his feet, scattered the contents, then called for his clothes and put them on. He asked for a bowl of bread and milk and ate it. Then he put on his hat and followed us into the street to visit others who were sick.
As soon as we left Brother Fordham's house, we went into the house of Joseph B. Noble, who was very low and dangerously sick. When we entered the house, Brother Joseph took him by the hand, and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and be made whole. He did arise and was immediately healed.
While this was going on, the wicked mob in the place, led by one Kilburn, had become alarmed, and followed us into Brother Noble's house. Before they arrived there, Brother Joseph had called upon Brother Fordham to offer prayer. While he was praying, the mob entered, with all the evil spirits accompanying them. As soon as they entered, Brother Fordham, who was praying, fainted and sank to the floor.
When Joseph saw the mob in the house, he arose and had the room cleared of both that class of men and their attendant devils. Then Brother Fordham immediately revived and finished his prayer.
This shows what power evil spirits have upon the tabernacles of men. The Saints are only saved from the devil by the power of God.
This case of Brother Noble's was the last one of healing upon that day. It was the greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.
When we left Brother Noble, the Prophet Joseph went with those who accompanied him from the other side of the bank of the river, to return home. While waiting for the ferryboat, a man of the world, knowing of the miracles which had been performed, came to him and asked him if he would not go and heal his twin children, about five months old, who were both lying sick nigh unto death. They were some two miles from Montrose.
The Prophet said he could not go, but after pausing some time, he said he would send some one to heal them. He then turned to me and said, "You go with the man and heal his children."
He took a red silk handkerchief out of his pocket and gave it to me, and told me to wipe their faces with the handkerchief when I administered to them, and they should be healed. He also said unto me, "As long as you will keep that handkerchief, it shall remain a league between you and me."
I went with the man, and did as the Prophet commanded me, and the children were healed.
23 July 1839
As a great number of brethren lay sick in the town, on Tuesday, 23rd July, 1839, I told Don Carlos and George A. Smith to go and visit all the sick, exercise mighty faith, and administer to them in the name of Jesus Christ, commanding the destroyer to depart, and the people to arise and walk; and not leave a single person on the bed between my house and Ebenezer Robinson's, two miles distant; they administered to over sixty persons, many of whom thought they would never sit up again; but they were healed, arose from their beds, and gave glory to God; some of them assisted in visiting and administering to others who were sick.:4:398-99
circa 1 December 1840
[Dated 19 May 1841]
Be it known that on or about the first of December last, we, J. Shamp and Margaret Shamp, of the town of Batavia, Gennesee county, N.Y., had a daughter that had been deaf and dumb four and a half years, and was restored to her hearing, the time aforesaid, by the laying on of the hands of the Elders (Nathan R. Knight and Charles Thompson) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons, through the power of Almighty God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as believed and practiced by them in these last days. [Signed]
- J. SHAMP,
- M. SHAMP.:4:361
Shortly after her marriage to T.H.B. Stenhouse, English convert Fanny reported witnessing miracles performed by LDS Elders. Interestingly, Fanny reported these events after her apostasy from the Church, in an anti-Mormon book. These accounts can be read here.
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Healing the Sick," General Conference Priesthood Session (April 2010).
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Healing the Sick," General Conference Priesthood Session (April 2010).
- Mosiah 4:26
- "Small Acts of Service," Spencer W. Kimball https://www.lds.org/ensign/1974/12/small-acts-of-service?lang=eng
- Mosiah 2:17
- Mosiah 24:15
- Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, in Faith Precedes the Miracle (1972), 98
- Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become," Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds," Ensign, May 1991, 88
- Alma 40:23
- Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]). ISBN 0962254541.
- Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 23. ISBN 1570086729. ISBN 978-1570086724.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957).
- footnote; see also Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 75–79 and History of Wilford Woodruff, 326.