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.”