The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
Instagram

Is God listening?

 Is God listening?
Is God listening?

Is God listening?

“And Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and his wives and his handmaids, and they bore children.”

The above passage from Genesis (20:17) is the earliest occurrence of a prayer for medical intercession in the Bible. Depending on which account you believe — if any at all — that’s about 4,000 years of faith-based healing going on, since Abraham prayed for his buddy, Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar. Healing — or coincidence?

Coincidence, according to a recent study. Conducted over the course of five years and on 1,802 coronary bypass patients, results of the long-awaited study suggest that so-called intercessory prayer — the kind that Abraham offered for Abimelech — played no role in the patients’ recovery. And this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill prayer.

The team, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, brought out the big guns: monks at St. Paul’s Monastery, a Community of Teresian Carmelites and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry, all of whom were asked to pray for two-thirds of the patients by name, in any manner they saw fit, as long as their prayers contained one common entreaty, “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.”

Only one-third of the patients were told they were being prayed for; of the remaining two-thirds, half were prayed for but not told, and half, the control group, were not prayed for.

Not only was there no statistically significant improvement registered among any of the three groups, the group that was told it was being prayed for actually suffered more complications. Ouch! Try explaining that one.

So what does it mean? I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Those who put greater faith in God than in science will undoubtedly find a way to explain it. That’s the (good) thing about faith. No one has to explain it. The problem is, we spend our entire lives trying to do just that.

Throughout history, man has wondered why God has let this, that or the other thing happen. We ask, “Why does God let innocent people die?” “Why is there disease?” “Why is there war?” “Why doesn’t God hear me?” “Why doesn’t he answer my prayers?”

For what it’s worth, I freely admit to having prayed. And I would be lying if I said that I didn’t believe — at one time or another — that God hadn’t answered my prayers. Or that I questioned why he had answered some prayers and not others. The convenient answer, of course, is we’re not supposed to ask.

One possibility that no one considers is that God does hear every prayer — and that the answer is always “no.” If nothing else, that might explain the aforementioned study. Perhaps “no” really is the answer to all prayers. Or perhaps God doesn’t answer prayers at all. Perhaps God — always impartial and equanimous — doesn’t answer prayers because by doing so he’d inevitably be taking sides. Think about it: You pray for X. Another person prays for Y. How does God choose? He doesn’t. Sound silly? Not really.

Besides death and taxes, there are two things that are equally certain in this life — as certain as football is king in Texas. Just as sure as one side prays for its team to win, the other side prays for its team to win. Does anyone really believe that God cares one way or the other or that he micromanages life to such an extent that he intercedes on behalf of one side and not the other?

Still sound silly? Yeah? What’s the alternative? God likes the Horned Frogs more than the Mustangs? Frog fans prayed louder, longer, harder — and with greater faith? I know, God works in mysterious ways. What if part of that mystery means he doesn’t answer prayers?

Okay, so the football analogy didn’t win you over. What about war? Inherent in any war is the presumption that one side believes it’s right — thus having a moral edge. Both sides, assuming they are religious, pray for God’s help. Only one side can win — assuming there are any winners in war. Does God choose the winner by answering one side’s prayers? Are bragging rights included in the spoils of war? God answered my prayer, not yours. Does anyone really want to believe that’s how wars are fought?

And what if one side prays, but the other side doesn’t, and the side that didn’t pray wins? Do you see where I’m going? Or is your faith still unwavering? What does it say about a God who listens to suffering, cries for help and prayers for intercession, but doesn’t intercede?

Yesterday in Irvine, California, President Bush told a crowd of business leaders, “I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true: One, I believe there’s an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free.”

After reading the above quote, I couldn’t help but wonder — ergo, this column — if President Bush has prayed for victory in Iraq. Assuming he has, how did he — the president, that is — define victory? Especially since he hasn’t been able to define it to the American people. Did he say, “God, bring us victory” or “God, bring me victory”? Or did he pray with the humility that Christ commanded when he instructed his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done.”

Then I wondered if President Bush has ever considered the possibility that God won’t answer his prayer — or that the answer might be, “Your will, George, is not my will.”

Or is God too busy rigging football games?

 

George Henson is a Spanish lecturer. He can be reached at [email protected].

More to Discover