The value of prayer in healing has been in the news and on the editorial pages this month in Oregon. A family is suburban Portland has just been convicted of manslaughter because they refused to take their son to see the doctor. As a result the teenager died. While we never like to see the hand of the state interpose itself between parents and children, there are times when it is necessary for the well-being of the kids. It may also, in cases like this, come as a relief to troubled parents who are seeing their prayers go unanswered. I could be said that God could be telling them there is a better way.
Prayer is a valuable adjunct to medical treatment, but not the entire answer when someone is ailing. Even Jesus used medicines to heal. Recall the blind man he healed when he made a salve of mud and saliva to spread upon the man’s eyes. Lutherans and other Christians have long been at the forefront of medical care by providing hospitals, clinics, hospice care and nursing homes to assist in the healing process. It is not only well considered, but it is also an article of our faith to use medical care right alongside our prayers for health and wholeness.
The other error would be to say that prayer has no place in the treatment of those who are ill. Some folks think that prayer is just a bunch of ritualistic nonsense. But prayer has many benefits. God certainly knows our needs before we ask about them, so why ask? First and foremost is the creation of community. Where two or three are gathered, Christ is in their midst. Prayer invites us into community with God and with our neighbor. The sharing of needs through prayer requests binds us together beyond our solitary lives and joins us to resources we hadn’t even thought of on our own.
The judgement of the Oregon jury was correct. Parents have a duty to seek out medical care for their children when their prayers do not seem to be working. Religious leaders, also would do well to re-examine their relgious convictions when they go against common sense. Faith is not only a matter of the heart, but also of the mind as well. While it is hard to separate the one from the other it is vitally important in many instances to try.