Monday, April 03, 2006

Study Finds Intercessory Prayer Ineffective

I'm a couple days late on this one, but if you aren't familiar with the study in question, here's an article about it from Beliefnet. And here's a summary of the methodology:

The latest study, released Thursday (March 30), was the most extensive. It involved 1,802 coronary artery bypass graft surgery patients from six hospitals who were divided into three groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after learning they might or might not be prayed for by others; 597 did not receive prayer after being told they might or might not receive it; 601 received intercessory prayer after learning they would receive it.

Investigators found that complications occurred in 52 percent of the first group, 51 percent of the second group and 59 percent in the third group.

While I question the sincerity of prayers that are mandated by a scientific study, I think that this study reveals problems not with the efficacy of intercessory prayer, but with the idea that intercessory prayer should lead to miraculous physical healing.

During Lent Christians commemorate the life-giving power of Christ's death on the cross. While Christ is unique, all people necessarily die so that others might live. Humankind's unwillingness to die has led to overpopulation and a host of environmental problems that negatively affect the well-being of millions of people. The fight to keep people alive at all costs has stretched thin healthcare programs throughout the world and has left many people emotionally exhausted.

In other words God would be doing humanity a disservice if God were to miraculously cure every seriously ill person who received enough prayers for his or her recovery. Such a view of intercession is also bad theology: If we believe that prayer—when offered by enough people, with enough sincerity—cures ailments and relieves people of other tangible burdens, then what do we say to people of faith who don't recover or whose homes aren't spared by the storm or whose parents get divorced anyway? Do these people have insufficient faith or too small a prayer chain?

But I believe in intercessory prayer. Prayer may not be an effective way to send cancer into remission or to reverse a progressive illness (though on occasion it may work), but it can bring strength, courage, comfort, assurance, and an awareness of God's presence to both the person offering the prayer and the person being prayed for. God can provide courage and assurance without altering the delicate balance of life on earth (and throughout all of creation), and God does.


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