In his various autobiographical and self-help books, Ben Carson writes of occasions in which God helps him, protects him and looks out for him, sometimes unsolicited, usually in direct response to prayer. Carson, a neurosurgeon and the current front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, invokes his mother’s teaching — “If you ask the Lord for something and believe He will do it, then it’ll happen” — and sees the influence and intervention of the divine in his medical work and other aspects of his life. Below are 11 such occasions, as Carson describes in “Gifted Hands” (1990), “Think Big” (1992) and “The Big Picture” (1999):
1. God tamed Carson’s temper.
As a child, Ben Carson had trouble controlling his temper. He recounts an occasion in which he gashed a boy across the forehead with a lock; threw a rock at another and smashed his nose; nearly took a swing at his mother; and, finally, tried to knife a friend in the belly, only to be saved by a belt buckle. Anguished, Carson locked himself in his bathroom at home for two hours, turning to God for help:
I’d dreamed of being a doctor since I was eight years old. But how could I fulfill the dream with such a terrible temper? When angry, I went out of control and had no idea how to stop. I’d never make anything of myself if I didn’t control my temper. If only I could do something about the rage that burned inside me. . . .
From somewhere deep inside my mind came a strong impression. Pray. My mother had taught me to pray. My teachers at the religious school in Boston often told us that God would help us if we only asked Him. For weeks, for months, I had been trying to control my temper, figuring it I could handle it myself. Now, in that small hot bathroom I knew the truth. I knew I could not handle my temper alone. . . .
“Lord,” I whispered. You have to take this temper from me.” If you don’t, I’ll never be free from it. I’ll end up doing a lot worse things than trying to stab one of my best friends.”
Already heavy into psychology (I had been reading Psychology Today for a year), I knew that temper was a personality trait. Standard thinking in the field pointed out the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of modifying personality traits. Even today some experts believe the best we can do is accept our limitations and adjust to them.
Tears streamed between my fingers. “Lord, despite what all the experts tell me, You can change me. You can free me forever from this destructive personality trait. . . . You’ve promised that if we come to You and ask something in faith, that You’ll do it. I believe that you can change this in me.” I stood up, looking at the narrow window, still pleading for God’s help. . . .
At one point I’d slipped out of the bathroom long enough to grab a Bible. Now I opened it and began to read in Proverbs. . . . “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
My lips moved wordlessly as I continued to read. I felt as though the verses had been written just for me. . . . At last I stood up, placed the Bible on the edge of the sink. I washed my face and hands, straightened my clothes. I walked out of the bathroom a changed young man. “My temper will never control me again,” I told myself. “Never again. I’m free.”
And since that day, since those long hours wrestling with myself and crying to God for help, I have never had a problem with my temper. . . .
The miracle that took place was incredible when I stopped to think about it. Some of my psychologically oriented friends insist that I still have the potential for anger. Maybe they’re right, but I’ve lived more than twenty years since that experience, and I’ve never had another flare-up or even had a serious problem of needing to control my temper.
— Ben Carson, “Gifted Hands”
2. God gave Carson the questions and answers for a college chemistry test.
As a freshman at Yale, Carson fell behind in his chemistry class, and on the night before the final exam, he was poised to fail. If he did, he would drop out of the premed program, dashing his dream of becoming a doctor:
My mind reached toward God — a desperate yearning, begging, clinging to Him. “Either help me understand what kind of work I ought to do, or else perform some kind of miracle and help me pass this exam.”
From that moment on, I felt at peace. I had no answer. God didn’t break through my haze of depression and flash a picture in front of me. Yet I knew that whatever happened, everything was going to be all right.
It was nearly 10:00 p.m., and I was tired. . . . “Ben, you have to try,” I said aloud. “You have to do everything you can.”
I sat down for the next two hours and pored through my thick chemistry textbook, memorizing formulas and equations that I thought might help. No matter what happened during the exam, I would go into it determined to do the best I could. I’d fail but, I consoled myself, at least I’d have a high fail. . . .
Midnight. The words on the page blurred, and my mind refused to take in any more information. I flopped into my bed and whispered in the darkness. “God, I’m sorry. Please forgive me for failing You and for failing myself.” Then I slept.
While I slept I had a strange dream, and, when I awakened in the morning, it remained as vivid as if it had actually happened. In the dream I was sitting in the chemistry lecture hall, the only person there. The door opened, and a nebulous figure walked into the room, stopped at the board, and started working out chemistry problems. I took notes of everything he wrote.
When I awakened, I recalled most of the problems, and I hurriedly wrote them down before they faded from memory. A few of the answers actually did fade but, still remembering the problems, I looked them up in my textbook. I knew quite a bit about psychology so assumed I was still trying to work out unresolved problems during my sleep.
I dressed, ate breakfast, and went to the chemistry lecture room with a feeling of resignation. . . . Hurriedly, I skimmed through the booklet, laughing silently, confirming what I suddenly knew. The exam problems were identical to those written by the shadowy dream figure in my sleep.
I knew the answer to every question on the first page. “Piece of cake,” I mumbled as my pencil flew to write the solutions. The first page finished, I turned to the next page, and again the first problem was one I had seen written on the board in my dream. I could hardly believe it.
I didn’t stop to analyze what was happening. I was so excited to know correct answers that I worked quickly, almost afraid to lose what I remembered. Near the end of the test, where my dream recall began to weaken, I didn’t get every single problem. But it was enough. I knew I would pass.
“God, You pulled off a miracle,” I told Him as I left the classroom. “And I make a promise to you that I’ll never put you in that situation again.”
–Ben Carson, “Gifted Hands”
3. God gives Ben Carson $10.
Carson writes that he was chronically short of cash while a student at Yale. One day during his sophomore year, he realizes he has no money at all, not even enough to take the bus back and forth to his church:
That day I walked across the campus alone, bewailing my situation, tired of never having enough money to buy the everyday things I needed, the simple things like toothpaste or stamps. “Lord,” I prayed, “please help me. At least give me bus fare to go to church.”
Although I’d been walking aimlessly, I looked up and realized I was just outside Battell Chapel on the old campus. As I approached the bike racks, I looked down. A ten-dollar bill lay crumpled on the ground three feet in front of me.
“Thank You, God,” I said as I picked it up, hardly able to believe that I had the money in my hand.
–Ben Carson, “Gifted Hands”
4. God saved Ben Carson and his future wife in a car accident.
During a late-night drive from Michigan back to Connecticut for college, Ben Carson and Candy Rustin both fell asleep. Their rental car veered off the road, heading toward a deep ravine. Carson woke up, took his foot off the gas, and tried to veer back toward the highway.
In those action-packed seconds, my life flashed before my eyes. I’d heard people say that a slow-motion review of life tumbles through the mind just before one dies. This is a prelude to death, I thought. I’m going to die. A panorama of experiences from early childhood to the present rolled across my mind. This is it. This is the end. The words kept rumbling through my head.
Going at that speed, the car should have flipped over, but a strange thing happened. Because of my overcorrection with the steering wheel, the car went into a crazy spin, around and around like a top. I released the wheel, my mind fully concentrating on being ready to die.
Abruptly the Pinto stopped — in the middle of the lane next to the shoulder — headed in the right direction, the engine still running. Hardly aware of what I was doing, my shaking hands slowly turned the wheel and pulled the car off onto the shoulder. A heartbeat later an eighteen-wheeler transport came barreling through on that lane.
I cut off the ignition and sat quietly, trying to breathe normally again. My heart felt as if it were racing at 200 beats a minute. “I’m alive!” I kept repeating. “Praise the Lord. I can’t believe it, but I’m alive. Thank You, God, I know You’ve saved our lives.” . . . .
Candy reached across the seat and put her hand in mine. “The Lord spared our lives. He’s got plans for us.”
“I know,” I said, feeling just as certain of that fact as she did.
–Ben Carson, “Gifted Hands”
5. God retrieves Ben Carson’s stolen passport.
Two weeks before an important trip to West Germany in 1987, in which Carson would examine two candidates for surgery, thieves broke into his home. Among the items they stole was a small safe containing his personal documents, including his passport, complicating his travel plans:
While realizing it would be difficult to replace the passport in two weeks, I didn’t know it would be impossible. When I called the state department, the kind-but-efficient voice said, “I’m sorry, Dr. Carson, but nothing can be done in such a short period.”
I then asked the police investigator. “What are the chances of getting back my papers, especially the passport?”
“No chance,” he snorted. “You don’t ever get those kinds of things back. They trash them.”
After hanging up, I prayed. “Lord, somehow You’ve got to get me a passport if you want me involved in this surgery.” I tried not to think about the passport. Because of my caseload I became so absorbed in other things, I put the matter out of my mind.
Two days later the same policeman phoned my office. “You won’t believe this, but we have your papers. And your passport.”
“Oh, I believe it,” I said.
–Ben Carson, “Gifted Hands”
6. God helps Ben Carson replace his secretary.
When he was a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Carson was struggling with a secretary whose performance he found inadequate. He had already identified a potential replacement but first needed to dismiss the current staffer:
I had to address the problem of what to do about my current secretary, who, besides being incapable of doing the work, was an alcoholic. I had not told anyone else, but I knew that something had to change.
How do I handle this situation? The woman really needs help. My firing her might add one more disaster to her life. But I can’t have this kind of gross inefficiency, I thought. At the same time, I’m softhearted. I always feel sad when I have to do something unpleasant even if necessary, and it is especially hard for me to fire somebody. I was beside myself, not knowing what to do.
I walked back into my office, shut the door, and prayed quietly, Lord, how am I going to resolve this dilemma without having to hurt anyone? I want to be kind to her, but I can’t let this go on.
I did not get an instant answer, but I felt better.
Two weeks later, my then-secretary did not show up on a Monday morning. We called her apartment and got no response then or later. For days we kept trying to locate her, including checking with all the local hospitals. We never did find out what happened to her. She simply disappeared. I regret that the depth of this woman’s problems leading to her dismal situation was not more apparent to me and that I did not have more time to try to help her resolve her problems.
I am thankful that this problem was resolved without any unpleasantness on my part.
–Ben Carson, “Think Big”
7. After a hopeless case ends in recovery, Ben Carson is convinced of God’s role in his career.
A family tells Carson that they’ve been praying for God to lead them to a Christian neurosurgeon who could operate on their son Christopher. Carson tells them, as multiple other specialists had done so already, that he believes their child has an untreatable tumor, but they insist that God is going to heal him. “Your faith is admirable,” he tells them, even while worrying privately that they were fooling themselves. However, following two surgeries, the child unexpectedly begins to recover, transforming Carson’s perception of God’s involvement in his work, and the perception of a colleague, too:
Months later, one of the doctors who was working as a neuro-oncologist told me, “You may not understand what’s happened to me, Ben. You see, I’ve been an atheist for a long time. Or maybe I just did not see any need for God. But the Christopher Pylant incident has changed my thinking. The faith of those people and the results in that boy have had a profound effect on me.” His words touched me just as much as his being honest enough to admit it. “I do understand the profound effect,” I said.
“There’s got to be something to religion,” he said. “In fact, more than this. Honestly, this has made me a believer.”
Aside from the special story of Christopher Pylant and my colleague’s opening himself up to God, I had also been deeply touched. Until that point I had considered myself a Christian physician. I prayed and went to church regularly. God was in my life without question. All the same, I had been extremely well trained, was quite smart, and knew that I was especially capable. That totaled up to mean that I actually believed that if anybody could do something, I was the one who could do it. . . .
After the episode with the Pylant family, however, I saw things differently. I still knew I was well-trained and capable, yet I also admitted that God had played a very big role in my life. From then on, I had an overwhelming sense that if I would allow Him to, God would play a big role in my career. . . . I have called on God much more frequently since that experience.
–Ben Carson, “Think Big”
8. God restores the health of a terminal patient.
Carson was treating a patient, Rob, who was also an oncology nurse at his hospital. Following surgery, the patient deteriorated, eventually becoming unresponsive and unable to breathe on his own. Carson felt especially concerned about this patient because he knew the family well (Rob’s wife, Dolores, also worked at the hospital), and they had young children, as Carson did at the time. Carson recounts his prayers to God and what happened next:
Getting into my car, I started driving home, hardly aware of the road or other vehicles. “Lord, have You got one more miracle You can pull out of this?” The words tumbled from my lips. “Those poor children. And Dolores. God — Oh, God, please do something. . . . Please, please, God, don’t let this tragedy happen.”
The next day I was scheduled to leave for Atlanta to give the commencement address at Morehouse Medical School. Although I tried to concentrate on last-minute preparations for my speech, Rob, Dolores, and their children continued to weigh heavily on my mind.
Lord, I need a booster here, I remember praying. You could do wonders for my faith right now. Somehow bring Rob out of this situation. I do not know if I believed that God would do it or not; I did know that I had to ask. . . .
Somehow I made it through the weekend, speech and all. When I returned to Baltimore, Rob was still heavily on my mind. Before going home, I rushed over to the intensive care unit. I entered his cubicle and noted that he didn’t seem to have changed in any way. He was still on the respirator. I observed no movements, and his eyes were closed.
With a sinking heart I began to examine him. I touched Rob’s chest. Just then his hand shot up and touched mine. I stared at his hand. “That’s a purposeful movement,” I said to the nurse standing behind me. My voice was calm, but my heart was beating rapidly. I could hardly believe this.
I grabbed my flashlight, lifted his eyelids, and shone the light into them. His pupils reacted.
“What is this?” I asked. “Did you see that?” . . . Just then I turned around and saw myself flanked by half of the ICU staff. “Rob moved. He moved his hand by himself.”
The nurse, no longer able to suppress her delight, smiled. “We know. He started waking up last night.”
“Are you serious? Nobody told me –”
“We knew how involved you were,” she said. All of us wanted to see your reaction when you came in.”
That was the beginning of a rapid recover. Within two days, Rob was off the respirator. He was soon talking and walking. His children came in to see him, and I experienced a deep, peaceful joy as I watched him playing with them. . . .
A few days later, one of the nurses came up to me. “Dr. Carson, there’s another patient here who will probably expire. Would you lay hands on him, please?” It seemed obvious that she was only half-serious.
I shook my head. “Look, it’s not me doing these things. God does all these things and can keep on doing them without me. If God is going to work a miracle, He certainly doesn’t need me to do it.”
–Ben Carson, “Think Big”
9. God restarts the heart of a child in the middle of surgery.
Carson was in the midst of a surgery to remove a brain tumor from a 4-year-old child named Christine when suddenly she went into cardiac arrest.
Oh no, I thought. We’re going to lose her.
Within the next few seconds — although it seemed much longer — panic seeped through the sterile room. One of the nurses made a call over the intercom for more anesthesiologists.
As my hands moved quickly, I was silently praying, Lord, I don’t know what’s going on or what caused this. Fix it, God, please.
Then my hands firmly gripped Christine’s frail body. I had to turn her over to pump her chest (which couldn’t be done from the back without injuring her spine). I paused momentarily before I flipped her over. In that instant, her heart started back up again.
“Thank you, Lord,” I said aloud. “I don’t know what happened, but clearly You fixed it.” We were able to proceed without any further difficulty.
We never did figure out what had happened; perhaps it does not matter. What does matter is: I am convinced that God heard my prayer and intervened for young Christine.
–Ben Carson, “Think Big”
10. God stops the profuse bleeding of a patient in the operating room.
Once when I was operating deep inside a brain, an artery broke loose in an area I couldn’t see. This resulted in vigorous bleeding. Because we couldn’t see where the blood was coming from, it looked as though we might lose the patient. Without consciously deciding to do so, I just started praying for God’s help. I have learned to act on intuition in such emergencies.
Just then I did something that, in the telling, seems almost irrational. I placed the bipolar forceps into the pool of blood where the bleeding might be coming from. It started sucking away the blood. I pleaded, “God, You’ve got to stop this bleeding. Please, God, I cannot control it.”
Strange as it may seem, at that instant the bleeding stopped without my ever being able to locate its cause. Afterward, the patient awakened and recovered fully.
–Ben Carson, “Think Big”
11. God helps Carson have an enjoyable African safari.
When Carson received an honorary degree from the Medical University of South Africa, he and his wife planned a side trip: a safari at Krueger National Park. Carson prays to God for good sight-seeing:
The night before this adventure, I remember praying and reminding God that Candy and I had only one day scheduled to visit Krueger National Park — a natural wonderland people come from all over the world to see. I told the Lord I would be forever grateful if he would bless us with an opportunity to observe a wide variety of wildlife in the short time we had allotted. Having been fascinated by wildlife ever since stories and pictures had first triggered a love of books and learning when I was a small boy, I had always dreamed of someday getting a personal look at some of the more exotic African animals in the wild. I never dreamed just how literally my prayers would be answered.
Not only did we encounter lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other hoped for animals, we also spotted rarer species such as green mambas and black mambas. We witnessed such a fascinating range of wildlife behavior that our guide told us he could not remember ever having another single day like it. He said he saw things he had witnessed only a few times in all of his years working in the park.
–Ben Carson, “The Big Picture”
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