I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Can healings be real if they are not performed by the priesthood?

William E. Berrett, Stake patriarch and professor emeritus of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.

While considering this question, remember that one of the Lord’s apostles once said to him,

“Master we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

“And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:49–50).

Clearly, it is good to be healed. And there are many ways to be healed in addition to the administration of the priesthood—by good health habits, herbs, medicines, and prayers of faith.

God has given us the Word of Wisdom as a health guide. He has also provided various herbs in the earth that have healing properties. We read in the book of Alma that “there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate.” (Alma 46:40).

For countless ages medicine men in all cultures have used many of nature’s remedies and have healed many people. And in our day, God has poured forth knowledge upon the earth which the medical profession has used to administer much relief to the sick and afflicted—thankfully going far beyond the limited herbal remedies available to earlier cultures.

God expects us to utilize all that he has provided to heal us of our afflictions. The question which has bothered man the most has had to do with healings in which none of nature’s known remedies or of man’s medical skill has been applied to the sick individual. These have usually been termed faith healings—healings which may have occurred either through the power of the mind over the body or by the administration of the power of God. While both of these methods are legitimate, they are often confused; healings caused by mind over body are frequently mistaken for priesthood healings.

The more we learn about the power of the mind over the body, the clearer it becomes that to some extent, and in ways still largely unknown to us, our mind can and does effect a powerful role in selected kinds of health improvement. Mostly, however, we are just beginning to glimpse these capabilities, rather than being able to implement them.

Countless healings have occurred through exercising the power of the mind over the physical body. Aboriginal doctors, for example, have employed sometimes devious methods to induce faith in the sick that they might be healed. Healings have often followed not because of the incantations of the doctor, but because of a natural law whereby the mind is able to affect the body.

The great preacher, George Fox, founder of the Society of Quakers, advocated faith healings with some success, though all too often the malady returned, only to be labeled by him as punishment for disobedience to God. Other healings have occurred at shrines such as Mecca in Arabia, though only a very small proportion of those who go to be healed actually are. There have been some faith healings at revivalist meetings, but the permanence of some of the relief has been questioned. Further, Christian Scientists contend that pain does not exist but is only an error of the human faculty.

I believe that many who are healed by the power of the mind and the spirit over the body have not been led by men influenced by the devil but by good-intentioned individuals, and that the faith which has produced healings at shrines, for example, is not necessarily the work of the devil, but may have been simply the application of an unrecognized God-given principle of life. I also believe that when we classify all such healings as being of the devil, we do an unjustice to that group of well-meaning individuals who have induced the sick to exercise faith, even though it is very apparent that some incantations and exhortations used and some settings and individuals do not reflect the Spirit of God.

I believe that we must recognize that there are charlatans, imbued with unholy purposes, who use the true principle of the relationship of mind and body in devilish ways. While the devil cannot do good, men imbued with evil designs may sometimes mix the good and the evil. This led Brigham Young to say of the hypnotism he saw practiced in his day: Hypnotism is an inverted truth; it originated in holy, good, and righteous principles, which have been inverted by the power of the devil … Show me one principle that has originated by the power of the devil. You cannot do it. I call evil inverted good, or a correct principle made an evil use of.” (Journal of Discourses, 3:156–57).

We find examples of this evil use of true principles in Biblical and historical accounts. For examples, using demonic powers, the magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate many of the miracles Moses performed with the power of God (See Ex. 7–8). During the days of the early apostles, Simon the sorcerer so convincingly portrayed his satanic powers as divine that many people, “from the least to the greatest, (said), This man is the great power of God.” (Acts 8:10). In 1830, Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, claimed to receive “revelations” for the Church from a certain stone he had obtained. Although these “revelations” contradicted those Joseph Smith had received from the Lord, his manner of receiving them deceived several members of the Church, including Oliver Cowdery. The Lord commanded Oliver to tell Brother Page “that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him,” (D&C 28:11). Eight years later, Hiram Page left the Church. Obviously in these cases, Satan gave men mighty power so similar to that manifested by true servants of God that many were deceived. It seems to me, therefore, that true principles can be used both for good and for evil.

Now, with this understanding of other kinds of healings—some good and some of Satan, let’s turn to priesthood healings. There are limitations to healings produced by faith alone. But when the faith of the sick person is accompanied by the healing administration of priesthood power, there is no limit to the possible results. Listen to the invitation of Christ to the Nephites:

“Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” (3 Ne. 17:7).

In priesthood healings the faith of the afflicted is also a vital factor—but it is true faith in a true power: the priesthood. In such cases, faith acts somewhat as a catalyst in bringing about the desired physical reaction. Mark, in his Gospel writing, records that the Lord could perform few of his usual healings during his visit to the people of his native Nazareth because of the people’s unbelief. (See Mark 6:5).

Thus, when the priesthood of God lays hands upon the faithful sick, a powerful healing element flows from the priesthood holder to the mind and body of the recipient. It is as real as the ultraviolet ray or the laser beam, but far more potent, when the right conditions prevail, in affecting the physical body.

Brigham Young thus explained it:

“When I lay hands on the sick, I expect the healing power and influence of God to pass through me to the patient, and the disease to give way.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 162).

Although this healing power which flows through proper priesthood administration is not understood by the world, it is known and attested to by the people of God. Thus, while recognizing the power of faith without priesthood administration, Latter-day Saints look for the far more potent healing power of the priesthood of God, which circumscribes and encompasses all other forms of healing, and when necessary, goes far beyond any of them in its power and healing influence. (See D&C 43:44.)