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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Studying the effects of intercessory prayer..

.. just doesn't say anything about whether or not God exists, or what he's up to when the faithful intercede for the sick. But studies like these will nonetheless be used to make such conclusions. From a scientific standpoint, the study will always be flawed because there has never been nor will there ever be a guarantee that God will heal the sick within the time constraints set by the study. In fact, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Christ detested, this arrogant demand for a sign from God to prove himself. He owes us no such thing. Today's First Reading is quite apt for such people to consider, hopefully with a pinch of humility and open-mindedness:
 Book of Daniel 3,14-20.91-92.95. King Nebuchadnezzar questioned them: "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up? Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and all the other musical instruments; otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God that can deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up." Nebuchadnezzar's face became livid with utter rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the white-hot furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" "Assuredly, O king," they answered. "But," he replied, "I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God." Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
God is our Father. Does one conclude that the Father does not exist or is insignificant because he has not granted our every wish? No matter how well-intended the prayer might be, even for such an objectively good thing as healing, there are things that only God knows, such as whether or not such healing should be delayed if some greater good can come of that delay. It is fairly well-accepted that adversity and setbacks can offer painful but fruitful lessons. Who better to use that for our own benefit than God our Father? It is also well-documented, as I mentioned earlier, that God detests arrogance, and testing him with studies such as these is very arrogant indeed. This is our Heavenly Father we're talking about, not some djinn in a bottle.

Of course, from a scientific point of view, the study can be interesting, but only in so far as it might study the effects of optimism and a positive outlook. It just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when people mistakenly conclude that this study is about the existence or responsiveness of God. Unfortunately, in an age of cynicism, that is the first thing that will come to mind for many people.

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