An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Faith without Miracles

George experienced a retinal artery occlusion last weekend which resulted in the loss of vision in his right eye. We sought treatment immediately and were grateful to be near a hospital with an ophthalmologist on call. George received good care, but we were told up front that the prognosis for restoring vision in this situation is not high.

“Do you want a priesthood blessing?” I asked. “No. I might get healed and then I’d have to start going to church.” George keeps his weird sense of humor no matter what happens.

 Later, he told me the real reason he didn’t request a blessing.  “I know what the brothers would say. They can’t realistically bless me that my sight will be restored. They could ask for a blessing of peace and for the Lord’s will to be done, but I am at peace. These things happen as you age. I can deal with it.”

George made me think how miracle-oriented Mormon culture is. We repeat miracles stories from the Bible—the poor widow whose barrel of meal and cruse of oil never runs out after she uses her last bit of meal and oil to make a cake for Elijah the Prophet. Our lesson manuals are filled with Church history miracles such as the seagulls eating the crickets. Individual testimonies elevate likely coincidences—such as emptying one’s bank account to write a tithing check, then receiving a check for an unexpected tax refund in the mail the next day—to miracles.

Miracle stories are told to build faith—and to encourage members to more diligence. As the saying goes, “Faith precedes the miracle.”  In Mormonism, faith is demonstrated by works.

Of course, unexplainable events do occur—but rarely. Human beings have tried for thousands of years to earn blessings from the unseen world through all kinds of sacrifice—human, animal, vegetable, and mineral. About 25 centuries ago, Eastern religions stepped away from that and developed the philosophy of accepting what we cannot change.

 George has faith—not that his sight will return, but that he can adjust to the loss. He has learned that the key to living peacefully in a world of limited miracles is found in these words from Zen master Zenkei Shibayama Roshi, “Thanks for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.”



Comments on: "Faith without Miracles" (8)

  1. nelda bishop said:

    I hate to hear about bad things happening to good people! But I still believe that miracles happen sometimes, and who knows why, in addition to finding peace to accept what can’t be changed. Shaun Howell is the perfect example — several miracles with retina problems and other eye problems, and I think she would be the first to say it was NOT because of a priesthood blessing or faith. I really liked your summary of the whole miracle issue.

    I have almost finished THE SOCIAL ANIMAL and want to discuss it with you and George (although he already said no). Nelda Bishop

    • nelda,

      Thank you and hooray for The Social Animal! I find it almost miraculous to meet people who are reading and enjoying a book I’ve read. I can count 6 of us ready to discuss The Social Animal right now.

  2. Sorry to hear about George losing his vision but totally agree with his philosophy. I didn’t have a blessing to deal with the cancer because I am at peace with it. However, I think miracles are just happenings we as mortals can’t explain. So for one person what is a miracle isn’t for another. Give George my best and I too understand we just have to adjust to growing old and having parts of our body give out. Damn!

  3. This is the most logical piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. I too struggle with those that assume miracles will somehow remove all the challenges of life .. .and the law of cause/effects. We will age. We will slow down. And neither are the sign of dimissed faith or an uncaring God.
    I’m blessed to have worked with you and know of your amazing spirit.

  4. As a non-Mormon it’s interesting for me to look at the question of faith and miracles in terms of asking for a priestly blessing. When I think about my faith I hope that I would take all of my desires to God, just like a child asks for the things she wants. The difference being that I try to grow in my willingness to accept whatever answer He gives instead of most kids I know refusing to accept a “no”. So it’s not about a ritual, or necessarily including something official, but about my relationship to God and my trust that He is good whether I get what I think I want or not.

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