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prayer Archives - Arnold Tweed

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!

 

Harold’s Story

Harold Wiens

When my hip pain began in March ’95 I didn’t know that it was the onset of a life changing crisis which would affect me both physically and spiritually. My profession had prepared me to deal with others as they faced serious illness but I found that dealing with my own illness was much more difficult.

First, I will recount the story of my illness and then describe the ways in which my faith supported me. The diagnosis of primary cancer of the pelvic bone (osteosarcoma) was made 3 months later. My treatment was chemotherapy for 6 months and then an internal hemi-pelvectomy with an allograph (transplant) and a total hip replacement. In lay terms this is removal of the entire half of the pelvis and replacing it with a cadaver pelvis and an artificial hip. Limb salvaging surgery was rare at that time and had only been available for about 15 years in Canada. Prior to this amputation or palliative care were the only options. In Canada this surgery was done only in Toronto and only 25 persons had had this operation in the previous 10 years.

My chemotherapy was a horrible experience. I was nauseated, vomiting and had 2 intravenous pumps beeping day and night. For 72 hours I was unable to eat and too weak to do anything. To stop the vomiting I took medications which scrambled my brain.  I couldn’t concentrate and I was emotionally labile, sitting and brooding for hours. It felt like “Hell on Earth” and I was totally dependent, especially on my wife, Carolyn.

After six chemo treatments I went to Toronto in Nov. of 1995 for surgery. The operation lasted 10 hours and I received 17 units of blood. After six weeks in bed I started to ambulate, but with the assistance of 3 physiotherapists. My post-operative recovery was delayed by many complications. First, my new hip dislocated. Then, just when I was ready to go home, a CAT scan of my chest showed a tumor, so I underwent a lung operation (thoracotomy). Fortunately the lesions were benign, but next I developed an extremely high fever due to a blood clot in my leg (DVT), and a serious infection in my hip. I was placed on antibiotics, told to pray and I was slated to have my leg and pelvis removed in 5 days. Fortunately my fever subsided with antibiotics, the amputation was cancelled and I was finally able to go home on March 13, 1996, 4½ months after my admission to hospital. When I left Toronto I had lost 40 pounds, could sit for only short periods and only walk short distances with crutches. I flew on a stretcher from Toronto to Winnipeg, but when we got home I felt my recovery was beginning. Carolyn and I had dinner with our family and it was our first night in bed together in more than 4 months!

I gradually gained weight; strength and energy returned. I can now walk a mile with arm crutches, rarely nap during the day, swim frequently, read, concentrate well and my weight is back to normal. I have minimal pain and can socialize normally.

My leg was almost completely separated from my body during surgery and yet has once again become mine. Initially it felt foreign to me because some nerves were cut and others stretched. All my muscles and tendons were severed from my pelvis. Many have reattached to my new pelvis and I now function at about 50% of normal with crutches. Angels truly have protected my leg.

Those are the medical details of my illness but the mental distress was worse. I spent many hours contemplating my dying and worrying about my illness. The loss of hope creates a feeling of futility in us, our self-image drops, our sense of worth is lost. Fortunately I had spiritual reserves to sustain me. We realize in this lost and fallen state how important God is in our lives. Our earthly hope in self is replaced by the hope instilled in us by our faith in Jesus Christ. In that time of despair I found four scripture passages which helped me. When I was ill and going through my deepest valleys of despair I would turn to these passages. They were Psalm 91, Psalm 103, Luke 11 and Romans 8. God would speak to me and a “peace beyond understanding” (Philippians 4:7) would flow through me. God has promised us that any trial can be endured with His help. He helped Carolyn and me during the darkest moments, even when hope appeared to vanish.

I was not alone; many friends counseled me during this time.  Others prayed for me in their churches, prayer cells and in their personal prayers. This resulted in tremendous encouragement and support but ultimately I was left alone with my thoughts and found my solace in scripture.

PSALM 91: The key thought in this Psalm for me was that we are secure if we trust in God. “He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the almighty.” (Psalm 91:1) This security is not dependent on us or our circumstances: all personal disasters or crises are covered by the umbrella of security which only God can give. There is, of course, a responsibility if we want this shelter. This security is ours only if we are willing to follow God. If we choose not to dwell in God’s shelter how can we expect to share in his promises?

As I read these passages my hope returned. I was reassured that I was secure even in my difficult circumstances. In my darkest hours my spirit soared. These promises were not only an abstract statement but a real and powerful force. How can people go through personal crises if they don’t put their faith in God? God will be your security even as He was for me.

PSALM 103: (a Psalm of David)

Psalm 103 is a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving. After reading Psalm 91 how could I not be filled with praise? I was no longer focused on myself but moved to praise God. What a change in emotions, from the depth of self-pity to the height of being in the presence of God himself. I could join David in singing praise in my heart. “praise the Lord, O My soul” (Psalm 103:1).

David praises the Lord with all of his innermost being. This is so meaningful to someone who is physically disabled. Our inmost being is intact, whole and not dependent on our disabled body. He praises with his soul which is eternal and will be with God.

LUKE 11: In Luke 11 and Romans 8 we see our relationship to God as our provider in all circumstances. I frequently cried out to God for relief of my emotional suffering and physical pain. When my problems became insurmountable I would turn to the promises found in Luke: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you—for everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-13) I did not pray that I would be healed.  If we pray selfishly and the answer we receive is not what we expect we blame ourselves for not having enough faith and God for not listening. Our responsibility is to pray in the will of God. What is the will of God? This is clear if we read his word: He wishes us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

My prayers during my illness were directed at the promises given to me in scripture, namely, to give me peace under all circumstances. The psalmist reassures us by saying, “I am with you always, I will not tempt you beyond your ability to withstand it, you are my child and you will be with me in eternity.” (Psalm 73:23) My prayers were answered with peace, patience and self-control.

Many times I would pray, “Dear God you have promised me the Holy Spirit. Allow Him to work in me and give me the fruit as promised” and a feeling of peace and joy would overwhelm me. The veil of fear and despondence left. This did not necessarily mean that I would be healed or restored to any semblance of normality. This was not the important thing. I was not concerned whether I would live or die but rather how I would live until I died. Now my physical, emotional and psychological state is much healthier but I still pray that the Holy Spirit be with me.

ROMANS 8: The last passage which has been so meaningful to me is Romans 8. In this letter Paul deals with the lifestyle of a person living with the spirit. He discusses the hope we have for the future. In times of stress and mental anguish the whole concept of a continuing hope is often lost. In my misery I felt things were hopeless and my thoughts had to be directed away to a bright and glorious future.

Paul also suggests that we wait patiently. How difficult this is. Patience is easy when things are going well and we are enjoying life. When we are going through difficulties patience can be a real struggle.

When we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us. Christ Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God, also intercedes for us. We are in the hands of the Holy Trinity; who are all concerned for us and our welfare. How this spoke to my heart and instilled a sense of perfect peace!

Since my return home I have had twenty wonderful years of recovery with increasing strength and return to normality. When I have concerns I return to the above passages for comfort. If you are going through difficult times I would like to share my “peace beyond understanding” with you. It works—give it a try!

If you wish prayer or a visit please contact me.

Harold Wiens MD, FRCP

#7-4025 Roblin Blvd., Winnipeg

204-832-0231

chwiens@mymts.net

12 December, 2016