A Balm in Gilead

When Jacob and his family fled from the home of his father-in-law, Laban pursued him. They met in a mountainous region, and after a difficult conversation, they were reconciled. Together, they built a stone pillar to memorialize their healed relationship. Laban suggested they call the pillar Jegar-sahadutha (יְגַר שׂהֲדוּתָא), “the heap of the testimony,” but Jacob recommended the more concise name Galeed (גַּלְעֵד), meaning “witness pile.” As a result, the hilly country east of the Jordan River became known to the ancient Israelites by a variant of that name: Gilead. (See Genesis 31:43-55.)

Jacob’s son, Joseph, was later sold into slavery when his brothers saw a company of traveling merchants coming “from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh” (Genesis 37:25). Ironically, those merchants transporting balm, which is supposed to ease pain and aid healing, increased the suffering of both Joseph and his father by taking him to Egypt.

Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah lamented the imminent destruction of his people. They were afflicted with “perpetual backsliding,” he said. They were “not at all ashamed” of their abominations. They trusted in foolish counselors, who told them everything would be okay, in spite of the obvious signs of trouble. Even though the people had brought these calamities upon themselves, Jeremiah was heartbroken for them. “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt…astonishment hath taken hold on me,” he said. Then, he asked this poignant question: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jeremiah 8:5, 11-12, 21-22).

When we or the people we love are suffering, it is natural to ask a version of this question. Why is God allowing this to happen? Doesn’t He have the power to heal us?

After Elder Brent H. Nielson lost his father to cancer, he began asking similar questions. “I wondered if my faith was not strong enough,” he said. “Why did some families receive a miracle, but our family did not?… Like Jeremiah, I was wondering, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead for the Nielson family?'” (“Is There No Balm in Gilead?,” General Conference, October 2021).

As he continued to search and pray, Elder Nielson began to understand that God heals us in many ways. When a paralyzed man was let down through the roof in front of the Savior, Jesus first forgave the man’s sins before healing him physically (Mark 2:5). After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, a group of survivors on the American continent heard Him say, “Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13). Elder Nielson explained, “The Savior was not referring to a physical healing but rather a spiritual healing of their souls.”

Jacob and his father-in-law were reconciled in Gilead. The merchants from Gilead who carried Joseph to Egypt unknowingly saved the lives of Jacob and his other sons. (See Genesis 45:4-5.) Jeremiah’s people were later able to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. (See Ezra 1:1-4.)

God heals us in many ways. Elder Nielson observed:

I had mistakenly believed that the Savior’s healing power had not worked for my family. As I now look back with more mature eyes and experience, I see that the Savior’s healing power was evident in the lives of each of my family members. I was so focused on a physical healing that I failed to see the miracles that had occurred. The Lord strengthened and lifted my mother beyond her capacity through this difficult trial, and she led a long and productive life. She had a remarkable positive influence on her children and grandchildren. The Lord blessed me and my siblings with love, unity, faith, and resilience that became an important part of our lives and continues today….

The balm of Gilead worked for the Nielson family—not in the way that we had supposed, but in an even more significant way that has blessed and continues to bless our lives.

Is There No Balm in Gilead?,” General Conference, October 2021

I have several friends who are currently dealing with significant health issues. Today, I will continue to pray for them—that they will be strong, and that the treatments they are receiving will be effective. But I will also remember that God heals us in many ways, some more eternally significant than physical healing. I will be grateful for the ultimate promise of resurrection and for the spiritual healing which He provides as we turn our hearts to Him.

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