In a small town in the American Middlewest, a young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, doctors find no signs of cancer; he has been completely healed. The church community celebrates the apparent miracle—the power of prayer saved this little boy’s life!
In a similar situation, in another small town in the American Middlewest, another young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Likewise, his church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, the little boy dies.
What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both cases, a child has a terminal disease and, in both cases, a large church community gathers to pray for the boy’s healing. Why is it that one boy lives and the other doesn’t? Did the second group not pray as hard? Did they pray incorrectly? In either case, did prayer work?
These are hypothetical scenarios, but the reader is sure to be familiar with these kinds of stories. A disaster happens, someone comes upon hard times, a friend comes down with a terrible disease. No matter what, we are encouraged to pray, the assumption being that the act of prayer will help to bring about a positive outcome in the situation.
When it ends the way that we want, we rejoice in the power of prayer. Of course, when it doesn’t end positively, or when something completely unexpected occurs, we say that it wasn’t God’s will and find some sort of meaning in what does happen.
While this is a comforting approach for some, it leaves many questions on the table. It can be misleading and, as a result, might end up hurting more than it comforts. A reassessment is called for.