“Largest Study of Prayer to Date Finds It Has No Power to Heal” said one headline on Google news this morning. The article from the LA Times cited a 2.5 million dollar study which studied 1800 patients recovering from heart surgery in six different hospitals.
The article makes a couple contentions:
- “The largest study yet on the therapeutic power of prayer by strangers has found that it provided no benefit to the recovery of patients who had undergone cardiac bypass surgery.”
- “In an unexpected twist, patients who knew prayers were being said for them had more complications after surgery than those who did not know, researchers reported Thursday.”
There’s an interesting theological issue involved because the study involved the prayers of Catholics and Protestants. Although some people might claim both denominations are one and the same, there’s a crucial difference. Catholics do not believe in salvation by grace alone like the Protestants. I’m sure there are some Catholics that are Christians, but Catholicism relies partly on works for salvation. Not only that, but Catholics don’t just pray to God, they also pray to Mary. The study didn’t differentiate between religions. The researchers based their conclusion on prayers to two different deities.
The Limitations of Science
“Ultimately, can science really measure the power of God?” asks an article from the St. Petersburg Times. To say that a study has come to a conclusion about prayer is to put God in a box. As C.S. Lewis described Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.” That’s the very thing that makes God worthy of our praise and adoration. If we say that science can measure God, we are saying that science has an edge on God. As the creator of our world, God is in control of all things, and has preeminence over everything. If God could be measured, if everything He does could be understood, I admit I would be disappointed. To me, one of the most beautiful attributes of God is his supreme superiority. When I get into a sticky situation and ask God for help, it is because I know he is wiser, more powerful, and everything more perfect than myself.
I don’t know whether Christians were involved in this research project, but we should take heed of Jesus’ words, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” In Matthew 4:1-11, Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, telling Him to make stones into bread, to throw himself down, and to worship Satan. In a sense, Satan was conducting his own research. If the story had gone differently, Satan might have had a headline that said, “Latest Study of Miracles Reveals That Stones Turn Into Bread.” Going back to the ideas in the previous paragraph, we know that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the great I Am, and He cannot be explained. He cannot be tested. He is beyond human understanding.
" 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.' " Isaiah 55:8-9