“Miracles,” Ensign, June 2001, 6
When I was a college student, almost 50 years ago, Elder Matthew Cowley (1897–1953) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to a BYU audience about miracles. That devotional message had a great impact on me, and I have felt to revisit its subject. Like Elder Cowley, I will seek to provide an answer to the prophet Mormon’s question “Has the day of miracles ceased?” (Moro. 7:35). In fact, many miracles happen every day in the work of our Church and in the lives of our members. Many of you have witnessed miracles, perhaps more than you realize.
A miracle has been defined as “a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot duplicate.”1 The idea that events are brought about through divine power is rejected by most irreligious people and even by some who are religious. All of us have known people who have what Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once called “the anti-miracle mind-set.”2 This rejection of miracles in the last days was prophesied. The prophet Nephi foretold that the Gentiles would “put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain” (2 Ne. 26:20). He also prophesied that churches would be built up in which persons would teach with their learning, deny the power of God, and tell the people that if someone should “say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles” (2 Ne. 28:6).
Some people reject the possibility of miracles because they have not experienced them or cannot understand them. In contrast, President Howard W. Hunter declared, “To deny the reality of miracles on the ground that the results and manifestations must be fictitious simply because we cannot comprehend the means by which they have happened is arrogant on the face of it.”3
The word miracle is used in different ways. We sometimes say that any happening we cannot explain is a “miracle.” To me, a computer is a miracle. So are cell phones and space travel. But these wonders are explainable by physical laws understood by some mortals. I call them miracles because I do not personally understand them and therefore cannot duplicate them at will.
Another category of miracles, so-called, are the tricks that some magicians and religious practitioners stage in order to produce astonishing events in aid of their professions or ministries. You will remember that the magicians in Pharaoh’s court duplicated some of the miracles Moses produced through the power of God (see Ex. 7–8). Perhaps these magicians were servants of the devil, using his power, but I think it more likely that they were simply skilled practitioners of magic tricks that they used to reinforce their position in Pharaoh’s court.
Religious practitioners have employed similar deceptions in our own day. About 40 years ago a professional dramatic production planned for a midwestern city had to be postponed because the producers could not find enough professional actors to perform the required roles. A great religious revival was under way in that city, and I was told the revivalists had hired all of the available professional actors to portray miraculous healings and conversions to enhance their position and goals with their audiences. Before we are too critical of such techniques, we should remember that we engage in similar deceptions whenever we exaggerate a happening in order to dazzle an audience into thinking we have experienced a miracle or to enhance our stature in other ways. Warning!
We know from the scriptures that persons without authority will use the name of Jesus Christ to work what seem to be miracles. The Savior taught that as part of the Final Judgment many would say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22). You will remember that these pretenders were rejected by the Lord (see Matt. 7:23).
Not every manifestation or miracle comes from God or from mortal deception. The adversary has great powers to deceive, and he will use these to give his corrupted copy of the genuine miracles worked by the power of God. I will say no more of this, since I believe it is not desirable to say much about the powers of the evil one. It is sufficient for us to know that his power exists and that we have been warned against it (see Rev. 13:11–14; D&C 28:11; D&C 50:1–3).4
I will now describe two types of genuine miracles. These two fit all of the elements of the definition: they are brought about by divine power, mortals do not understand them, and mortals cannot duplicate them of themselves.
First, miracles worked by the power of the priesthood are always present in the true Church of Jesus Christ.5 The Book of Mormon teaches that “God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles” (Mosiah 8:18). The “means” provided is priesthood power (see James 5:14–15; D&C 42:43–48), and that power works miracles through faith (see Ether 12:12; Moro. 7:37). The scriptures contain many accounts of such miracles. Elijah’s raising the widow’s son and Peter’s healing of the lame man are two familiar examples from the Bible (see 1 Kgs. 17:8–24; Acts 3), and there are many others. I will describe some modern examples later.
A second type of genuine miracle is the miracle worked through the power of faith, without specifically invoking the power of the priesthood. Many of these miracles occur in our Church, such as by the prayers of faithful women, and many occur outside it. As Nephi taught, God “manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith” (2 Ne. 26:13; see also 1 Ne. 7:12; James 5:15).
Some miracles affect many people. The ultimate such miracle is the Atonement of Jesus Christ—His triumph over physical and spiritual death for all mankind. No miracle is more far-reaching or more magnificent.
Other far-reaching miracles—impossible to explain by rational means—occur as a result of obedience to the commandments of God. Thus, there is something miraculous about the way the members of our Church pay their tithing so faithfully and are blessed for doing so.
To cite another far-reaching miracle, there is no rational way to explain why young men and women give a year and a half to two years of their lives in the middle of their education and marriage eligibility to suffer the hardships incident to an inconvenient and highly disciplined pattern of missionary service to their fellowmen. Other miracles occur in funding missions by missionaries or families too poor to do so but who do so anyway.
Still another miracle is the way missionaries are protected during their labors. Of course we have fatalities among our young missionaries—about three to six per year over the last decade—all of them tragic. But the official death rates for comparable-age young men and women in the United States are eight times higher than the death rates of our missionaries. In other words, our young men and women are eight times safer in the mission field than the general population of their peers at home. In view of the hazards of missionary labor, this mortality record is nothing less than a miracle.
Other large-scale miracles are occurring in the Church’s family history work. The effect of our FamilySearch™ Internet Genealogy Service in the time it has been available is truly miraculous. After one year our Internet site averaged eight million hits per day, representing daily visits by about 130,000 persons. In this same one-year period, the site registered users from 117 countries who downloaded over 410,000 copies of our Personal Ancestral File. This was an eight-fold increase in usage over the prior technology. Family history work is exploding in a miraculous way.
In contrast to these far-reaching miracles are the more familiar categories of miracles that impact only a few individuals. The scriptures abound with such miracles, and miracles as great as these still occur. I have seen them, and so have you. Elder Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:
“We do have miracles today—beyond imagination! …
“What kinds of miracles do we have? All kinds—revelations, visions, tongues, healings, special guidance and direction, evil spirits cast out. Where are they recorded? In the records of the Church, in journals, in news and magazine articles and in the minds and memories of many people.”6
Most of us are acquainted with miracles that have occurred in our personal lives and the lives of those we love, such as miracles involving births and deaths and miraculous healings. All of these are fulfillments of the Lord’s modern promise to “show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name” (D&C 35:8).
I have been speaking of miracles that happen. What about miracles that don’t happen? Most of us have offered prayers that were not answered with the miracle we requested at the time we desired. Miracles are not available for the asking. We know this from the Lord’s revelation directing that the elders should be called to lay hands on and bless the sick: “It shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed” (D&C 42:48). The will of the Lord is always paramount. The priesthood of the Lord cannot be used to work a miracle contrary to the will of the Lord. We must also remember that even when a miracle is to occur, it will not occur on our desired schedule. The revelations teach that miraculous experiences occur “in his own time, and in his own way” (D&C 88:68).
Why don’t our talks in general conference and local meetings say more about the miracles we have seen? Most of the miracles we experience are not to be shared. Consistent with the teachings of the scriptures, we hold them sacred and share them only when the Spirit prompts us to do so.
The revelation on priesthood affirms the biblical teaching in Mark 16:17 that “signs,” including miraculous healings and other wonderful works, “follow them that believe” (see also D&C 84:65). Similarly, modern revelation directs that “they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation” (D&C 84:73). Another revelation declares, “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit” (D&C 63:64). President Brigham Young explained, “Miracles, or these extraordinary manifestations of the power of God, are not for the unbeliever; they are to console the Saints, and to strengthen and confirm the faith of those who love, fear, and serve God, and not for outsiders.”7
Latter-day Saints generally follow these directions. In bearing testimonies and in our public addresses we rarely mention our most miraculous experiences, and we rarely rely on signs that the gospel is true. We usually just affirm our testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and give few details on how we obtained it. Why is this? Signs follow those that believe. Seeking a miracle to convert someone is improper sign seeking. By the same token, it is usually inappropriate to recite miraculous circumstances to a general audience that includes people with very different levels of spiritual maturity. To a general audience, miracles will be faith-reinforcing for some but an inappropriate sign for others.
There are good reasons why we do not seek conversions by exhibiting signs. “The viewing of signs or miracles is not a secure foundation for conversion. Scriptural history attests that people converted by signs and wonders soon forget them and again become susceptible to the lies and distortions of Satan and his servants (Hel. 16:23; 3 Ne. 1:22, 3 Ne. 2:1, 3 Ne. 8:4.). …
“In contrast to the witness of the Spirit, which can be renewed from time to time as needed by a worthy recipient, the viewing of a sign or the experiencing of a miracle is a one-time event that will fade in the memory of its witness and can dim in its impact upon him or her.”8
President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), who served for more than a quarter century in the First Presidency, observed: “It has been a matter of remark among those who have had experience in this Church that where men have been brought into the Church by such manifestations, it has required a constant succession of them to keep them in the Church; their faith has had to be constantly strengthened by witnessing some such manifestations; but where they have been convinced by the outpouring of the spirit of God, … they have been more likely to stand, more likely to endure persecution and trial than those who have been convinced through some supernatural manifestation.”9
Although we are generally counseled not to speak of sacred things like the miracles we have witnessed, there are times when the Spirit prompts us to share these experiences, sometimes even in a setting where our account will be published. The miracles written in the scriptures were obviously intended to be shared, usually to strengthen the faith of those who already believed. Modern servants of the Lord have also felt impressed to describe miraculous events to strengthen the faith of believers. Many of these have been published. I have chosen to share some of these here.
A few years after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, a young man took an ox team up Millcreek Canyon on a cold winter day to get logs to build a house. It was extremely cold, and the snow was deep. His sled held five large logs. After he loaded the first one, he turned around to load another. In that instant, the log already on the sled—22 feet long and about 10 inches in diameter—slipped off the sled and rolled down on him, striking him in the hollow of his legs. He was thrown face-forward across the four logs still on the ground and pinned there, alone, with no way to extract himself. He knew he would freeze to death and die alone in the mountains.
The next thing this young pioneer remembered was waking up, sitting on a load of five logs nicely bound on his sled with his oxen pulling the load down the canyon. In his personal history he wrote, “Who it was that extricated me from under the log, loaded my sled, hitched my oxen to it, and placed me on it, I cannot say.”10 Thirty-three years later, that young pioneer, Marriner Wood Merrill, was ordained an Apostle.
Many miracles happen to aid individuals in pursuing their personal family histories. In an issue of the Church News, a woman told how she returned to her ancestral home in Japan to seek information about her ancestors. After finding nothing in official records, local libraries, and cemeteries, she gave up and was driving away empty-handed when she became lost and somehow drove past a cemetery she did not know existed. From the car window she saw a familiar name on a tombstone, stopped, and found many markers with the information she sought.”11
Miraculous healings through priesthood blessings and the prayer of faith are familiar to most of us. An experience related in the Friend magazine is typical. During his early childhood, Elder John M. Madsen was afflicted with double pneumonia. After examining the little boy, a doctor told his parents he could do nothing for him and offered no hope that he would live through the night. Soon the child sank into unconsciousness. When his mother felt for his pulse and could find none, she prayed fervently, and the father gave the dying child a priesthood blessing. Immediately he recovered consciousness and began to feel better.12
In his great talk on miracles, Elder Matthew Cowley tells of several miraculous healings, including this one that occurred while he was serving as a mission president among the Maori people of New Zealand.
One Sunday a father brought a nine-month-old baby forward to Brother Cowley, requesting that he give him a name and a blessing. Here I quote Brother Cowley:
“I said, ‘All right, what’s the name?’ So he told me the name, and I was just going to start when he said, ‘By the way, give him his vision when you give him a name. He was born blind.’ It shocked me, but then I said to myself, why not? Christ said to his disciples when he left them, ‘Greater things than I have done shall you do.’ (See John 14:12.) I had faith in that father’s faith. After I gave that child its name, I finally got around to giving it its vision. That boy is about twelve years old now. The last time I was back there I was afraid to inquire about him. I was sure he had gone blind again. That’s the way my faith works sometimes. So I asked the branch president about him. And he said, ‘Brother Cowley, the worst thing you ever did was to bless that child to receive his vision. He’s the meanest kid in the neighborhood; always getting into mischief.’ Boy, I was thrilled about that kid getting into mischief!”13
President Gordon B. Hinckley shared another miracle in the restoration of sight: “I recall once when I arrived in Hong Kong I was asked if I would visit a woman in the hospital whose doctors had told her she was going blind and would lose her sight within a week. She asked if we would administer to her and we did so, and she states that she was miraculously healed. I have a painting in my home that she gave me which says on the back of it, ‘To Gordon B. Hinckley in grateful appreciation for the miracle of saving my sight.’ I said to her, ‘I didn’t save your sight. Of course, the Lord saved your sight. Thank Him and be grateful to Him.’”14
As I said earlier, the Lord works miracles in response to the faith of His children. No denomination—not even the restored Church—has a monopoly on the blessings of the Lord. He loves and blesses all of His children.
In an airport one day I picked up a copy of the Dallas Morning News. My eyes were drawn to a columnist’s report of a letter detailing a remarkable miracle. The writer’s five-year-old granddaughter, Heather, suddenly became feverish and lethargic. She breathed with difficulty, and her lips turned blue. By the time she arrived at the hospital, her kidneys and lungs had shut down, her fever was 107 degrees, and her body was bright red and covered with purple lesions. The doctors said she was dying of toxic shock syndrome, cause unknown. As word spread to family and friends, God-fearing people from Florida to California began praying for little Heather. At the grandfather’s request, a special prayer service was held in their Church of Christ congregation in Waco, Texas. Miraculously, Heather suddenly came back from the brink of death and was released from the hospital in a little over a week. The columnist concluded that Heather “is living proof that God does answer prayers and work miracles.”15
We do not usually speak of spiritual gifts as a miracle, but sometimes the effect of a spiritual gift is miraculous. For example, many missionaries who must learn a new language are blessed with the gift of tongues. Most often this gift merely accelerates the normal process of learning, but sometimes its effect is so immediate that it can only be called a miracle. A young mission president experienced this in the South Pacific in 1913. John Alexander Nelson Jr. spoke Samoan but not Tongan. When he arrived for an assignment in Tonga, he found that he had been scheduled to speak to a congregation of 300 Wesleyan Methodists. He began in faith by speaking a few sentences of greeting he knew in the Tongan language, and then suddenly found himself continuing to speak in Tongan. He spoke without hesitation for nearly an hour “as fluently as any native.”16
Eric B. Shumway’s book Tongan Saints: Legacy of Faith describes many other miracles experienced in those islands of faith. For example, in the midst of the furious hurricane that devastated Vava’u in 1961, a Tongan father reasoned that he had priesthood power to heal a body and saw no reason why he could not also “heal” the raging storm. Brother Shumway writes, “His dramatic blessing at the peak of the hurricane saved his home and the people who took refuge there.”17
In another experience, heavy ocean waves were crashing onto a beach at a time when the missionaries had scheduled some baptisms. An elder “stepped out and blessed the ocean, commanding it to be still so these sacred ordinances could be accomplished.” Almost instantly the ocean calmed down and five people were baptized. Then as the party started up the path from the ocean, “the waves came crashing in again over the very spot the sacred ordinances were held.”18
One of the greatest miracles we can imagine is for someone to be brought back to life after being dead for a time. So it was with Lazarus, whom Jesus raised (see John 11:17, 39–44). So it has been with others in our day.
The miracle of raising someone from the dead is so exceptional and so sacred that those who have been privileged to see it should never speak of it publicly unless the Spirit specifically induces them to do so. Our published literature contains two such examples I can share. The first is from the Matthew Cowley talk that impressed me so deeply when I was a student at BYU. I quote:
“I was called to a home in a little village in New Zealand one day. There the Relief Society sisters were preparing the body of one of our saints. They had placed his body in front of the big house, as they call it, the house where the people come to wail and weep and mourn over the dead, when in rushed the dead man’s brother. He said, ‘Administer to him.’ And the young natives said, ‘Why, you shouldn’t do that; he’s dead.’ ‘You do it!’ …
“The younger native got down on his knees and he anointed this man. Then this great old sage got down and blessed him and commanded him to rise. You should have seen the Relief Society sisters scatter. He sat up and said, ‘Send for the elders; I don’t feel very well.’ … We told him he had just been administered to, and he said, ‘Oh, that was it.’ He said, ‘I was dead. I could feel life coming back into me just like a blanket unrolling.’ He outlived the brother that came in and told us to administer to him.”19
Another sacred experience is related in the book Tongan Saints. It happened while Elder ‘Iohani Wolfgramm and his wife were serving a mission in their native Tonga, presiding over a branch on an outlying island. Their three-year-old daughter was accidentally run over by a loaded taxi. Four of the occupants of the taxi sorrowfully carried her lifeless body to her parents. “Her head was crushed and her face was terribly disfigured.”20 The sorrowing helpers offered to take the little girl’s body to the hospital so the doctors could repair her severely damaged head and face for the funeral. I now quote the words of her father, Elder Wolfgramm: “I told them I did not want them to take her but that I would ask God what I should do and, if it was possible, to give her life back.”21
The helpers took the little girl’s body into the chapel. Elder Wolfgramm continued: “I asked them to hold her while I gave her a priesthood blessing. By then the curious people of the village were flocking in to see our stricken little daughter. As I was about to proceed with the administration, I felt tongue-tied. Struggling to speak, I got the distinct impression that I should not continue with the ordinance. It was as if a voice were speaking to me saying: ‘This is not the right time, for the place is full of mockers and unbelievers. Wait for a more private moment.’
“My speech returned at that moment and I addressed the group: ‘The Lord has restrained me from blessing this little girl, because there are unbelievers among you who doubt this sacred ordinance. Please help me by leaving so I can bless my child.’”22
The people left without taking offense. The grieving parents carried the little girl to their home, put her body on her own bed, and covered her with a sheet. Three hours passed, and her body began to show the effects of death. The mother pleaded with the father to bless her, but he insisted that he still felt restrained. Finally, the impression came that he should now proceed. I return to his words:
“All present in the home at that moment were people with faith in priesthood blessings. The feeling of what I should do and say was so strong within me that I knew Tisina would recover completely after the blessing. Thus, I anointed her head and blessed her in the name of Jesus Christ to be well and normal. I blessed her head and all her wounds to heal perfectly, thanking God for his goodness to me in allowing me to hold his priesthood and bring life back to my daughter. I asked him to open the doors of Paradise, so I could tell her to come back and receive her body again and live. The Lord then spoke to my heart and said, ‘She will return to you tomorrow. You will be reunited then.’”23
The parents spent an anxious night beside the body of the little girl, who appeared to be lifeless. Then, suddenly, the little girl awoke, alive and well. Her father’s account concludes: “I grabbed her and examined her, her head and face. They were perfectly normal. All her wounds were healed; and from that day to this, she has experienced no complications from the accident. Her life was the miraculous gift from Heavenly Father during our missionary labors in Fo’ui.”24
I have seen quite a few miracles during my Church service. I feel I can share two of them at this time.
I had an experience with the gift of tongues in the newly opened country of Bulgaria. In November 1990 we sent missionaries into Bulgaria. A handful of elders entered from Serbia, without any contacts or training in the Bulgarian language. Through their labors and the blessings of the Lord, we soon had 45 Bulgarian members.
In April 1991 I went to Bulgaria with Area President Hans B. Ringger and mission president Dennis B. Neuenschwander. There, most of our members and about 150 investigators assembled in an attractive civic building in Sofia for a fireside at which I was to speak. My interpreter was Mirella Lazarov, a newly baptized member in her 20s. The audience included many professional people and some government officials. I had prayed fervently for guidance in this talk but had little time for preparation.
I began by telling the audience about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how we differed from other Christian churches. I then felt impressed to speak about the Apostasy, which I did in some detail. In doing so, I completely forgot that I was speaking through an interpreter who had been a member only five months and had almost no background in the subject of the Apostasy. Forgetful of this, I made no attempt to speak in simple terms but made extensive use of the unfamiliar English words involved in a detailed explanation of the Apostasy and the Restoration.
After the crowd had departed, Sister Lazarov tearfully told me of her unique experience in translating my talk. Despite her fluency in English, she sometimes heard me speak words or express thoughts she did not understand in English. She said that whenever this happened, “another voice” spoke through her so she found herself using words or explaining concepts in Bulgarian that she did not understand in English. I told her to cherish this experience and testify of it to others. She had experienced the gift of tongues in a classic circumstance in which the Lord gives a spiritual gift to one person so that others of His children can be edified and His work can be forwarded (see D&C 46:9).
I experienced another miracle during an attempted military coup to overthrow the government of Philippine president Corazon Aquino in December 1989.25 Many persons were killed in nearly a week of heavy fighting between rebel and loyal government troops. A principal site of this fighting was Camp Aguinaldo, which adjoins our temple in Manila.
During the first day of the attempted coup, gunfire and bombing could be heard from our temple. That night the road in front of the temple was occupied by rebel armored vehicles, trucks, and many soldiers. With the coming of daylight on Saturday, these rebel forces exchanged gunfire with the loyal government troops in Camp Aguinaldo. Opposing aircraft fired rockets and dropped bombs.
At about 3:00 P.M. Saturday afternoon, the rebel soldiers breached the gate of the temple and occupied our temple grounds. At this time we had five Philippine employees there: three security men and two custodians. Our temple president, Floyd H. Hogan, instructed them by phone not to resist the soldiers entering the temple grounds or the temple annex, which housed auxiliary facilities like name processing, but to secure the temple and take cover there. The man in charge, Brother Espi, later wrote that he worked to develop a good relationship with the rebel soldiers to convince them that even though they wanted to get access to the temple, “because of the sacred nature of the temple, they should not try to enter.”
Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning there were almost continuous exchanges of gunfire between the government troops in Camp Aguinaldo and the rebels around the camp, including those occupying our temple grounds. Brother Espi later wrote: “We all thought that we are on our own but still asked our Heavenly Father to strengthen each one of us and to spare the temple from being desecrated.”
Others were praying too. In his later report, Area President George I. Cannon wrote: “The Sunday when the rebellion was going on was fast Sunday. Throughout the Philippines the members were praying and fasting for the temple, for the members, and for the missionaries.”
Sunday morning a government helicopter gunship appeared and strafed the vicinity of the temple, but retreated because of stiff resistance from the rebels’ 50-caliber machine guns. About noon that day an air force plane dropped several bombs that hit the residence house near the temple. Bomb fragments broke windows in the temple annex.
Sunday evening Manila radio reported that the Mormon temple was in rebel hands but that a government force was moving in to drive them out. At that report, President Hogan, the temple president and a retired colonel in the U.S. military, went into action himself. He made the dangerous walk from the temple president’s home to the assembling government troops. There he found that their commander had given the rebels one hour to surrender and planned to attack them at 11:00 P.M. His force included armored personnel carriers, heavy mortars, and at least 150 soldiers, who believed they outnumbered and could easily defeat the rebel force in the temple annex. But their attack would obviously employ extensive heavy weapons and rifle fire and would cause great damage to the temple facilities. President Hogan argued with the commanding officer that if he would only wait until daylight, the rebels might abandon the temple grounds and no attack would be necessary. The commander insisted that he had to follow his orders, and President Hogan was not able to contact the general who had given the order to see if he would rescind it.
During this time I was the member of the Quorum of the Twelve whom the Philippines Area President contacted for help at headquarters. Thirty minutes before the 11:00 P.M. Manila deadline, Area President George I. Cannon phoned me to report that our temple annex and grounds were the last remaining rebel stronghold in Manila and the army had massed artillery and troops for an assault at any moment. He said he had done all he could through the Philippine government and the American ambassador to discourage the attack, but without success. It was then 7:30 A.M. Sunday in Salt Lake City.
By a remarkable coincidence—one of those happenings that cannot be coincidental—the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had scheduled an unusual meeting that Sunday morning. At 8:00 A.M., 3 December, just 30 minutes after I received that alarming report from Manila, the assembled First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve bowed in prayer and pleaded with the Lord to intervene to protect His house. Elder Marvin J. Ashton led our prayer. As we prayed, it was 11:00 P.M. Sunday evening in Manila, the exact hour appointed for the assault.
The attack never came. Twenty minutes after our prayer, President Cannon phoned Church headquarters to report that the military commander had unexpectedly decided against a night assault. Early the next morning, Philippine time, President Hogan phoned to say that the rebels had melted away during the night. I recorded in my journal, “I consider this a miracle of divine intervention no less impressive than many recorded in holy writ.”
On Monday morning President Hogan inspected the temple annex. It had shrapnel marks and many broken windows on the north side, but inside, none of its locked rooms had been entered. The temple itself had not been entered and was not damaged. A total of six mortar or rocket shells had exploded inside the temple grounds. From their trajectory, President Hogan concluded that some of these shells had to have passed between the spires of the temple. The patron housing building under construction nearby had been hit by four or five rockets and had sustained extensive damage. The Manila temple opened for normal sessions the next day.
A week later I received a letter from the Philippine ambassador to the United States, Emmanuel Pelaez, whom I had recently hosted at Church headquarters. His letter explained how he had worked behind the scenes, as soon as he learned that our temple was threatened, to urge the Philippine military to “do everything possible” to spare this sacred building from damage. After the fighting was over, they had reported to him that “they were careful in their counter-shelling, so as not to cause damage” to the temple.26 I concluded that the Lord had worked behind the scenes through these government servants to save His house.
When I was in the Philippines a few months later, I personally inspected the temple and grounds and found that despite all of the shelling and exchanges of gunfire within a few feet of this sacred edifice, it was completely unmarked by any shell fire except for one bullet hole, apparently a single stray rifle shot, at the top of the highest steeple. As President and Sister Donald L. Hilton of the Philippines Manila Mission wrote in a letter sent to their missionaries, “an unseen army of angels assisted faithful temple guards that the temple was not desecrated.”
I have spoken about miracles. I have given illustrations of miracles in the Church as a whole and in many different circumstances involving a few individuals or a crisis of weather or war. But the greatest miracle is not in such things as restoring sight to the blind, healing an illness, or even raising the dead, since all of these restorations will happen, in any event, in the Resurrection.
Changing bodies or protecting temples are miracles, but an even greater miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God (see Mosiah 5:2). A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body. I repeat, the body will be resurrected in any event, but a change affecting what the scripture calls the “heart” of a spirit son or daughter of God is a change whose effect is eternal. If of the right kind, this change opens the door to the process of repentance that cleanses us to dwell in the presence of God. It introduces the perspective and priorities that lead us to make the choices that qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).
My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us may experience and persist in that miracle of the mighty change of heart, that we may realize the destiny God has prescribed for all of His children and the purpose of this Church to bring to pass the eternal lives of men and women. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, and He is our Savior, our Redeemer, and our Resurrector. We are His spiritual children, spiritually begotten by His sacrifice in Gethsemane and on Calvary and possessing the opportunity to qualify for eternal life. May God bless us to do so.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
What is the purpose of miracles?
Why is it unwise to base our testimonies upon miracles?
When is it appropriate or inappropriate to discuss miracles we have witnessed?
Why is a “mighty change of heart” a great miracle?