The Healing Power of the Atonement: Conditioned upon Our Faith to Be Healed

Amy Gordon, “The Healing Power of the Atonement: Conditioned upon Our Faith to Be Healed,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2006 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006), 31–41.

The Healing Power of the Atonement: Conditioned upon Our Faith to Be Healed

Amy Gordon

 

The Lord’s healing of both our physical and spiritual afflictions is conditioned upon our faith in Him and is made possible through His Atonement, through which He took upon Himself the pains and sins of all mankind. Having overcome all, the Lord has the power to enable us to do the same, if we will but rely on the witness of the Holy Ghost, who testifies of Him.

Faith: A Definition

Faith is a conviction of and firm reliance on the existence, efficacy, and applicability of the saving power of God. It is a gift given by God through the Spirit to His children in order to help them center their lives on Him (see D&C 46:19; 1 Corinthians 12:31). Faith is a gift of the Spirit that bestows the assurance of that which is unseen (see Hebrews 11:1). This assurance is intangible but nonetheless real (see Alma 32:35). It gives us power borne of certainty and inspires us to action, to experimenting upon the word of God, by which we gain a perfect knowledge of its truthfulness (see Alma 32:34).

Faith is a principle of belief, of action, and of power.[1] President Boyd K. Packer described faith, saying:

There are two kinds of faith. One of them functions ordinarily in the life of every soul. It is the kind of faith born by experience; it gives us certainty that a new day will dawn. . . . It is the kind of faith that relates us with confidence to that which is scheduled to happen. . . . There is another kind of faith, rare indeed. This is the kind of faith that causes things to happen. It is the kind of faith that is worthy and prepared and unyielding, and it calls forth things that otherwise would not be. It is the kind of faith that moves people. It is the kind of faith that sometimes moves things. . . . It is a marvelous, even a transcendent, power, a power as real and as invisible as electricity. Directed and channeled, it has great effect.[2]

 

Faith to be healed is included in this second type of faith. Such faith draws upon and channels the powers of heaven to restore lost physical and spiritual strength. Faith gives us both the assurance of healing and the means whereby that healing is accomplished.

Faith to Be Healed

Throughout Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He, through faith, made the afflicted whole, forgave sins, and alleviated suffering. He commended the centurion for his great faith that his servant might be healed, proclaiming, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). To the woman with an issue of blood whose faith—”If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole”—drove her to experiment upon that witness of the Spirit, Jesus proclaimed, “Go in peace; . . . thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 5:28, 34). Zeezrom, close to death, was healed by the same power, “according to his faith . . . in Christ” (Alma 15:10).

The healing power of Christ is available on the earth today through the authority of the priesthood.[3] Although the miracles of modern medicine can prolong and improve life, they cannot consistently guarantee healing. The power of man is limited, but the power of God transcends and overcomes all things. President Gordon B. Hinckley testified that, although doctors can do much, “the mighty Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that in them are has given to His servants a divine power that sometimes transcends all the powers and knowledge of men.”[4]

The Lord is able to provide relief from physical suffering, even when mortal capabilities are insufficient. During His time in mortality, He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), causing the “dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see” (Matthew 15:31). This same power to do good, to heal the sick in the name of Jesus Christ, is available today through the administration of those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. The faith to be healed and its companion, the faith to heal, are gifts of the Spirit given to those who need and earnestly desire them, according to the power and mercy of God (see D&C 46:19–20).

But the Lord’s healing was, and is, extended to more than physical ailments, for Christ has the power to heal souls, to “make whole,” to reconcile the sinner with God, to make life complete. The Lord speaks to Isaiah of the sinfulness of His people, comparing it to physical illness: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isaiah 1:5–6). In our day, President Hinckley also spoke of this less recognized but more debilitating ailment, saying, “There is much of sickness among us other than that of the body. There is the sickness of sin. . . . Legion are those who have testified of the healing power of Christ to lift them from the desolation of sin to higher and nobler living.”[5] As ancient and modern prophets testify, Christ can heal sicknesses of the body and of the soul. The Savior taught the Nephites of the consequences of sin, warning them that “whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul” and He cautioned His people against passing judgment, “for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them” (3 Nephi 18:29, 32). If the Lord can heal the repentant who have knowingly partaken of damnation, He will surely extend that healing to those whose transgressions carry less serious consequences.

To the man sick of the palsy, Christ first proclaimed, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee”—and only afterward did He command him to “arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way” (Mark 2:5, 11). Both healings were performed, however, only after “Jesus saw their faith” (Mark 2:5). The Lord’s coupling of the two healings teaches an important lesson—that healing one’s body from sickness and healing one’s soul from sin are both done by the same power, through faith in the infinite and eternal power of His Atonement. Christ asked the observing scribes to consider, “Is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (Mark 2:9). The unspoken answer is a definitive no, for both proclamations are made possible by the same power, and both are equally easy—or, more precisely, both are equally hard. The forgiveness of sins and the alleviation of sickness were made possible by the Atonement, the most difficult act ever performed, the act that endowed the Son of God with the greatest power in creation. Through that power, “all things are possible,” but only “to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).

Forgiveness of sins and physical alleviation of suffering, whether received 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 (see 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.”[6] 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 but 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 . . . an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26), to change us so that we “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (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 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 the 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.[7] 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 fallen man, and, having overcome all things, He 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.”[8] 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 the Atonement. Indeed, the One who created all things, who descended below all things, and who has risen above all things can surely make all things whole (see 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.”[9]

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 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—which must include the health of the body—is available only through an unshakable 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 (see 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 James E. 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.”[10] But even those who die possessing this great faith are healed, for these are they who do “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, “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 “partaker . . . of all blessings which were held in reserve for” him (D&C 138:52). What greater healing could he have than 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, 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 (see 2 Timothy 4:7–8).

The Lord does not spare us from death or affliction, but He promises peace as we conform 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 possible only 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, and to make them whole (see John 16:33).

The Lord likewise promised the people of Limhi healing, although He did not immediately take away their trial. He said, “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 24:13–14; 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 He 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.”[11]

When we have the faith to be healed, we understand that the Lord has His eye on us and His hand in our lives. Relying on His guidance, we yield our wills to His and accept the comfort and 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 our own disobedience. We submit to His will, and we follow the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who expressed the faith that 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 (see Daniel 3:18).

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 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 as a powerful mode of transportation, and display one’s beauty and glory. Wings covered the mercy seat in the ancient temple (see Exodus 25:20) and were used as a symbol of divine protection throughout the writings of the prophets. The Psalmist wrote, “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). 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 extends 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 with pitch.”[12] 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 (see 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.

Notes


[1] See also Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 72.

[2] Boyd K. Packer, “What Is Faith?” in Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 42; emphasis added.

[3] See also L. Tom Perry, “Healing: A Special Priesthood Blessing,” in Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981).

[4] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” Ensign, November 1988, 52.

[5] Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” 52.

[6] James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek 4,982 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 1,535.

[7] See also James L. Ferrell, The Peacegiver: How Christ Offers to Heal Hearts and Homes (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 176.

[8] Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” 52.

[9] See Bible Dictionary, “Jesus,” 713; “Christ,” 633.

[10] James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 205.

[11] Richard G. Scott, “To Be Healed,” Ensign, May 1994, 7.

[12] See Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hebrew 3,722, 1,405.