Latter-day Saint Life

The Powerful Lesson Elder Oaks Learned When Priesthood Blessings Didn't Heal His Father


The year 1940 might have been a banner year for our family. The health and financial hardships that followed my father’s 1930 graduation from medical school in Philadelphia were past. The family was happily located in Twin Falls, Idaho, where my father’s medical practice (eye, ear, nose, and throat) was thriving and where he served on the high council of the Twin Falls Stake. In January 1938, he and my mother had returned from his four months of valuable postdoctoral training in ophthalmology in Vienna, Austria, and Cairo, Egypt. After years of sacrifice since their marriage in 1929, my mother could at last contemplate a life of security as the wife of a prosperous physician. In January 1940, son Merrill would be four, and in March, daughter Evelyn would be one. In August 1940, I, their eldest, would be baptized following my eighth birthday.

The anticipated happiness of 1940 was not to be. In the fall of 1939, my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and hospitalized at a TB sanatorium in Denver, Colorado. Many of today’s medications had not yet been developed, and even though he received optimal care for that day, his doctors could not stop the progress of the disease. He died there on June 10, 1940, leaving my mother struggling with a question that has troubled many faithful Latter-day Saints. During the six months of his hospitalization, my father had received many priesthood blessings containing promises of recovery. When he died, she and others struggled to reconcile his death with their faith and the numerous priesthood-declared promises of healing. Ultimately, we all learned from this experience.

Reading the letters my mother wrote during my father’s last illness has reminded me of her struggles. In the first month of my father’s hospitalization, she wrote him from Twin Falls, Idaho: “You shall be healed if your faith is great enough! . . . Recovery is according to our faith. . . . The blessing is ours for the faith and asking.”

A week later she wrote: “If our faith is great enough there is no blessing God can withhold from us.”1

Again and again, prominent priesthood leaders, including the president of the Western States Mission in Denver and a visiting member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, went to my father’s bedside and gave priesthood blessings that contained promises of healing. Each of these leaders rebuked the disease and commanded that my father be made whole. The blessings pronounced by others did the same. Two years earlier, as my parents were leaving for my father’s additional medical studies in Europe, they sought a blessing from a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He told them that the time would come when my father “would heal thousands.” That promise had also sustained my parents during my father’s illness and then added to my mother’s dismay upon his death.

Finally, 10 days before my father died, the doctors advised my mother, then in Denver, that they had done everything they could and that the disease would soon take her husband’s life. Numb with shock, she nevertheless wrote their bishop in Twin Falls, Idaho, that “a very great peace” had come to her and that “I am also ready to say ‘thy will be done.’” Her acceptance and her healing had begun, but her questions remained.

The answer was given at my father’s funeral by President J. W. Richins of the Twin Falls Stake, on whose high council my father had served. This inspired leader declared:

“All was done medically and in faith . . . and in prayer that could be done for him. . . . No doubt the most earnest and sincere prayer that was ever offered was the one offered while the Master was in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed most earnestly to His Father. ‘May this cup pass by me’ . . . but it closed with these remarks, ‘not my will, but thine, be done.’ So it was with the Savior Himself. His prayer was not answered because it was not the will of the Lord, and so our prayers have not been answered as we have asked . . . for [Lloyd’s] recovery, but we have always said ‘thy will be done.’”2

Gradually this great principle settled upon my mother’s soul, healing the wounds she had felt from unfulfilled faith and promises.

Years later, in two talks given at general conference, I summarized the lessons I had learned from this experience. 

In the first, I said: “Faith, no matter how strong it is, cannot produce a result contrary to the will of him whose power it is. The exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is always subject to the order of heaven, to the goodness and will and wisdom and timing of the Lord.”3

In the second, I said: “Even the servants of the Lord, exercising His divine power in a circumstance where there is sufficient faith to be healed, cannot give a priesthood blessing that will cause a person to be healed if that healing is not the will of the Lord.”4

Neither faith nor priesthood power can invoke a blessing that is contrary to the will of the Lord.

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1. These letters are copied from Evelyn Oaks Moody, “The Wonder and the Anguish,” chapter 9 in Lloyd E. Oaks, MD, edited by Amy Oaks Long (privately published, 2008), 220.

2. Ibid., 233.

3. “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1994, 100.

4. “Healing the Sick,” Ensign, May 2010, 50.

“I have learned things that have shaped my life and teachings, including some things of the heart not previously shared,” writes Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the introduction to this unique book. “This is an autobiography of learning and application rather than a compendium of doctrine.”

Masterfully blending personal experiences with the doctrines of the gospel, Elder Oaks invites us to join him on a journey through some of the turning points in his life and the lessons he has learned through a lifetime of devotion to the Savior.

The short but potent chapters offer perceptive observations into such diverse topics as the purpose of adversity, the importance of respecting those with whom we disagree personally or politically, the merits and limitations of law, the blessings of tithing, the seeming conflict between science and religion, the Lord's use of imperfect people to further His work, and the power of the Atonement to recover those who have fallen behind.

Elder Oaks also relates the very personal lessons he learned from the death of his wife, June, and from his subsequent marriage to Kristen McMain.

Woven throughout the book is Elder Oak's powerful testimony of the Savior and His mission. Life's Lessons Learned is a rare glimpse into the experiences of the heart that have shaped the life of an Apostle of God.


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