Sunday, October 02, 2005

On The Efficasy of Prayer

I was reading an essay by C.S. Lewis whose title I've chosen for this note. He proposed a few experiments whereby one might test the efficasy of prayer. Things like praying for all the patients in one hospital and none in another hospital. Lewis dismissed these experiments. Lewis notes that prayer isn't magic. It's a request between persons. God is a person and he responds to our prayers in a personal way.

Science works in a mechanistic, impersonal fashion. F=ma always works the same way in an impersonal fashion. If God were the Force, there might be a way to do some religious rite, recite some prayer, and you'd get a predictable result. But God is personal. When you ask something from a person, the person may or may not comply.

The reliaility of the person, the character of the person, is revealed by how he keeps his promises. The business of salvation, forgiveness and redemption is applicable here. God has made promises on our behalf and we can count on him to keep them. How he keeps those promises is how he makes it personal.

Nevertheless, I am enough of a fan of science that I've thought about those experiments whereby one can measure the efficasy of prayer given the limitations described above.

I've observed two things that indicate the efficasy of prayer. First, my mother died back in the late '70s. I didn't notice it until much later, but I felt the loss of her prayers on my behalf. If Mom's in heaven, the's going to be too busy with heaven's busines to bother with me. I suppose if I were Catholic, I'd think that the saints in heaven pray for the living, but I'm Protestant and think they do not.

The second thing I noticed was years back when was first elected to serve as a deacon at my old baptist church. I felt some kind of uplift/support that I later realized was that someone in my church was praying for me. A few years later, I went into surgery for cancer. I asked for and got a lot of prayer from a broad spectrum of folks. It was an amazing sensation that I could feel.

Of course, citing anecdotes does not science make. Nevertheless, I think that one can directly and unscientifically gauge the efficasy of prayer when it goes away. And when it starts.

When you consider the nature of God, remember that God exists outside time. It seems hard to realize that all our prayers reach God simultaneously. This boggles the mind that God hears all of us talking all at once and all of our talk arrives at the same time. How shall God reply? And why would God reply?

First, God doesn't need anything from us. That's the nature of God. God is motivated to reply to our prayers to disclose something about himself. To do so he's got to be understood. This means God has to virtualize his responses to our prayers. God then shows his character through his answers.

In his essay Lewis notes that God seems less inclined to answer the prayers of those who know him best. He seems to withdraw. It's clear that God has nothing to prove to the faithful. They already know his character and have a relationship with them. Lewis seems to suggest that God's strong followers don't need coddling.

I think of those prayers that others have prayed for me. I know their prayers were answered. But they don't. And what of the prayers I pray for the stranger I see suffering or someone on the news or in another country? I'll never know how those prayers are answered.

That comes to the basic nature of prayer. It's relational. If I trust and love God, there's plenty of room to give him the benefit of the doubt. When there's things I know I'll never know, there's doubt. And love entails giving the benefit of the doubt. Thus considerations of the efficasy of prayer aren't necessary, if I trust and love God.