‘Really? Wow!’ A discussion of mental illness, disabilities and the Atonement

This is a guest post by Jeffrey Collyer, who says about himself, “Not much to say really. I’m a middle-aged member of the Church, married to a fabulous woman with whom I do my best to raise 4 children, living in the UK. I’ve been writing my own blog about the Atonement for the last 6 months or so – www.allthingswitness.wordpress.com”

This is a subject which I feel is incredibly important, but it is a post I’ve found this a particularly difficult to write, so I hope that a) I can do it some justice, and b) those with particular insights and experience will comment*. It is a subject we rarely discuss, but which I feel we need to gain greater insight into, so that we are better able to comfort those in need.

A few months go I posted a couple of articles on my own blog on the subject of depression, what I consider to be one of the great plagues of our age, and how we can find relief through Christ. Those posts can be found here, and here. While depression is fortunately becoming increasingly discussed in the Church (not enough yet I think, but we’re making some positive progress), other aspects of mental illness or disability are generally discussed either rarely and on obscure internet forums, or (more likely) not at all.

But if Christ suffered for ALL of our pains, sicknesses, and afflictions, that means he suffered also for our mental illnesses and disabilities; it means that through His atoning sacrifice there is power for those suffering. Elder Joseph B Wirthlin said, “No grief is so great, no pain so profound, no burden so unbearable that it is beyond His healing touch.” (Special Witnesses of Christ, Ensign, April 2001). That includes those with Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Personality Disorders; and it includes things like Autism, and so many other conditions. Some individuals with these and a host of other mental illnesses and disabilities are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and they, along with those who care for and are very close to them, often suffer intensely through their lives. Surely of those whom the Saviour would wish to comfort most in this life, these sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father are amongst the most precious to Him, and I’ve no doubt that He weeps for their pains and sorrows.

The seeds of my decision to write on this broader issue of mental illness and disability, and the Atonement, probably lie in a meeting I had some time ago with someone who suffered from Bipolar Disorder. The purpose or content of the meeting are not relevant, other than to say that this good man had suffered for many, many years. At one point during the meeting, I felt a prompting to say to him something along the lines of, “Brother………., I want to testify to you that our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered for all of our afflictions and infirmities. And in suffering for them, He also understands them. Christ knows what it is like to have Bipolar Disorder. He understands!”

Well, the reaction of this good man was something I hadn’t expected. He was a religious man already. He already believed in Christ, but now his eyes widened, and he replied in an astonished voice, “Really? Wow!”

That moment has stuck with me, as it seemed that in that instant this man gained an additional hope from a greater understanding of the Atonement. It didn’t change the medication he was on; it didn’t change his strategies for dealing with his condition; but somehow it change just a little his perspective to know that his Saviour understood. That instance taught me that while there is very little that appears to be written on the subject, it is nonetheless a subject that needs to be discussed.

All of us need to have a greater understanding of, and compassion for, those who suffer from mental illnesses. As Elder Jeffrey R Holland recently said, while God is helping those with mental illnesses, “…the rest of us can help by being merciful, non-judgmental, and kind.” (Like a Broken Vessel, October 2013 LDS General Conference). Writing and talking about these issues should hopefully help us all become a little more understanding.

We are complex beings you and I. As spirit children of our Heavenly Father there really is an eternal part of us that lived with Him prior to our birth here on earth. But our genetics also plays an important part in our behaviour, as does our upbringing. And the values of the society in which we live also has a tremendous impact on how we view the world; our own personal values and attitudes towards what is morally right or wrong. I think that when we get to the next life and we finally see things “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13), we will be astonished at just how much bias and prejudice we had in our mortal lives. I also think we will be astonished at just how many of our choices and decisions were based on appallingly flawed beliefs which we were confident at the time were “right”.

LDS Psychotherapist Allen Bergin wrote a fascinating paper which he presented at BYU in 1975 (a version of which was in the 1973 New Era) on our ability to make choices, and how that is impaired by a host of issues. A link to the article is here for those interested.

Similarly, Terryl and Fiona Givens recently wrote,
“Our decisions are often made in weakness, or with deficient will or understanding. We live on an uneven playing field, where to greater or lesser degree the weakness of the flesh, of intellect, or of judgment intrudes. Poor instructions, crushing environment, chemical imbalances, deafening white noise, all cloud and impair our judgment.” (The God Who Weeps, p 100, 2012)

How these various influences that affect our judgment also affect what today we would call our mental health I couldn’t begin to guess. Certain genes have now been identified that are associated with some mental health disorders, but there remains a huge mystery surrounding how much influence the birthing process, a child’s early upbringing, nutrition, and a host of other factors also play in the development of mental health.

On the one hand, this should not be surprising. After all, there are a host of “physical” illnesses for which we don’t really have a full explanation, even if we have some idea of what makes some diseases more likely. Why does one person living a similar lifestyle and with possibly even the same genetic predispositions get cancer while another doesn’t? Why shouldn’t the same uncertain but complex interactions be at play in our brains and minds?

But on the other hand, the idea that mental illness and disability may be a complex interaction between genetics, brain chemicals, nutrition, etc. is a relatively new concept for us. Physical illnesses have been accepted and tolerated (even if not understood and even if bizarre cures have been sought) for thousands of years. In contrast, those with mental ill-health were simply deemed “crazy”, and locked away; or were deemed to have been possessed by evil spirits. There remains a powerful stigma attached to mental ill-health and disability probably in part because we still have thousands of years of prejudice to get over.

But Christ came to heal us all. As the ancient prophet Alma declared,

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

Christ suffered for all of our infirmities and afflictions. And He didn’t suffer just so that He could say He had done so – He suffered specifically so that He would know “how to succor His people according to their infirmities.” That means He really does know what it is like to have Bipolar Disorder, or Schizophrenia, or Autism, or any of the other myriad mental health conditions, disorders or disabilities. He knows, and He is able to succor those who suffer. What’s more, He is anxious to do so.
What does that mean? Well, during His mortal life, and during His post-resurrection visit to the Nephites, Christ healed all those who came to Him. The story of the father bringing his child to the Saviour is well known. Christ was coming down from the mountain and encountered a multitude, and one among them came forward,

“Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away… And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him.” (Mark 9:17-27)

Today we would probably explain the recorded symptoms as being that of epilepsy, although in Jesus’ time the only explanation is that a demon had taken possession of the child. What parent, imagining themselves in this father’s place, wouldn’t have similarly pled for the Saviour to heal his child? And Jesus healed Him.

There are other examples, of course, of those who heard voices, or who had a compulsion to self-harm. All of these were assumed to be devils. All of these the Saviour healed.

Now, I am not suggesting here that none of the stories in the Bible represent actual possession by evil spirits. Maybe they do, but the principle is that we see in the New Testament those with symptoms we would today describe as being those of known mental health disorders or disabilities, and the Saviour was able to heal them all. All of them – no exceptions. When He then visited the Nephites, He asked that all those who were afflicted “in any manner” come forth to be healed; and again, He healed them – all of them.

Outside of these times when Christ was physically present, however, complete healings appear to be the exception rather than the norm. Although healings can and do occur, as with our physical illnesses Christ’s succoring for us today appears more often than not to be His carrying our burdens with us, rather than taking them away. Elder Dallin H Oaks said,

“Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed up on us…. The Atonement… gives us the strength to endure ‘pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,’ because our Saviour also took upon Him ‘the pains and the sicknesses of his people’…. If your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.” (quoted in The Religious Educator, Vol 9 No 1, p 103)

Above, I referred to a meeting I once had with a man with Bipolar Disorder. I’d now like to refer to someone I know with Autism. He sees things in black and white – absolute right or absolute wrong – and he wants to do what is right. That makes him rather intolerant of people who don’t do things which he thinks are right, and as one characteristic of autism is a lack of tact and diplomacy he can sometimes sound quite rude when he disapproves of what someone is doing. It would be easy for us to judge him for his rudeness, not understanding that what we are seeing is his autism, rather than his spirit.

Another aspect of his autism is an inability to sense another person’s emotions. Brain scans have shown that the brains of those with autism do, indeed, process emotions very differently. A spiritual downside of this is that he finds it much harder to feel the Holy Spirit. While feeling emotions doesn’t equal feeling the Spirit, our emotions can facilitate the feeling of the spirit, and unfortunately the different “wiring” of the brain in those with autism means that for some at least they can feel nothing but frustration while all around them are having a strong spiritual experience.

But the individual I am referring to has felt the Spirit – perhaps in an unexpected time and place, but I suspect the experience will be all the more special because of its rarity.

An article on Deseret News online (click here for the article) related the experience of a young woman, Josie Thompson, with Bipolar Disorder who has battled the condition for many years now. The article relates,

“During one particularly challenging day in November 2009, Thompson could feel an episode of depression and suicidal thoughts coming on. She began listening to a rendition of “I Believe in Christ” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
“As she struggled with her thoughts and feelings, the music sounded faint — until the fourth verse.
“And while I strive through grief and pain, his voice is heard: Ye shall obtain. I believe in Christ, so come what may…
“When those words echoed, I felt this literal lift of burden,” she said. “It was absolutely, hands down, the hardest, darkest, most difficult experience I’ve ever had, but at the same time it was also the most enlightening, most fortifying experience. … It’s a fundamental part of why I believe what I believe and why I’ve endured the way I’ve endured.”
“The verse can now be read in vinyl letters on a wall in her room….
“Thompson’s mother has seen her daughter cling to the Atonement during this process. ‘I have seen her grow in her testimony and turn to the Savior and literally grasp hold of the Atonement and the Savior,” Lisa Thompson said. ‘There are times when she feels like that’s all that’s going to get her through and she has become a different person through all of this.’”

I don’t understand why so many people suffer from Bipolar, Autism, or any of the many mental health conditions we recognise today. None of these individuals I have referred to have had their mental conditions removed from them because of their faith. But they have all felt the sustaining power of the Atonement of Christ in their lives.

The day will come when they will be fully healed. Until then, the blessings of Christ’s atoning sacrifice are still available to all those with illnesses of any kind – whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual – to support and sustain, and to help us bear our burdens.

Elder Jeffrey R Holland’s words at the October 2013 General Conference seem appropriate to end this post on:

“I testify of the holy Resurrection, that unspeakable cornerstone gift in the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ! With the Apostle Paul, I testify that that which was sown in corruption will one day be raised in incorruption and that which was sown in weakness will ultimately be raised in power.I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be! I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally “free at last.” (Elder Jeffrey R Holland, Like a Broken Vessel, October 2013 LDS General Conference)

(I hope that those who are far more eloquent, have greater spiritual insight, and are more professionally knowledgeable write more on this subject in months and years to come. In the mean-time, any comments that help us to learn more on this important subject together would be fantastic.)

* I wasn’t sure whether to write a post at all on this subject for a variety of reasons. These include firstly that I am no expert. I currently work in the field of mental health, and have some personal connection with the subject, but I am not professionally trained, and my knowledge is restricted to those areas where I have some experience. So while I may have some insight on the subject, it is necessarily limited.
Secondly, because the subject is so vast it is difficult to move beyond vague generalisations. Can hope be found in vague generalisations? I fear that I will struggle to adequately express principles related to our Saviour’s atoning sacrifice that will help those in need.
Another challenge in writing on the subject is precisely because very little has already been written. This means I haven’t had much opportunity to read another’s thoughts on the subject to help inform my own. Similarly, because our understanding of the biological causes of mental illnesses are very recent, our scriptures don’t explicitly acknowledge them. Ancient prophets, being a part of their own time and culture, are more likely to refer to demonic possessions than mental ill-health; and because those who wrote our scriptures didn’t live in a time when mental illnesses were understood, there is very little in our holy writ that clearly and directly addresses it.
All of the above said, my experience with the man with Bipolar Disorder I refer to convinced me that this is a subject that can give comfort to individuals who need such comfort. My hope is that we can increasingly discuss these subjects and believe that as we do so we will receive greater light and knowledge.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

27 thoughts on “‘Really? Wow!’ A discussion of mental illness, disabilities and the Atonement

  1. JeffC, I just wanted to tell you that as I read this post the Spirit confirmed to me that what you are saying is true regarding the Savior and the Atonement. I hope this post brings comfort.

  2. Thanks very much Geoff. I appreciate you putting it up, and I hope that people can indeed find help and comfort.

  3. Hi JeffC,

    I absolutely agree that Christ’s atonement addresses all our pains and heartaches, not just filling in for “sin.”

    We talk about this often with my daughter, who is autistic.

    On another topic, I sit in my daughter’s Sunday School class, since even as an older teen, she’ll often behave in ways that are inappropriate. The teacher had asked each of the youth in that class to talk about a concern they had and then find a conference talk that addressed that concern. I typed “autism” in the General Conference search bar on the iPad, and my daughter found one of the comments that touched her.

    The teacher then shared the experience he’d had in the past with a handicapped daughter of someone who is now a General Authority. At first the teacher had feared “dealing” with this severely handicapped child, but then, having helped her, became a favorite of this girl. As those of us who have earned such a status know, the happy, embracing smile of someone who is “handicapped” is an amazingly pure joy.

    Another student in the class stood up and talked about how they have recently been diagnosed with rapid cycling bi-polar disease. They cited Elder Holland’s talk, and said how much it meant to them to know that even someone like Elder Holland, a General Authority, suffered from mental illness and have overcome that difficulty to continue to serve others.

    I love the way my congregation has for years embraced the idea that the atonement is intended to heal all our sorrows. And for those times when Christ seems far away, how wonderful it is to know that those who lead us have been touched by the infirmities that cause us so much sorrow.

  4. I love this post in a million ways! Thank you for posting with us today Jeff C.

    On Easter in our ward, a couple spoke. They have 3 kids with special needs, two of which are on the Autisim spectrum. The Brother just testified about how he knows that the Lord is there with his kids as they struggle, but that one day they will have their burdens removed and taken. It was very powerful.

    My own mother has suffered for most of my life (40 years) with depression and was recently, and finally diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. When that diagnosis came down so much made sense finally. We all have faith in the healing power of the atonement.

    So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this today!

  5. Thanks Meg. I’ve found people’s individual experience with their Wards quite mixed. Fortunately, like your experience our Ward has (for the most part) worked very hard to be supportive and understanding, although I know in at least one other Ward in the Stake a young man with Asperger’s left the Church because he felt pressured to fit in socially (which is *never* going to happen in some cases).

    I do think there is a broader issue, though, in terms of how we can really relate the Atonement to those with some mental health difficulties/disabilities. We describe our faith, our spiritual experiences, and how the Atonement helps us in terms of our emotions and how we feel, but that can often be totally meaningless for some people who feel things totally differently to most of us simply because they were born to feel things differently.

    I so desperately want all of my family to be able to experience the same spiritual experiences that I have done, but we’ll have to search for different ways for some of them, because that’s just the way it is. I’m sure there are some powerful lessons in that process, but more important than the lessons is that we need to help all those with mental health disabilities/disorders/etc to be able to feel the love of the Saviour.

  6. Joyce – Depression that last for many years can quite often end up being diagnosed as Bipolar. It’s a pity that some people have to wait for so long….

    But *He* also understands uncertainties and supports us through those.

  7. Lots of good comments and thoughts, and I totally agree that we need both to be more aware of mental and emotional struggle of those around us; and be aware of the great love of our Savior and his willingness to both understand us, and heal us.

    I am not trying to be critical or dismiss any of the burdens or concerns of anyone. But, I would like to discuss the role of The Atonement in healing versus healing via blessing or the Priesthood in general. And it may be that they are tied together. In some recent discussions with my wife she asked if the recent trend to relate to the healing of any burden to the Atonement was a cultural shift or a doctrinal understanding. Please be patient with me and read through my post completely before formulating your response. I am open to being wrong, but think that this may be more cultural.

    As Jeffery posted, “Another challenge in writing on the subject is precisely because very little has already been written.” I am not sure that I know enough to know the answer to the question/issue that I am raising. But, I am not seeing a lot of clear doctrine that expands the Atonement beyond a reconciliation with Our Father, so it feels like more of a cultural shift to me. I am open to being completely wrong. But I am hoping that we can have an open discussion about this now that the subject has been broached.

    Again, I am not discounting at all Our Savior’s love for us, his willingness to heal us (be it through His Priesthood or otherwise), his complete understanding of us by what he has suffered, or the need of all of us to have more compassion and understanding for the very real burdens of others.

    The Bible Dictionary indicates that the Atonement is about freeing ourselves from sins and the effects thereof – “The word describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin.” It continues to on to reference the Atonement in regards to sin, but not other burdens.

    Clearly there are cases where the consequences of sin can have physical, mental, and/or emotional burdens attached to them. And clearly as the Atonement cleans us of these sins those burdens can (but might not always) be lifted in this life.

    Of course, we also know that physical, mental, and/or emotional burdens can also have absolutely nothing at all to do with sin. In that case, when that burden is lifted, is it via the Atonement? Or, is it via faith, prayer, the mercy of our Father, and/or the Priesthood?

    Elder Oaks’ quote talks about the Atonement helping to bear burdens, but implies that the healing comes elsewhere. “If your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.”

    “No grief is so great, no pain so profound, no burden so unbearable that it is beyond His healing touch.” – I agree, but is that due to The Atonement, or His Priesthood? Does it depend on the burden and what our own trials are supposed to be? I don’t know for sure.

    “Brother………., I want to testify to you that our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered for all of our afflictions and infirmities. And in suffering for them, He also understands them. Christ knows what it is like to have Bipolar Disorder. He understands!” – Jeffery, I totally agree. He suffered all infirmities and knows what they are all like and that this knowledge was a necessary part of the Atonement.

    “And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” – I agree, but is that specific to the Atonement, or is the succor through healing via His Priesthood and also to understand us so he can best help and judge us.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Not trying to discount the excellent theme of the original post. Just looking for some doctrinal clarification. I appreciate your patience, everyone.

  8. Jeffrey Collyer,

    Thank you so much for raising this point. I have a number of thoughts and responses to the original post. I am in the process of organizing/writing those.

    Mike,

    I think you ask a valid question. I don’t have a clear answer. However, I think in exploring this idea further, it would be good to also look at the Bible Dictionary entry for “Grace.” Also, Elder Bednar’s talk “In the Strength of the Lord” contains the following:

    “I suspect that many Church members are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement than they are with the strengthening and enabling power. . . I am not suggesting that the redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement are separate and discrete. Rather, these two dimensions of the Atonement are connected and complementary; they both need to be operational during all phases of the journey of life.”

    (This is from the BYU address not the later Conference talk by the same name; this Devotional Address was reprinted in the April 2012 Ensign)

  9. Thank you Mike for your very thoughtful response. My hope in writing the post was two-fold: firstly to provide some level of comfort for those who would benefit, and secondly for thoughtful comment and discussion that expands our knowledge and understanding of how the Saviour can provide the comfort we need. So from my perspective I’m pleased you’ve taken the time – certainly no need to ask for patience.

    It is an interesting question about what is “doctrine” versus what is cultural. I guess my response to that particular question would be some very clear fence-sitting. After all, how many beliefs in times past within Church were considered “doctrine” at the time, but no longer are? I make the point in this post, and have done so elsewhere, that I think our views and beliefs are strongly impacted by the society and culture in which we grow up. I’m not sure I can dissociate the two: through my own life experience, study, prayer, and pondering I have come to some quite firm convictions about the gospel, and in particular about the Atonement, but I can’t possibly pretend that my firm convictions on the subject are any more certain and anyone else’s firm convictions on the subject. I believe they are true, but like to think that I am open to further light and knowledge on the subject.

    So with that in mind hopefully you won’t mind me abandoning using the term “doctrine”, and simply talking about how I understand the Atonement. My personal blog is entirely about the Atonement where I’ve written probably close to 40,000 words, and most of what I’ll say now is expanded upon there….

    The passage in Alma 7:11-13 part of which I quote and which you re-quote is, I think, specifically about (at least some of) the parameters of the Atonement. The phrase “he will take upon him”, for me at least, seems quite clear in that respect. As I read through that passage I can see links to our sins, as well as our physical and emotional pains and burdens, in each of which the Saviour is able to succour us because he “took upon himself” those same pains.

    In his now famous talk, Broken Things to Mend, Elder Holland said, “I testify that the Savior’s Atonement lifts from us not only the burden of our sins but also the burden of our disappointments and sorrows, our heartaches and our despair.” So at least one recent Apostle has recently quite explicitly stated that the Atonement covers burdens of disappointments, sorrows, heartaches and despair.

    I would agree that I think this sort of language seems to be relatively recent from the Brethren. Does that make it cultural, or is it just that in our day and age the Lord has seen fit to reveal these truths because we live in a time when it is so much more needed?

    I personally am not sure we can easily separate the power of Christ from the power of His Atonement. I see them as being one and the same. The grace of Christ comes *because* of His atonement. Even when the Father cast out Satan’s hosts from heaven in the pre-mortal worlds, He did it, “…by the power of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 3:3), which we are told in the book of Revelation was, “…the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

    I consider the power of the Priesthood to also be an extension of the power of the Atonement. Primarily the Priesthood’s purpose is to extend necessary ordinances, all of which also serve as types and shadows of the Atonement; the associated blessings of washing clean, justification and sanctification all coming because of the Atonement. The name of the Priesthood itself being the order after the Son of God, reminds us that it is His power we are using. And everything we do in using the Priesthood is literally done in His name. So again my own belief is that there are certain blessings that come because of the Atonement that can only be accessed through the Priesthood. (I haven’t written a post on that yet, but plan to do so at some point.)

    With all of the above said, I think the really crucial thing is that we understand that we gain our comfort, healing and strength through Christ, and in no other way. Whether all of the grace He offers us is through His Atonement (which I believe it is), or whether there are some elements that exist independent of the Atonement I’m not entirely sure matters. I *do* however, think that it is a remarkable testament of His love for us that He would extend such blessings of comfort and support for us on issues that bear little relation to our eternal wellbeing. He cares about how we feel in the here and now, as well as in the eternities.

  10. I agree that much in the Gospel is tied together. I think that it is possible to view the Atonement as a priesthood ordinance, hence being healed by the priesthood maybe tied to the Atonement or vice-versa.

    And in a sense, if we view that all of our infirmities are as a result of the Fall of Adam and that the Atonement overcomes the effects of The Fall, you can say that it heals everything in that manner. Certainly the Resurrection overcomes all of the physical issues in the next life. I am not sure that hard lines are evident and I don’t want to strain at gnats. My wife brought the issue up to me after a visiting teaching experience, so I have been re-thinking some assumptions. Maybe I have derailed things here and if so I apologize. Just something that has been on my mind a bit recently and the post made me want to address it.

    Also, I totally agree with Jeffrey’s statement – ” I think that when we get to the next life and we finally see things “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13), we will be astonished at just how much bias and prejudice we had in our mortal lives. I also think we will be astonished at just how many of our choices and decisions were based on appallingly flawed beliefs which we were confident at the time were ‘right’.” It is very difficult to view the Gospel without the lens of our culture (and the world in general) getting in the way. We limit ourselves, and in some ways we limit God as he will not violate our free agency, due to our unwillingness to look beyond our culture/world view when it comes to His ways and will.

  11. Thanks Mike. I think you’re correct that “hard lines” aren’t necessarily evident. We each read the scriptures with a different lens so see things that may be “clear” to us, but which may be read in a different way by others.

    No derailing – some good thoughts. Thank you.

  12. I suffer from anxiety and depression. Finally helped after 20 plus years of suffering. I blog (http://womanoffaithinchrist.blogspot.com/) a little about my journey but there are some things I don’t understand still but much I have to be grateful for and have faith in.
    The gospel makes sense to me. The plan of Salvation. I feel the spirit guiding my life. I have great faith in my Savior. I see so many good people around me. I had received countless healing blessings, offered countless prayers, begged and pleaded for help and none came in my timing, and have sought comfort from my Savior. I used to struggle with suicidal thoughts. They are gone now. I feel joy in life. Hope. Happiness.

    For me to go weeks without falling into another depression is a miracle. I know my prayers have been answered.

    My questions that arise in my head right now are…

    What is Priesthood Power? How does it work? Why is it that Therapy, Medication, and Yoga have been my greatest helps. Is it due to the physical aspects of my brain that had changed, from genetics, and life triggers. Were all those blessings real as far as accessing POWER to heal? Do I just lack faith in the priesthood?

    The Holy Gost….Is the Gift of Holy Ghost something that gives us an edge spiritually? I feel more peace and help from the things I have learned in yoga and mindfulness training (from people without this GIFT) then from a talk on our edge we have with our receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I hear leaders speak of this gift but I lack faith that it is not just something that all have. Intuition. Gut feelings. Listening to your heart. Are these not promptings of the spirit to ALL. I listen to them now after years of self-doubt. But is my listen to the Holy Ghost different from my close friends who also have that guidance in their lives. I don’t dismiss their spirituality as superior of inferior to mine.

    I see my life through the eyes of faith. I have faith in a Loving Father in Heaven. I have faith in a Savior who loves me. I struggle that we have an edge on spiritual promptings, peace, power, or healings.

    It is hard for me to declare my weakness. I do believe in promptings but struggle when I talk with my very spiritual neighbor faithful goes to church and studies the bible. She says after I bore her my testimony, “God speaks daily. I feel his goodness in my life. I just not sure I believe that…” The thing I know is God is in her life and she does feel his guiding hand because she comes to him in prayer and devotion daily. Is that sufficient for “spiritual promptings”. My husband say, “you have the Holy Ghost with you all the time and so you don’t see it as much because you don’t remember what it is like not to have it”.

    I get that sin makes “spiritual” hard to discern. I just have gotten to know and learn of many good people who…”get it” regarding spirituality. I just thought we were to have an edge of sorts. I don’t feel that way anymore. I had to grow-up in my faith. Now I see he works in everyone who comes to him. As members of the church, I have faith that we have ordinances that have been restored and through the temple all can be blessed. I just see the world a little differently now.

    One day in therapy, I was in my faith crisis. i told him that my head cleared and my faith in the gospel was challenged. He said that is common. What??? I am not the only one. I have come through the other side. Grown-Up if you can ever truly be “grown-up”. Mental illness does keep one safe in a bubble because your head is to clouded to see. I am just grateful that I have faith in something greater than myself. I have faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement. I want to scream from the rooftops that there is help for mental illness. I gospel provides my framework for life but eastern philosophies have given me the tools to be “spiritual”. Any thoughts on this?

    I believe meditation and medicine are great tools for rewiring the brain to find some relief from our mental illness that are exacerbated by our stress, diets, addictions, and lack physical health.
    The Atonement to access His Grace makes it all Worth IT to keep Practicing and having hope in something greater than ourselves!!!!

  13. Sue, thank you for your comments. I’m pleased that after 20 years you’ve finally got the relief that you need. As I live in the UK it is starting to get quite late in the evening and so I may not manage to give a proper response to you tonight as I don’t want to rush a reply, but I will do tomorrow if no-one else has. But in short, no I don’t think your experience means you lack faith in the Priesthood.

    And you are right, it is definitely Worth IT.

  14. Looks like I was writing while you were, Jeffrey. I think that we agree more than not. And again, I am not sure that I feel like there is (or maybe even necessarily needs to be) a clear doctrinal line drawn here. Because your comment here really is the crux: ” I think the really crucial thing is that we understand that we gain our comfort, healing and strength through Christ, and in no other way. Whether all of the grace He offers us is through His Atonement (which I believe it is), or whether there are some elements that exist independent of the Atonement I’m not entirely sure matters. I *do* however, think that it is a remarkable testament of His love for us that He would extend such blessings of comfort and support for us on issues that bear little relation to our eternal wellbeing. He cares about how we feel in the here and now, as well as in the eternities.”

    And if we keep that foremost in our thoughts and understanding and exercise faith in that knowledge, we will be better off undoubtedly.

    Also, I do agree that sometimes it is difficult to separate doctrinal and cultural beliefs, and frankly we realize that doctrinal revelations or understandings can be spurred on by cultural beliefs, or questions based about cultural beliefs. But likewise we do need to be wary of cultural beliefs. I think that sometimes we do tend to allow our culture to mingle in some philosophies of men. Hard to avoid. Kinda goes back to your referencing Jacob on seeing things as they really are. We can be blinded easily if not aware.

    Again, as I posted back to Kevin, I think that there is a lot of intertwining and that the priesthood and the Atonement are likely tied together. So in some respects my questions may be moot. But I think that it is an interesting discussion to consider, and frankly sometimes posting and responding helps me answer my own questions by forcing me to think through them differently as I am trying to formulate them for someone else’s consideration.

  15. Regarding sin and the power of the atonement to right wrongs. Also regarding the ability to feel/hear the spirit.

    What is sin? I think we can broaden “sin” to mean “transgression” as well as “flat out doing something *nasty*” because,a fter all, the atonement overcomes the effects of the fall, which we think of as only a transgression.

    So if my child suffers because I did something wrong, all unknowing, is this perhaps not also akin to the fall, which was just a transgression? Does the atonement help heal the rift not only between me and God, but between my child and God?

    How many things we don’t attribute to “sin” can be attributed to “transgression?” For example, it was not sin, per se, that caused the cholera epidemics along the Platte in the late 1840s and 1850s. But certainly the actions that caused those cholera epidemics were associated with transgressing the laws of good hygiene and bacteriological containment.

    It might not be sin that causes men to produce goods in a manner that pollutes the environment, but something has been transgressed that can cause negative health outcomes for those who are sensitive.

    So I’m simply challenging the idea that there are many things causing suffering that were not caused by at the least a transgression of the laws associated with optimal health.

    As for hearing/feeling the spirit. I’ve researched my family history, and I read multiple instances where my direct line ancestors and those they associated with experienced amazing spiritual gifts. Visions, protections, blessings being honored. But there are lines where I notice a lack of such experiences being documented. In my own life I have experienced dreams or visions of the future. Signally useless, except to confirm to me that such dreams do occur.

    My husband does experience the spirit. But he has never had dreams of the future. And so for him, it is open to debate whether God possesses foreknowledge. He thinks of it as a predictive, probabilistic type of thing when God talks about the future.

    Just as some people are color blind, others are selectively spirit blind. However just as being weak in one physical sense can strengthen other senses, being blind in some common spiritual senses can strengthen other aspects of faith.

    Back to the atonement. Inasmuch as I figure all bad things occur because someone or something transgressed a law of perfection, I’m content to consider that the atonement covers all our ills.

  16. I think I can agree that *most* negative health outcomes are likely due to a transgression of one of nature’s laws or other, but I’m not sure I would make a generalisation. Mutations in genes can apparently occur quite randomly when a foetus is developing. Some mutations we know are more likely if the mother is exposed to cigarette smoke, or takes certain medicines, etc, but others appear quite random and unpredictable. While we may one day come to learn that these mutations are caused by x additive in particular foods, or y environmental situation, I’m also prepared to believe that it is simply part of our fallen mortal world that means that these things sometimes just happen.

    Interesting comment about your family history. I don’t have much detail on my ancestors other than names and some dates, so don’t know what their spiritual experiences were, but I think it makes perfect sense for there to almost be a genetic predisposition to dreams, etc. As I mention in my post Autism seems to (at least in some cases) put up a barrier to feeling the spirit in some ways, so why shouldn’t the same principle apply across the spiritual spectrum? It’s also made me wonder whether the “Gifts of the Spirit” could in part be our having implanted in our genetic makeup genes that predispose us to certain spiritual “gifts”. It’s then up to us to identify through our lives what those gifts are. I’ll give that one some thought.

  17. Sue, I’m not sure I’ll do a very good job of answering the various points you raise, but I will do my best.

    Throughout the ages the Lord has blessed countless individuals with His light and knowledge to develop methods that help people find peace and healing. These range from medicines to meditation, and in our own day therapies, etc. I absolutely believe that there are eternal truths to be found within Yoga and Mindfulness, for example. The same treatments don’t work for everyone, but we are so blessed to live in a day when there is such a range of different treatment and help options, and this is because the Lord has been very active in inspiring men and women to make discoveries both ancient and modern that help us. No Priesthood required.

    It’s amazing that you have struggled through 20 years of depression before finding what has helped you. That is a testament to your personal strength, but I believe also that when we get to the next life you will probably also see that all of those prayers and Priesthood blessings did, in fact, enable help and support to come to you unseen to carry you through the deepest and darkest times. I’ve been there myself, and while I could sense no support at the time, looking back on it now I know that I had angels with me providing me with just that tiny bit extra that I needed to get through the day, or even the next minute. As Elder Oaks says in the quote I use in my post the Atonement will give us strength to bear the burden, if not remove it. I have felt that and can testify of its truthfulness.

    I have witnessed Priesthood blessings that result in almost miraculous healings, but they don’t always. I don’t fully understand why some people receive a full healing, while others don’t. Maybe there are lessons to be learned in continuing to bear our burdens: I know I am a much more tolerant person because of my burdens that have not been lifted. I long for the Saviour that much more because of the burdens my children carry. I think there are very wise purposes at play, but I can’t pretend to know them in this life.

    I am running out of time again, so have to finish for now, but I’ll address more of your comment later today.

  18. Thank you so much for all your comments, thoughts, study and inspirations and for taking the time to share them. Thank you Jeff for your original article and for trying to put your feelings and findings in the written word to add to the love of the saviour and to show your love and care and understanding to your fellow brothers and sisters, to bring comfort and hope as indeed Christ does. I too am not an expert on either the medical side or the doctrinal side of the whys and wherefore on the Atonement and it’s effects on mental illness. But I have been blessed to experience it’s comforting and healing powers. Both for sins of transgression and life suffering. I can testify that for me coming unto Christ and dropping my burdens at his feet is the only way at times I can find true understanding and that the Holy Ghost witnesses to me that I am understood and loved, that also even when I have gone to seek help for others. ( I have like us all connections to close family with severe disabilities and through work have encountered many children who can so easily be misunderstood because of the disabilities and learning difficulties that limit them.) I have found that seeking The Lord in earnest prayer asking him through his personal knowledge of my own or another’s suffering, if he could show me how to ease mine or another’s way,has brought so many little inspirations. Tiny thoughts that come into my head to try a new approach with my father, who carries the dibilitating disease of altzhiemers for instance or how to communicate with a child that has reached rock bottom when his abilities do not match those of his/her peers and never has a likelihood too. Of course I have had some training but however whether it is through the suffering in the garden or through the priesthood power our Saviour holds it matters not , but I can testify that he knows each of us so so well, that he loves us and appreciates our need to feel whole, to feel loved and to succour and help our loved ones and those we come into contact with. When we obey that essential principle to knock and it shall be opened, to pray we will receive help. We may not be able to heal or be healed but we will be given the tiny little insights to bear our own or another’s burden and to ease the way. I am so thankful I have the gospel in my life to help with what seems like at times wading through quicksand. Thank you for all your comments and for your earnest studying you too have made a difference.

  19. If the purpose of the atonement is to transform the natural man to God like Saint, it would help with all of human struggles in mortality – sin, disease, weakness, etc

    In other words if the atonement is to make us like Christ (how can you be “one” and different) we can’t imagine a Christ plagued with the weakness, sin, afflictions, and sufferings of mortality, so therfore the atonement must imply redemptive, strengthening, and ultimately transformative powers. What’s interesting hough is not that it works on these conditions of mortality, but rear that the entire process hinges on our individual agency and how we use it(I include desires in the “use” of agency).

  20. A couple of things:

    God deliberately created a suffering world, ordained that the cat should play with the mouse. And ordained that every conceivable deformity and mental disorder might be made manifest in the fullness of its terror. Was this transgression of a law of health or morality, wicked man tampering with God’s pristine and perfectly peaceful world? Rather God’s world has been filled with violence and terror from long before humans even came to the planet, as is evidenced by all the fossil fuels we use containing the remains of life forms that screamed out their painful Darwinistic existence millions of years before man even entered the picture. This is God’s glory! Who sinned, the man or his parents that he was born blind? Neither, but that God’s works may be manifest in their painful varieties.

    Unlike other creator deities like Erebus or Brahma, Christ did not simply create a suffering world and then abandon it. Christ created a suffering world, and then came down to experience that suffering in all of its intensity for Himself.

    Did He do this to heal us, so we could simply repent and not have to suffer anymore? No. To Peter he prophesied of Peter’s death on a cross too. To early Christians, “trying to be like Jesus” meant accepting potential torture and martyrdom, and every man drinking his own bitter cup to the dregs.

    Christ came to earth to show us HOW to suffer, not how to escape it. We were all born to die. We all have a cross to bear, a soul to save, a bitter cup to drink. We are all Christ figures. For this cause came we into the world. Not to the same intensity as the Savior, but none can escape completely.

    Yes there is healing, yes there is relief from time to time, yes there is joy along with sorrow. But we must remember, our kingdom is NOT of this world.

    Modern man is arrogant because modern medicine and modern prosperity has shielded him from many of the standard terrors of humanity for most of its existence. We forget and think that if we suffer, something must be wrong. We are perplexed at mental illness and wonder how it fits in our rosy picture of the Plan of Salvation. Rather, we are deluded. Millions of innocents and animals starve and suffer in incomprehensible ways every day on this planet, and we are blind to it, except once in awhile, when a lone sufferer stumbles into our sanitized world. We see it as an “exception” like the Book of Job. But what violence out dismissive attitudes do to the plethora of suffering crushing innocents in our blind spots. Real life is Mother Theresa, pathetically trying to alleviate suffering that will never go away, and being depressed her whole life. That is “blessed are they that mourn, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the persecuted.” Heaven awaits them.

  21. Sue, my apologies again for splitting my reply to you. “Life” has got in the way in the last 24 hours….

    As I was saying, I don’t know why Priesthood blessings give healings to some, and not to others. George Albert Smith suffered from very severe depression for several years where he was isolated from the world (while an Apostle), and no number of blessings were able to help him. He had life-long struggles which we would probably describe today as anxieties. A grand-daughter is reported to have said that she believed his struggles gave him a greater compassion for others, which is not a bad thing in the eternal scheme of things, although probably not a comfort to him at the time. So an absence of healing does *not* equal a lack of faith. But I believe that when we exercise our faith all things will ultimately work to our good, and the grace of Christ will attend us to sustain us, though sometimes in ways we may not notice until long after.

    With regards to the Holy Ghost, I think there are several factors that can affect our ability to feel the Spirit, which would include these two that are relevant to the post:

    1. In my post I describe that there are some individuals who find it more difficult to feel the Holy Ghost due to the way different parts of the brain are activated – or at least they feel it differently to the way we normally describe it. I believe the Holy Ghost still attends these individuals, but the way we describe feeling the Holy Ghost may not resonate with them, because their experience would be different – they feel things differently. One of the things I struggle with is how to help such people identify the Spirit, because we can be feeling very different things in the same situation, and my explanations simply may not mean anything to them.

    2. When we are particularly troubled by physical or emotional pains this can affect our ability to feel the Spirit. I have known people who have said they felt the sustaining power of the Spirit through emotional trauma. But I also know others who have felt otherwise. My own experience when facing the abyss has been brief flashes of spiritual promptings on occasion, but for the most part not feeling much at all. Our souls are made up of both our spirits and our physical bodies – they interact with and affect each other, so it is not surprising that when we are unwell in whatever way, our spiritual selves are also affected.

    So to answer your specific question on this, you may well need to feel some peace that comes from yoga, therapy, or other other help before your body will help you feel the Holy Ghost, AND when you do feel it, it may feel differently to you than it does to others. Joseph Smith taught that we need to learn how to recognise the Spirit in our lives over a period of time – so you just need to learn how *you* feel with the Holy Ghost, not how others feel.

    Does that give us an “edge” as you describe it? You don’t have to be a member of the Church to have the Holy Ghost prompting, inspiring and guiding you, that’s for sure. But after we are baptised and we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we do then have the right to have him with us at all times as long we remain worthy and follow the covenantal direction to “Receive” him. I know in my own life I have received some incredibly specific direction that has come from the Holy Ghost that has blessed my life immeasurably. Maybe some of that direction would still have come without having received the Gift of the Holy Ghost – I can’t know for sure – but I certainly believe; correction, I know; that there is light and knowledge that has come to me specifically because of the Gift received through the Priesthood ordinance following baptism. For me, that is primarily about things I have learned, rather than things I have done, but that is just my experience.

    Finally, I love your comment, “gospel provides my framework for life but eastern philosophies have given me the tools to be “spiritual”…. I believe meditation and medicine are great tools for rewiring the brain to find some relief from our mental illness that are exacerbated by our stress, diets, addictions, and lack physical health.” When suffering from mental illness, we all need the “tools” to be able to put our bodies, minds, and spirits back in sync with each other. We live in a day when those tools are available and I believe the Lord expects us to use them – He has inspired people to develop them. I believe that if we use those tools, and then rely on Christ, His grace will then be sufficient for us.

  22. Lisbeth – thank you so much for your beautiful testimony. Amen.

    Aaron – I like your comment that the blessings of the Atonement apply even when we desire it as a form of using our agency. In relation to the changing of our natures, I would suggest that these blessings come to us *especially* when we seek to act on these righteous desires, as He strengthens our capacity to act righteously.

    Nate – some interesting comments, most of which I agree with. Indeed it is not intended that we escape suffering in this life, and some suffering will come because of our faith as you say (Enoch described mortality as our being made partakers of misery and woe – there’s a cheery thought); but I think it is important to remember that He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows – it is not intended that we carry them alone. We are to learn how to endure our suffering, and to learn from it; but also to learn how to come unto Christ through it, how to rely on Him, His mercy, His grace. And then, I believe, to help others also learn to come unto Him, and rely on Him.

    I also like your examples of some of the suffering that goes on in the world that is not due to a transgression of law – better examples than the one I used in an earlier comment. And I also agree that in many ways our modern society has grown to expect a life of ease – some quite normal life experiences have now been “medicalised” with treatments sought. That said, as a human race we are children of our Heavenly parents, and to see a person, or even a child suffer an almost unbearable emotional or mental pain because of a gene, or an upbringing that is not their fault is difficult for me to understand. And while I don’t feel any need to understand the why (I trust that He knows best), I do feel an imperative to understand how we can help those individuals feel the love of Christ in their lives. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  23. The husband of a friend was a faithful member of the Church but time and time again he attempted suicide and was saved each time by some miracle. Finally an attempt led to his being referred to a Jewish psychoanalyst who put him on the path to health. The doctor revealed that many of his patients in the eastern U. S. city where he practiced were LDS. He consulted several colleagues who revealed that few or none of their patients were LDS. I believe that the Spirit had identified his worth and actively led the faithful to him. I believe that any therapy or practice that leads to healing and relief without detracting from faith in Christ has a godly purpose. The Atonement is universal and eternal. How can we pretend to put limits on its applicability or reach? I ponder the idea that Christ’s great act encompassed all of human experience, including our moments of joy, serenity and love. I hope this is so because it gives me a small way to alleviate that mighty burden.

  24. JeffC
    Thanks for your words. I have grown to love the humility of people like you. The faith of people who go through the darkness and see the hope the atonement gives. It has only strengthened me. I will continue to pray to have my testimony strengthened concerning the power of the priesthood. I know I love the happiness I feel in my life right now. I can only Thank those who came at the right time opened doors that only can be miracles sent from heaven. .

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