Commentary on “The Healing Power of Prayer”

Our last posts, Harold’s Story and The Healing Power of Prayer have provoked some critical discussion. I am responding here because both Harold and I believe the questions being asked are important and relevant. Our responses are not the expert opinions of theologians, they are the observations of students of human nature who have observed the effects of prayer in the therapeutic setting.

Mike Czuboka asked: “Why is “faith” necessary? Why does God not just come out directly and tell us what we need to know?”

Arnold’s:  A good questions that has puzzled many. Our story is based on a concept of spiritual benefit that I believe Harold and I both subscribe to. I will copy Harold with this message for his opinion.

There are two answers to your question. The first, the one many find unsatisfactory, is that God acts in mysterious ways. This is our heritage from the story of Job, who was punished by God though he was a good man. This portrays God as capricious and a capricious God is of little comfort in times of need.

The second and more satisfactory explanation is that God does not work alone; He works with us and through us, not for us. Through the Holy Spirit of the Trinity He offers His Healing Grace, which is freely offered but with one important condition. The Grace of God must be accepted by faith, only then can its benefits be experienced. Rejected or ignored, it is of no help. God’s Grace is recognized by the supplicant in various ways: a feeling of oneness, peace, hope, embracing love. These are personal and subjective feelings but there are too many such reports to doubt the reality of the transformation for those who have had the experience.

This leaves the atheist in a catch-22 situation. Having no faith he cannot experience God’s Grace. Having no experience of God’s Grace he has no faith. This is a conundrum with only a conjectural solution. Can one acquire faith? Faith is an affective state of consciousness. This means roughly that it is something we know or feel innately, with certainty, and without need for logical proof. Generally it is part of our family and cultural heritage but it may come through various life experiences, through revelation or exercises such as prayer and meditation. I would prefer to refer you to more insightful writers on this topic such as Thomas Merton or William James.

You don’t have to reject logic to accept faith, you simply have to understand that parts of our psyche never did and never will run on logic. Logic is a late addition to our mental processes. It explains how the material world runs, but intuition explains how the personal world runs. The vast majority of our important life decisions, like choosing a mate or a profession, are not based on logic but on intuition. All of our fundamental concepts of self (who am I?), particularly our spiritual self, are intuitive. ‘Knowing’ something intuitively is insight freed from the restraints of conscious reasoning. Plato described it as “the innate ability of the human mind to comprehend the true nature of reality.”  It draws upon the resources of the mind: memories, past experiences, pattern recognition, emotions, imagery, spiritual longings and, yes, revelations.  Some of this is hidden in that mysterious part of the subconscious that Sigmund Freud called the ‘Id’. If empirical evidence and logical argument were the only paths to ‘truth’, then faith must be rejected. But, if you listen to your intuition you can have faith without offending your logic.

 

This is a rather long explanation Mike, but I hope it explains why I was compelled to write the story. For much more scholarly discussions I refer you to Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain (1948) and William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

Harold’s Answer: I would like to address your second question. Why does God not just come out directly and tell us what we need to know?

I am not a theologian but I have been a Christian since my youth. God has told us exactly what we need to know. My wife and I read through the Bible every 2 to 3 years.

God has revealed his nature and what He demands of us clearly in the Old Testament. He also has revealed His triunal nature through the writers of the New Testament.

I challenge you to set aside all the philosophers and who write about God and read what God says about himself.  At the least read several books of Wisdom, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you have not had your questions answered I would love to meet you and discuss these concerns you have.

Harold Wiens 

 

Mike, as usual, responded with more questions.

I have read the Bible, but I find it to be confusing and contradictory in many places. Even dedicated Biblical scholars can’t always agree on what the Bible tells us…The Protestant Reformation took place because some Christians did not agree with the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Christianity today is divided into many factions with different interpretations of the Bible…But what about the billions of people, living and deceased, who have never heard of Christ? What about the radical Muslims who march to a different drummer and who will kill Christians if they do not convert? Why did Christians burn so-called heretics at the stake? Why did God not intervene?  If God created us why are we imperfect? That’s a question I pose to Muslims as well as Christians…Does God answer prayers? He has not answered all of mine. Some good things have happened, but others have not. About 6 millions Jews died in the Holocaust, even though many of them, I am sure, prayed desperately while being gassed, shot and burned to death. Why did God not answer their prayers? How many Albert Einsteins did the Germans kill?

Arnold’s Answer: Mike, these are all legitimate and penetrating questions, but theological rather than medical. I will simply offer you some of the assumptions I started with when I began this inquiry into the medical uses of religion. Please note that I don’t speak for Harold; he may disagree completely.

First, I read the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as literature. Certainly there is a great deal of wisdom in both, but it is wisdom written by men (largely if not exclusively men and not women) and reflects the issues of their times. For example, the revival of Lazarus can be understood as a symbolic event, meant to convey an image of control over life and death.

Second, I view the Institutions of religion, not just the Catholic Church but all other forms of organized religion, as institutions founded by men (again) for the purposes of men. The only institution that I can trace back to Jesus is that of ministry. Therefore when we, for instance, look at the celibacy of priests, or birth control, we can view them as the dogma of a particular institution. Similarly. we can view the crusades as products of the ambitions of men, not God. And so on!

As far as I can determine from my study of prayer as an aid to healing, the benefits are freely offered but only received by those who request them in faith and humility. I don’t know what happens to the others. Perhaps they have other sources of spiritual succor which provide for their needs. In the current age, our Christian God is usually asked to provide spiritual comfort for those suffering illness, bereavement or other personal tragedies. In Biblical times He was often reported to actively intervene in the affairs of the world, but there is little evidence for that now. The material aspects of the world have been left in the hands of the evolutionists and physicists. Any claims for his active intervention in world affairs, for example the reassurances offered by George W. Bush and Tony Blair that he was on their side in the destruction of Iraq, should be met with serious skepticism. As a physician I see the purpose of God, as exemplified by the ministry of Jesus, primarily as a healer and teacher.

Mike, I apologize for this feeble response to your questions. It is as close as I can come to a scientific explanations of God’s works. William James pointed out, more than one hundred years ago, that you could only know God by his actions. Our observations as medical scientists are limited to the actions on individual lives, such as Harold’s. If we have not, ourselves, experienced these benefits, then our knowledge of God must be gleaned from the case reports of those who have. Case reports are accepted as scientific evidence if they are compelling, if what they describe is well outside the range of usual experience. Listen to the stories. Many of them are compelling!

 

Author: Arnold Tweed

Retired anesthesiologist living in Toronto, Canada.