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Apr 14, 2006


Reverend Ref

It is unsurprising and not a little ironic that patients in the study who were told unequivocally they were being prayed for did worse than those who were told only that they might be. When medical personnel dabble in religious practices, we should anticipate that patients might interpret this as a sign of desperation.

Or maybe they just gave up because they thought God would take care of them. A sort of spin on the Christian Science policy of non-interference, "If God wants you better, then he will heal you."

Either way, the point should be taken that prayer isn't some sort of magical incantation that is used to get what we want. If that were the case, I'd have won at least one lottery.


One of the character flaws that keeps me from becoming a conservative evangelical is my inability to reduce the Christian faith to black-and-white dogma.

I have a soft spot for intercessory prayer. The Rev. Lawrence's comments are a minor thunderbolt to me, and not only because I have participated in prayer ministries that really heal, as well as bring peace. I'm not educated enough on Tillich and Barth to know the full story on what those very learned men came to believe; I just know that there are compelling teachings in the Bible which go beyond the God-me or God-us "vertical" model of the Lord's Prayer, like the famous Philippians 4:6, or perhaps better James 5:14-15 (Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up;).

Am I off-base in my understanding of prayer having a supernatural component? Now I'm skeptical enough to know that many, MANY teachings about prayer, and the applications that follow, are false. People pray for the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and it takes barely a thimblefull of discernment to identify those instances. The "noisy gong and clanging cymbal" prayers of culture warriors of impressive religiosity petitioning God to smite their opponents unless (or until) they repent, as one example. Or praying for personal riches or prosperity with no intention of giving that blessing back to God for His work and for His glory. Prayer needs to come from pure hearts, not the dark souls of those pitiable people. People also see answers to prayers where there probably was no intervention from God... when the beneficiary was simply on the right side of statistical probability (like so many dartboard stock pickers). The placebo effect is also a powerful complement to prayer... I'm not sure this is proof either way that God hears and answers prayers of intercession, or not.

But the thing I cannot do, in spite of my borderline revisionist tendendies, is say with certainty that the work of the Holy Spirit and the occasional supernatural physical touch cannot or does not happen. And when it does appear to happen, I believe that these answers to the "prayers of elders" -- of the community of Christ (especially one's own community (as opposed to strangers)) -- are frequently the result of us "making our requests known to God".

John Wilkins

Jay, I'm sypathetic. I would not want to be rid of intercessory prayer, and I don't want to ignore the supernatural.

I thnk Lawrence recognizes that once we do look for the supernatural, the equations change in a fashion that we might not be prepared for.

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