Does prayer heal?

No. But….maybe. It depends on who you ask.  If you are sick and I say a prayer for you, will you be healed? I don’t think so. But, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion, most Mormons, members of historically black churches and Evangelical Protestants assert that they have “experienced or witnessed a divine healing of an illness or injury.”  I roll my eyes at these statements.

On Sunday mornings at Old First UCC’s weekly church service, a portion of the service is devoted to prayers of the people. Anyone is welcome to stand in front of the congregation and offer up prayers of thanks and need. Not having a strong personal prayer practice, I often zone out during this time.  I read the bulletin, stare out the window or look around the sanctuary to see who is in church. But during service last Sunday I realized something.  I do not believe that prayer will directly impact anyone–God will not reach down from the heavens with a lightning bolt and cure your neighbor’s aunt of cancer–but if your aunt knows that people are praying for her, thinking of her, and supporting her, these prayers can strengthen her emotional backbone, her spirit, and her mind for her struggle with cancer.

Does this kind of emotional support need to be prayer? No. It can be a phone call, a letter, an email, or a facebook message: “I’m thinking of you.” Now when people tell me that they’re praying for me, I’ll no longer inwardly cringe but will rather thank them for thinking of me.  Because that it was they’re doing.

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4 responses to “Does prayer heal?

  1. Well this one should get everyone riled up. My opinion is that you can’t have it both ways. If you pray and the person dies anyway – it was God’s will. If you pray and the person lives, it was a miracle and owed to prayer. If one child in a burn ward lives and his friends/family attribute it to God, but the child next to him dies – does that mean the dead child’s family didn’t pray hard enough? How horrible.

    3,000 people died in 9/11 – all belonging to varied religions (including Islam). Which God failed these people?

    Hurricane Earl missed our island, so I suppose I should be thankful that my devout Aunt & Uncle prayed for it to be so. But all those devout folks in Anegada must belong to the “wrong” religion because they got hit dead on.

    I agree with you that just knowing that someone cares and is thinking and rooting for you is enough to give you the courage to fight harder. I can see that if a dr tells someone that they have no hope, that person might derive comfort from believing a higher power will step in; but just because you want to believe in a happy ending, does not mean the higher being exists. And if you do beat the odds, your survival does not “prove” the existence of God, it simply proves the fallibility of doctors and science. I’m ok believing that it’s possible the dr/diagnosis is wrong and that I have a chance of beating my disease. I also might die. Such is life…

    I think your next question should be why everyone thinks their loved one is in heaven. Everyone! You’re supposed to go to church regularly, believe in one religion over another, and believe you’ll go to hell if you don’t (better pick the President with the right religion too). But then a loved one you know who didn’t practice anything dies and you tell his/your kids that that person is looking down on them/are with them. Really? I don’t think so…Up maybe…But it would be so horrible to think of the alternative wouldn’t it? A lot less people would practice religion if they actually believed in the punishments. I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing. Religion doesn’t make you a good person (there are way too many examples of this). You can be good just because you choose to be and you can fight to live simply because you know you’re loved by others. What a lovely sentiment.

  2. I’d love to start a Wed. am discussion! The other thing that gets to me is the idea of being “blessed.” A friend recently commented that Hans and I lead an enviable life. I told Hans and he said (dripping with sarcasm for those of you that don’t know him) “we must be blessed.” But what about the starving children in Ethiopia? Did God forget to bless them? I always raise an eyebrow–metaphorically, I can’t actually raise just one eyebrow–when people use the word “blessed.”

    Renee you say that religion doesn’t make you a good person. True. The only thing that can make you a good person is yourself. Being good is not a static trait–it requires work. I do believe that religion can help in that work. Mainstream protestants believe in forgiveness, the golden rule, helping others, etc. If a person adheres to these tenets, it can only help them in their quest to be good. (aaah, but who defines good? what is good?)

  3. I agree that religion CAN be good, but it’s not a requirement to BE good, nor is it the only path TO goodness. You’d never know this by watching the politicians compete to see who’s the most pious and practicing the most “in” religion, as if their religiousness makes them that more good (or makes their opponent that much more bad).

    I believe in forgiveness because I find it draining to do otherwise. I don’t need the threat of a supposedly loving Being to teach me this. If others do, that doesn’t bother me (even I read a good self-help book every once in while), but I don’t appreciate the holier-than-thou snobbery I get when people find out I’m an atheist. And if you believe in God, you certainly don’t have to believe in the God as described by a multitude of religions and their offshoots. How do you pick a religion, BTW? You have a choice between one that bans dancing/singing/women’s rights vs. one that drones on for an hour moaning made-up prayers and telling you to say something 100 times to be forgiven, another one that entails clapping and singing and truly enjoying those around you, one that worships aliens, yet another one that praises body piercings, and some that let you have lots of wives. How to decide? I was not surprised at all by the latest study that nonreligious people knew more about religion than the pious. Many times, the more you read/learn, the less you believe. It’s so much easier to just do as your told/expected. Especially when you’re the majority, but must I give examples of when the majority was horribly, horribly wrong?

    At least I don’t go into situations I shouldn’t because I believe that God’s got my back. Every religious person believes that (Bush did) – so who “wins” in that war? Maybe the men who flew our planes into the twin towers won? Maybe we did because we persevered? The Catholic parents throwing rocks at Protestant kids in Ireland? It’s a no-win and it absolves you of any responsibility for your mistakes or horrendous behavior because God told you to do it and everyone around you agrees.

    And does God really have nothing better to do than root for your favorite football team? The outcome of your souffle? People pray about all this stupid stuff all the time. I just don’t get it. Maybe if He were spending less time making sure the Yankees won the World Series, He’d catch on to the fact that a bunch of girls were just raped in a Darfur camp again.

    I saw an entry on Facebook the other day from someone who was on a plane circling the island due to bad weather. Someone Facebooked her back writing that they’d say a prayer for her. I’m absolutely sure that’s why the plane made it down safely. I think saying “I’ll pray for you” has become as knee-jerk as saying “God bless you” after a sneeze or even “I love you” as a replacement for “good-bye.” Nothing really means anything any more; it’s just a way to fill an awkward space or something you’re “supposed” to say. I feel almost rude for not saying these things myself. If it makes someone feel better to do or say these platitudes, then more power to them, but I hope they know that if I simply say that I’m thinking of them and hope they feel better (or stay in the air) and yell “Salute!” after a sneeze for “good health!” I’m just as much of a good person as they are and just about as likely to affect the outcome.

  4. Hi Kristen,
    I saw this post on the church fb page and then couldn’t find it again so I made my way here. Your thoughts about prayer remind me of the work I do…counseling….mostly with couples and families but also individuals.

    I think everyone is looking and needing that kind of connection that gives us comfort and a feeling of a safe harbor . It’s a biological need even….attachment…without it babies fail to thrive. I don’t think we stop needing it when we become adults. Maybe prayer can be seen as part of what connects us. or expresses connection that is there anyway.

    I’ll step out on a limb and say that for me, the connection we experience with others is rooted in the attachment G*D has for us and the creative powerful loving that comes from G*D. I can’t really answer or even make sense of all the seeming contradictions of a life of faith….but I’m willing to let the mystery be and live it out the best I can. And I appreciate both you and Renee putting your thoughts out there.

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