David A. Bednar, Mormon Apostle, visited the University of Texas and spoke at a devotional for young adults. He shared a story in which a friend he calls “John and Heather” faced a serious health challenge, prompting a discussion about faith and healing. Bednar surprisingly asked when about to give John a blessing, if John had the faith not to be healed, accepting God’s will even if it meant being “transferred” to the spirit world. John expected a powerful blessing from an Apostle of God, but received this paradoxical challenge instead. It challenged them to overcome impatience and submit to God’s will and as they wrestled with this concept of having faith even when they might not be healed, they ultimately surrendered their will to God. Miraculously, John’s cancer went into remission for a while, and when it returned, they grappled with disappointment and the purpose of trials. John realized that faith isn’t about believing he would be healed but acknowledging that God could heal him but might not. Resigning that he had no control over life brought John comfort, peace, and a recognition of God’s plan unfolding in his life. Yet, how is this different than understanding that some people get sick and some don’t, life goes on and sometimes there isn’t anything anyone can do about it?
Here is the story as shared by David A. Bednar in the Devotional in 2013:
John asked if I would give him a priesthood blessing. I responded that I gladly would give such a blessing, but I first needed to ask some questions.
I then posed questions I had not planned to ask and had never previously considered: “[John,] do you have the faith not to be healed? If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”
I frankly was surprised by the questions I felt prompted to ask this particular couple. Frequently in the scriptures, the Savior or His servants exercised the spiritual gift of healing and perceived that an individual had the faith to be healed. But as John and Heather and I counseled together and wrestled with these questions, we increasingly understood that if God’s will were for this good young man to be healed, then that blessing could only be received if this valiant couple first had the faith not to be healed. In other words, John and Heather needed to overcome, through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “natural man” tendency in all of us to demand impatiently and insist incessantly on the blessings we want and believe we deserve.
What initially seemed to John, Heather, and me to be perplexing questions became part of a pervasive pattern of gospel paradoxes. Consider the admonition of the Savior: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). He also declared, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30). And the Lord counseled His latter-day disciples, “By thy word many high ones shall be brought low, and by thy word many low ones shall be exalted” (D&C 112:8). Thus, having the faith to not be healed seemed to fit appropriately into a powerful pattern of penetrating paradoxes that require us to ask, to seek, and to knock that we might receive knowledge and understanding (see 3 Nephi 14:7).
After taking the necessary time to ponder my inquiries and to talk with his wife, John said to me: “Elder Bednar, I do not want to die. I do not want to leave [Heather]. But if the will of the Lord is to transfer me to the spirit world, then I guess I am good with that.” My heart swelled with appreciation and admiration as I witnessed this young couple confront the most demanding of all spiritual struggles—the submissive surrender of their wills to God’s will. My faith was strengthened as I witnessed this couple allowing their strong and understandable desires for healing to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father”.
John’s cancer miraculously went into remission.
Some time later I subsequently received a letter from John and Heather informing me that the cancer had returned. Chemotherapy was resumed and surgery scheduled. John explained: “Not only did this news come as a disappointment to [Heather] and me, but we were puzzled by it. Was there something we did not learn the first time? Did the Lord expect something more from us? Growing up as Latter-day Saints, it was common to go to church and hear the phrase, ‘every trial God gives us is for our benefit.’ Well, to be honest, I could not see how this was benefitting me!
In that moment I had to ask myself, ‘Do I really believe this?’ Do I really believe He calmed the waters that day? Or is it just a nice story to read about?’ The answer is: I do believe, and because I know He calmed the waters, I instantly knew He could heal me. Up until this point, I had a hard time reconciling the need for my faith in Christ with the inevitability of His will. I saw them as two separate things, and sometimes I felt that one contradicted the other. ‘Why should I have faith if His will ultimately is what will prevail,’ I asked? After this experience, I knew that having faith—at least in my circumstance—was not necessarily knowing that He would heal me, but that He could heal me. I had to believe that He could, and then whether it happened was up to Him.
“As I allowed those two ideas to coexist in my life, focused faith in Jesus Christ and complete submission to His will, I found greater comfort and peace. It has been so remarkable to see the Lord’s hand in our lives. Things have fallen into place, miracles have happened, and we continually are humbled to see God’s plan for us unfold.”That We Might “Not … Shrink” – Elder David A Bednar, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
CES Devotional for Young Adults • March 3, 2013 • University of Texas Arlington
Elder Bednar also recounts this same story a few years later as an Ensign article. This reaches the full church membership and spreads his faulty circular logic even farther.
John is a worthy priesthood holder and served faithfully as a full-time missionary. After returning home from his mission, he dated and married a righteous and wonderful young woman, Heather. John was 23 and Heather was 20 on the day they were sealed together for time and for all eternity in the house of the Lord.
Approximately three weeks after their temple marriage, John was diagnosed with bone cancer. Because cancer nodules also were discovered in his lungs, the prognosis was not good.
John recorded in his journal: “This was the scariest day of my life. Not only because I was told I had cancer, but also because I was newly married and somehow felt that I had failed as a husband. I was the provider and protector of our new family, and now—three weeks into that role—I felt like I had failed.”
Heather noted: “This was devastating news, and I remember how greatly it changed our perspectives. I was in a hospital waiting room writing wedding thank-you notes as we anticipated the results of John’s tests. But after learning about John’s cancer, Crock-Pots and cookware did not seem so important anymore. This was the worst day of my life, but I remember going to bed that night with gratitude for our temple sealing. Though the doctors had given John only a 30 percent chance of survival, I knew that if we remained faithful I had a 100 percent chance to be with him forever.”
Approximately one month later John began chemotherapy. He described his experience: “The treatments caused me to be sicker than I had ever been in my life. I lost my hair, dropped 41 pounds, and my body felt like it was falling apart. The chemotherapy also affected me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Life was a roller coaster during the months of chemo with highs, lows, and everything in between. But through it all, Heather and I maintained the faith that God would heal me. We just knew it.”
Heather chronicled her thoughts and feelings: “I could not stand to let John spend the night alone in the hospital, so I would sleep every night on the small couch in his room. We had lots of friends and family visit during the day, but the nights were the hardest. I would stare at the ceiling and wonder what Heavenly Father had planned for us. Sometimes my mind would wander into dark places, and my fear of losing John would almost overtake me. But I knew these thoughts were not from Heavenly Father. My prayers for comfort became more frequent, and the Lord gave me the strength to keep going.”
Three months later, John underwent a surgical procedure to remove a large tumor in his leg. Two days following the operation, I visited John and Heather in the hospital. We talked about the first time I met John in the mission field, about their marriage, about the cancer, and about the eternally important lessons we learn through the trials of mortality. As we concluded our time together, John asked if I would give him a priesthood blessing. I responded that I gladly would give such a blessing, but I first needed to ask some questions.
I then posed questions I had not planned to ask and had never previously considered: “John, do you have the faith not to be healed? If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”
After taking the necessary time to ponder my inquiries and to talk with his wife, John said to me: “Elder Bednar, I do not want to die. I do not want to leave Heather. But if the will of the Lord is to transfer me to the spirit world, then I guess I am good with that.”
My heart swelled with appreciation and admiration as I witnessed this young couple confront the most demanding of all spiritual struggles—the submissive surrender of their wills to God’s will. My faith was strengthened as I witnessed this couple allowing their strong and understandable desires for healing to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7).
John described his reaction to our conversation and the blessing he received: “Elder Bednar shared with us the thought from Elder Maxwell that it is better to not shrink than to survive. Elder Bednar then asked us, ‘I know you have the faith to be healed, but do you have the faith not to be healed?’ This was a foreign concept to me. Essentially he was asking if I had the faith to accept God’s will if His will were that I not be healed. If the time were approaching for me to enter the spirit world through death, was I prepared to submit and accept?”
John continued: “Having the faith not to be healed seemed counterintuitive; but that perspective changed the way my wife and I thought and allowed us to put our trust fully in the Father’s plan for us. We learned we needed to gain the faith that the Lord is in charge whatever the outcome may be, and He will guide us from where we are to where we need to be. As we prayed, our petitions changed from ‘Please make me whole’ to ‘Please give me the faith to accept whatever outcome Thou hast planned for me.’
“I was sure that since Elder Bednar was an Apostle, he would bless the elements of my body to realign, and I would jump out of the bed and start to dance or do something dramatic like that! But as he blessed me that day, I was amazed that the words he spoke were almost identical to those of my father, my father-in-law, and my mission president. I realized that ultimately it does not matter whose hands are on my head. God’s power does not change, and His will is made known to us individually and through His authorized servants.”
Heather wrote: “This day was filled with mixed emotions for me. I was convinced that Elder Bednar would place his hands on John’s head and completely heal him of the cancer. I knew that through the power of the priesthood he could be healed, and I wanted so bad for that to happen. After he taught us about the faith to not be healed, I was terrified. Up to that point, I had never had to come to grips with the fact that the Lord’s plan might include losing my new husband. My faith was dependent upon the outcomes I wanted. In a manner of speaking, it was one-dimensional. Though terrifying at first, the thought of having the faith not to be healed ultimately freed me from worry. It allowed me to have complete trust that my Heavenly Father knew me better than I knew myself, and He would do what was best for me and John.”
A blessing was given, and weeks, months, and years passed by. John’s cancer miraculously went into remission. He was able to complete his university studies and obtained gainful employment. John and Heather continued to strengthen their relationship and enjoy life together.
Sometime later I received a letter from John and Heather informing me that the cancer had returned. Chemotherapy was resumed and surgery scheduled. John explained: “Not only did this news come as a disappointment to Heather and me, but we were puzzled by it. Was there something we did not learn the first time? Did the Lord expect something more from us?
“So I began to pray for clarity and for the Lord to help me understand why this recurrence of the cancer was happening. One day as I was reading in the New Testament I received my answer. I read the account of Christ and His Apostles on the sea when a tempest arose. Fearing the boat would capsize, the disciples went to the Savior and asked, ‘Master, carest thou not that we perish?’ This is exactly how I felt! Carest thou not that I have cancer? Carest thou not that we want to start a family? But as I read on in the story, I found my answer. The Lord looked at them and said, ‘O ye of little faith,’ and He stretched forth His hand and calmed the waters.
“In that moment I had to ask myself, ‘Do I really believe this? Do I really believe He calmed the waters that day? Or is it just a nice story to read about?’ The answer is: I do believe, and because I know He calmed the waters, I instantly knew He could heal me. Up until this point, I had a hard time reconciling the need for my faith in Christ with the inevitability of His will. I saw them as two separate things, and sometimes I felt that one contradicted the other. ‘Why should I have faith if His will ultimately is what will prevail?’ I asked. After this experience, I knew that having faith—at least in my circumstance—was not necessarily knowing that he would heal me, but that He could heal me. I had to believe that He could, and then whether it happened was up to Him.
“As I allowed those two ideas to coexist in my life, focused faith in Jesus Christ and complete submission to His will, I found greater comfort and peace. It has been so remarkable to see the Lord’s hand in our lives. Things have fallen into place, miracles have happened, and we continually are humbled to see God’s plan for us unfold.”
Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, and lame—if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.Accepting the Lord’s Will and Timing, August 2016, By Elder David A. Bednar
Faith Not to be Healed
The phrase “Do you have the faith not to be healed?” promotes a perspective that challenges conventional notions about faith and healing. We resign to live with God’s will and must state similarly to John that “having faith was not necessarily knowing that he would heal me, but that He could heal me. I had to believe that He could, and then whether it happened was up to Him.” This gives believers a “get out of jail free card” that can be used when they pray with all their might and faith to be healed, and when they are not must resign to the fact that it is not God’s will, or that He works in mysterious ways. The same can be said for the Pastafarian God, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, we can pray to it to be healed, and if we are healed, our faith was heard and the healing aligned with it’s will. But if we pray and are not healed, it is not in the master plan, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster has other plans and trials for us which are for our benefit – more important than healing or even life. This faith is nothing, it can be directed to God, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the center tile of the floor, it makes no difference.
Life as Trial
This story reiterates the common Mormon cultural assumption that this life is a “trial.” It persuades us to feel like anything that is hard, must be a test from God or at least a lesson he is trying to teach us. Sometimes, things are just hard. Sometimes people get sick and even die for no good reason at all. Sure we can find lessons in life from nearly every experience, but thinking that God is toying with us to try our faith or teach some lesson is a self-centered way to live life. Not everything that happens in the world or to others revolves around you.
Is Prayer Helpful
This stance however is a necessary response to the progress of scientific study. Every study performed on thoughts and prayers has demonstrated that they either do nothing, or you fare worse with them. Here’s a study from the American Heart Journal that concludes that prayer (and thus faith) does not affect recovery rates at all.
Conclusion: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer
The ideas Bednar shares here are faulty logic though. He claims that if you have faith you can be healed, but also you must have faith when you are not healed. Both outcomes point to the same thing, accepting the will of God. In that case, what is the point of praying for a miracle? This is checkmate since there is no possible counterargument. Both possibilities point to faith and accepting what happens.
It’s saying that God can only help if you have enough faith. That having enough faith means that you are willing to accept his will even if his will isn’t to heal you, or the faith to not be healed. But the circular logic continues around with the zinger that if God’s will is to not heal you, it’s probably because you don’t have enough faith, right? Convenient for God and God’s representatives.
To illustrate the circular illogical approach, consider using it on a spouse. “Hey, I’ll only do the dishes if you are totally okay with me not doing the dishes.” Then wait for them to complain when the dishes are not done… then say “SEE! I didn’t do them because I KNEW you weren’t really okay with me not doing them. You’re trying to impose your will on me here, and that’s not allowed!”
He may as well say, “Do you have the faith to admit that the priesthood is worthless and heals no one?” And if you do have that kind of faith, then maybe you have the faith to walk away from the church since here they admittedly have nothing to offer anyway. Asking if you have faith NOT to be healed, is the same as asking if you don’t have faith to be healed. Why would this be a good thing?!
Has this circular logic been a stumbling block in developing your own critical thinking? Does having faith to not be healed make sense to you? How did you incorporate this into your life and do you think it helped? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or share your whole faith deconstruction story at wasmormon.org.
- h/t: https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/e60a4d/comment/f9mzo8b/