A well-known holy man once defined an atheist as someone who denied the existence of God so that they could live their life like they wanted. He also said they were fools – a presumably politically incorrect word these days, but an appellation that is conferred upon them by the Scriptures (Ps 14:1). Perhaps a more appropriate way to characterize them would be spiritually paralyzed – or spiritually crippled.
But one need not be an atheist to be spiritually crippled. We all see and know people in church and people of faith who seem to be spiritually crippled. Many people have no problem being spiritually compromised. There are those who are oblivious to it; then there are those aware but without care. But for those so challenged, it can present a challenge in many areas of one’s life – making them nearsighted to insights and solutions to personal or community problems.
Like a few journalists and publishers, apparent spiritual cripples, who, following the recent school shootings, published headlines and articles claiming that God and prayer can’t fix the problem. One said, “God cannot fix this.” Another said, “We need legislation, not prayers.”
The articles staked out a position of many who clamor for ridding the country of every gun, rifle, musket, slingshot, and pea shooter. The articles, presumably, intimated that everyone in such an environment would have a change of heart, ceasing to sin against or attack their brother or sister, and embrace all humankind with love and affection, including gang bangers, Aryan and Muslim brotherhoods, Lebron James, and the spirit of Lizzie Borden. Perhaps this may be true. I would like for it to be so. The elusive Shangri La.
But the stick in my craw was to see the authors of these articles fall over themselves belittling and mocking certain politicians tweeting condolences, simple expressions of sympathy, to those who’d been victimized. We’ve all seen them. “My prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families,” tweeted one. “Please keep the victims in your prayers,” tweeted another. Almost immediately the crippled prayer-shamers piled on in a flurry of counter tweets claiming we don’t need prayers, and other similar tripe.
Of course, their well-meaning intention is to focus on the practical here and now. But if they truly mean we don’t need prayers then they may indeed be fools.
We wonder how many people truly believe that prayer makes no difference in the outcomes of human endeavors. From the looks of things, one might presume the number to be many. But there are surveys that show that about 90% of women and about 75% of men pray something like 5-6 times a week, even when they’re healthy. Perhaps they are praying to feel better. But we can be certain that some are receiving benefits and it is this that keeps them praying. Anyway, there’s science that confirms that intentionality of good will towards another does indeed make a difference. Let’s call it prayer.
I’ve noticed that the Journal of the AMA for decades rarely ever published anything that contained the word “spirituality” in it. But in the past several years they’ve been popping up. One issue last year published a study that showed that women who attended church services on a weekly basis had a lower mortality rate than those that did not. And women who attended during weekdays had an even lower mortality than those that went weekly. Would it be safe to presume they prayed? The researchers said this points to a dosing effect. Like medications. The stronger or more frequent the dose, the better the result.
There’s even better proof. There are scores of studies that show that when you take bacteria in test tubes, or fungi in Petri dishes, and pray to influence their growth rates in a positive direction that these bacteria and fungi actually grow faster than when they are not being prayed for. This test has been done many times with the same results. Now you can understand this to be prayer or love or compassion or some other term but there is without doubt an effect of people’s intention to make somebody, or living thing, healthier.
The skeptic who says that favorable outcomes are the result of a placebo effect in the person being prayed for, has a problem with explaining how bacteria and fungi muster up such placebo effects.
I’ve personally been witness to three patients whose terminal lung cancer, mouth and lip cancer, and irreversible bleeding-to-death liver failure, were reversed and cured with and by bedside intercessory prayer. One so profound, the images of the scene are as it happened yesterday. Yes, it sounds out there, even sounds kooky, and I even thought about leaving those last two sentences out of the draft. But I know other doctors who’ve witnessed this kind of thing too.
There’s much that can be said about intentional healing and intercessory prayer’s effects on our health, individually and collectively. Perhaps another day.
If there’s anything we don’t need to be encouraging people to do, it’s to stop praying. It wastes no one’s time and it hurts no one (as far as we can tell, assuming one prays for God’s will to be done). And for the doubting Thomas we have science that has shown that it can and does make a difference in the outcomes of human experiences.
Continue to pray. For the country and for the end to violence of all kinds. And for those, with and without faith -- and especially for those who are spiritually crippled or challenged. May they, and we all, find God.