The first line in an article published today by The Harvard Crimson says, "If you’ve ever prayed for someone who is sick, you may actually be doing him or her harm." (4/5/2006, By PAMELA T. FREED) Yes, it’s catchy. I am sure it got a lot of attention. But how I grieve that we have succumbed to this!
When the television news anchor mentioned a prayer and healing study recently I paused to listen. Despite the results, it’s always refreshing to hear that the words "prayer" and "healing" have a reason to be considered newsworthy among our media.
The study from the Duke Clinical Research Institute discovered that "cardiac patients who received prayers from strangers did not heal faster than other patients. Also, patients who knew they were recipients of prayers had more complications following surgery."
Since I receive news feeds of stories on topics such as prayer and healing, I have witnessed the amount of coverage on this particular study and have been surprised about the variety of ways these study results can be twisted around and announced to continue to persuade people about the lack of the power of prayer. It doesn’t compare to the media coverage of past studies that found that prayer did make a difference.
So, despite the $2.4 million spent on this Duke study (which was funded mainly by the John Templeton Foundation) what have I learned? Truly, nothing new. . .
I consider all study results — on any topic — as a simple "findings" and not "facts." While I was studying to get a Bachelor’s degree in sociology, I learned that even the smallest factors and errors can impact the most professional and err0r-resistant studies. The smallest variable can change a study’s findings even with the most concrete of issues that are measureable.
Every day we make decisions based on research that has said their findings are now fact. For example, is the food we eat safe? Is the shampoo we use safe? What about the medications we take. We must make the decision to place a certain amount of trust in whoever did the studies, and that their research is reliable– that the products are safe.
And yet, for some of us, especially when we must take chances regarding the medications we take, we may be the few who have poor or even detrimental results. No study, in my opinion, produces fact; they’ve just discovered findings based on a certain number of factors that may or may not be biased or contaminated.
To assume that we can use methodology and science to measure prayer is simply ridiculous. Although I would have enjoyed hearing a news journalist confirm (once again) that another study has proven that prayer does make a difference in one’s ability to heal, a study will not change my own experiences or even expectations of God’s ability to heal me in the future.
Countless studies have been done in the past that have found that prayer does makes a difference (notice, I use the word, "found." Have they really proven anything, or simply discovered trends?) Some of these studies include:
Faith Hastens Healing From Heart Transplant Surgery
Churchgoing Is Good For You, Study Shows
Health Enhanced By Faith Factor
Medicine’s "New Frontier" – Links Found Between Health and Spirituality
Elderly Church Attenders Have Healthier Immune Systems
Higher Levels of Religious Activity Linked to Lower Blood Pressure
Are the most recent studies always the best? No, only different. I suspect that within the next couple of years at least one new study will announce how faith and prayer have a positive impact on those who are ill and who are recovering from surgery. But will the media simply look away then, and dismiss the study as unreliable and biased? Will they dismiss it as another insignificant study because "faith and science cannot mix?"
My prediction is yes. The announcement of this most recent study is only newsworthy because it rejects the long-held belief that prayer changes things.
The simple findings in my life is that prayer does change things, it can and does heal people physically, and it can and does heal people emotionally. And because I live by faith and not science, I can say that I grant these "findings" as a form of fact in my own belief system.
But can prayer be measured? Formulated correctly to produce results? Though many Christian Living books will attempt to convince you that the Bible has a cure for any ailment under the sun if you just use the correct Biblical formula, God is not in the business of answering exactly what we pray for. He cares more about our souls than making us comfortable for our brief stay here on earth. Too many people treat the Lord as a drive through window. When we "get hungry" for something we drive up, place our order and zoom off.
One refreshing critic of the study is Dr. Harold Koenig, the founder of Duke’s Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality. H. Koenig is looked to as one of the great leaders in the area of health and spirituality among Christian health ministries. He says that the study overlooked the importance of sincerity of prayers.
Despite The Harvard Crimson’s slanted article on the study, they did quote H. Koenig as saying, “God isn’t like a Coke machine, where you put in 50 cents and get one size and put in one dollar and get another size.”
Perhaps what makes me the most sad, is that I am the founder of a ministry that serves the chronically ill, Rest Ministries. Each day I hear from people who say, "this ministry has saved my life" or "having someone pray for me and understand what I’m going through has changed the outlook on my entire on life." Many mention prayer and fellowship as the main reasons their lives have improved.
2.4 million DOLLARS were spent on this study at Duke.
Rest Ministries is financially struggling to produce HopeKeepers Magazine and get it out to people who need it, including doctors, nurses, counselors and pastors. We don’t pay any salaries. I get up and work in the middle of the night when I am unable to sleep a few nights a week, and try to figure out how we can reach more people on less money.
When I think about the LIVES that could have been changed with $2.4 million… ugh! I could have told anyone how prayer heals bodies, but more importantly, how it heals souls– in fact, I know I could have told at least 2.4 million people, maybe 4.8 million. It makes me sad that we are a country more invested in disproving prayer works, then spending the money of the people who actually need the prayer.
But I am in good company in this disappointment. According to the The Harvard Crimson, H. Koenig had also said, "The study was a waste of money."