Bad Christian disputes scientific study

David Burchett

The headline reported that a "Study fails to show healing power of prayer." I appreciate the efforts of the Templeton Foundation to quantify spiritual effect scientifically. I really do. Still, I suspect that many or even most would be unmoved if the results showed a profound and positive effect for prayer. I recall that Pharoah refused to believe in the God of Israel even as he stood derriere deep in frogs.

Let's examine the findings in the story and discuss. My comments are italicized.

Does praying for a sick person's recovery do any good? In the largest scientific test of its kind, heart surgery patients showed no benefit when strangers prayed for their recovery. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications. The researchers could only guess why.

Maybe they had seen some of the Christian television shows.

They also said they didn't know why patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of complications than patients who only knew that such prayers were a possibility. Maybe they became anxious by the knowledge that they'd been selected for prayers, Bethea said: "Did the patients think, 'I am so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?'"

Could be. Maybe it was like the old Western movies when the undertaker would tape measure a gunfighter before the sundown showdown. Not a real swagger booster.

The researchers said family and friends shouldn't be discouraged from telling a patient about their plans to pray for a good recovery.

Thank you. I appreciate the blessing (?) of the research community to pray.

The research team tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients - their identities known only by first name and first initial of the last name. The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility. The researchers didn't ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical.

The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But among patients who did receive prayers, 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, had a blunt response when asked why he thought the study found no effect of prayer.

"Because there is none," he said. "That would be one answer."

He added that while he tries to keep an open mind, he's seen no good evidence for such an effect in past studies.

I would have to agree with the good professor that there will probably be no good scientific evidence for such an effect. I believe there will never be a "scientific" substantiation of the power of prayer to heal. That is because the reason for prayer is not telling God what to do and sitting back to wait for Him to jump through celestial hoops. I would, however, like to suggest that there is powerful anecdotal and experiential evidence of the power of prayer in our lives. Yesterday we received the news of Joni's pathology reports concerning her breast cancer. Hearing the sentence "you have won the lottery" would not have compared to what we heard. "The margin around the tumor is clear and the lymph nodes are clean." We still face chemotherapy and radiation but this was the best report we could have received. Was Joni's good report a result of the power of prayer? I don't know. Here is what I do know. When Joni was in surgery on Monday we knew that hundreds of people were praying for her. Some of you who read this blog were praying for a woman you don't even know. We both felt the presence, peace, and comfort of God. We could feel the prayers of the body of Christ.

Throughout this trial of breast cancer we had experienced a deep confidence and peace that was not explainable. We were not in denial. We have seen all too well the effects of cancer recently in our circle. But we were at peace. I think we felt that peace because we prayed and really believed the following.

God is in control. He has a plan. We don't know what that plan is. But whatever it is we believed that He will give us strength and grace for the journey ahead.

Then we told God our desires.

We desired that Joni would be completely healed. We desired that God would use our journey to help others. We desired that we not "Waste our Cancer" but that He would be glorified through us in the process.

And then we accepted our bottom line.

We are not in control. We have confidence in the One who is. And we prayed like Jesus did in the garden. was a loose imitation but we prayed the same kind of prayer. We wish this cup could be removed but not our will but Yours God be done.

So here is my conclusion. You can not quantify such a complicated theological and spiritual process. If I tell some scientists that I felt the prayers of Christians they would think I was loony tunes. If I tell a researcher that I am praying not just for healing but for God's will that doesn't fit into a neat little study category. How can a scientific study divvy up people into groups? We don't know the mind of God and His plan for any of the people in the study. It was a lovely idea but I don't need a bunch of labcoats to verify what I felt on Monday. Sorry. Maybe I am loony tunes. But I have something that you can't measure, dissect, or research.

The peace that passes all understanding.

God is good. And not just when He responds the way I desire. God is good...all the time.