DOES PRAYER HEAL?
T. PIERCE BROWN
In the March, 1996 issue of Reader’s Digest there is an interesting article about the healing power of prayer. It is sad that many of us connected with the Lord’s church who teach that the day of miracles is over, and that God does not answer the prayer of sinners will disregard the article, or deny the validity of the conclusions reached.
We need to understand some things about both of the above statements that many of us have believed and taught all of our lives. First, when we say, “The day of miracles is over,” we do not need to assume that God has ceased to act. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” There is no way that God can work things for our good without what we commonly call providence. There has always been a distinction between God performing a miracle and acting providentially. When Moses was taken from the water by the daughter of Pharaoh, no miracle was seen, but one cannot read the story without seeing God’s hand. When Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and he was sold into slavery, no miracle was seen, but Joseph said, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler over all thelandofEgypt” (Gen. 45:8).
When the “faith healers” (actually fake healers) do their act, those of us who preach a pure gospel can easily show the difference in their claims and what happened in the days of the Apostles. A miracle was a supernatural act of God that was designed to confirm the word. There was a clear connection between the one who performed it and the result obtained. When Peter cured the lame man in Acts 3, not only was no money involved, but the rulers admitted in Acts 4:16, “Indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them, is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.” Any honest person who is willing to examine the evidence can ascertain with a reasonable degree of certainty that men today do not perform miracles as they did in New Testament times.
This does not necessitate our denial that God still does things that are beyond our ability to do or understand. There are those who would call the birth of a child a miracle. When a team of doctors perform a delicate surgery, such as dividing Siamese twins, and both survive, it is sometimes called a miracle. The miracles of the Bible were altogether different. When Peter cut off the ear of Malchus and Jesus healed it (Luke22:51), he did something different than a surgeon who shows unusual skill in reattaching a severed limb.
Those of us who deny that God promises to answer the prayer of an alien sinner who prays for forgiveness, direction, light or anything else while disregarding God’s ordained method of getting forgiveness, direction or light are correct in that denial. It is still true that “Whosoever turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). However, we need to realize that there are subjective as well as objective values in prayer.
Let us understand this principle: God has placed certain laws in operation in the universe that work for anyone who will obey those laws, whether they are atheists or Christians. We understand that the law of gravity will cause a Christian who falls off theEmpireStatebuilding to fall in the same way it will cause an atheist to fall. An atheist who practices the proper laws of agriculture will grow better crops than a Christian who does not.
Dr. Dossey, in his article in Reader’s Digest touches this principle when he says on page 118, “Love increases the power of prayer.” This is one of God’s laws, and operates even if a person does not accept the Bible as the word of God. Surely every person, especially a gospel preacher who has ever tried to counsel those with troubled marriages, knows that a husband and wife who love each other will find that some wonderful things happen as a result of that love, regardless of the fact that they are not Christians.
He says, “Dr. Herbert Benson ofHarvardMedicalSchoolwas one of the first medical researchers to study the health benefits of prayer and meditation.” God has some universal laws regarding prayer and mediation, and those laws operate whether a person is a Christian, Jew, Catholic, Hindu or Mohammedan. There is a great deal of difference in the promises to the Christian of certain blessings through meditation and prayer, which we may call “objective values,” and the fact that God has written in the laws of the universe some values of meditation and prayer, which we may call “subjective values.”
My point in this article is that it is not necessary for us to demonstrate the soundness of our doctrine by denying that the prayers, even of those who do not accept the Bible as God’s word, may have some value in bringing about changes in the medical condition of a person. We may have done some damage to the credibility of our message regarding the process of salvation by going beyond where we need to go in our efforts to defeat false doctrine. We need to continue to show that God never ordained prayer as the means by which an alien sinner gets forgiveness. That is not the same as saying that there is no value in an alien sinner’s prayer, or as some preachers have made it sound, that even an alien sinner’s prayer is a sin, for Paul was told to stop praying and arise and be baptized. Nothing in the Bible suggests that God was displeased with the prayer of Cornelius and Saul, even before they obeyed the gospel, or that there was no value in those prayers. The fact that there was no power in the prayers to obtain salvation does not mean that there were not some other kinds of value in the prayers. We need to continue to teach the difference in the miracles of the Bible and the false claims of those who claim miraculous power today. We do not need to stretch our teaching to conclude that God’s power to act in terms of his universal laws is limited by our lack of understanding about how those laws operate.
Even if you do not understand how some law of aerodynamics or physics seems to be more powerful than the law of gravity, it will not keep some other person from floating in space, or getting to the moon. It may keep you from getting to the moon, because you do not properly apply those laws, but God’s universal laws are going to operate for those who use them properly, whether or not you understand how they operate.
There seems to be little question, either from the teaching of the Bible, or from experience, that the mind, will and attitude of a person can have a significant and far-reaching effect on himself and others. We must not allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking that because some unbeliever accomplishes something as a result of obeying one or more of God’s universal laws that it is any indication or proof of his salvation, doctrinal purity or acceptance with God. If we have ever seen a demonstration of what faith in a person’s ability, or love for that person can help him to accomplish on the athletic field, we can get an idea of the power of faith and love. Then if we can take such examples and help a person to see what power there would be in faith in God and His word, and love for Him as we demonstrate that faith in obedience to His spiritual laws, we can do far more good than we can in trying to deny that faith and love and prayer can accomplish things even for an alien sinner.