I’m in the midst of a health issue, and it has sharpened some thoughts I have long held about prayer.
I welcome prayer. From anyone, pretty much.
That’s because I believe despite the pray-ers beliefs’, it could possibly help, definitely can’t harm, and may simply possess a positive sociological element, even when the prayers are not efficacious. More on that in a moment.
The Current Concern
I think I’m coming off of a bad cold. Early in the week I experienced a cough, a moderate temp, and a couple other symptoms (minus the scratchy throat) I’ve associated with the Rhinovirus for decades.
I’m vaxxed and boosted against the Coronavirus, but being a super-conscientious pastor (who counts a fair number of seniors in his congregation) I decided it would be best to know whether or not these few sickly days have been caused by omicron, I got tested yesterday. Results are due in today or tomorrow.
Testing is never so easy, of course, as we would like it to be. In my case, my primary medical care provider was referring people like me to other facilities. The one which was the least inconvenient proved to still involve major time and effort.
The hassle came from having to fill out a fistful of forms to verify everything from my insurance providers to my current gender identification. One sheet was an extensive questionnaire about who they could speak to in regard to my health. It was more thorough than ones I’d encountered in the past, and raised an existential question at its end.
It began by asking if they could talk to my spouse (I think they called her a “partner”). I checked “yes” and wrote in her name. Next it asked about other family members. Triple check; I inscribed the names of my three children. After that it asked about sharing information with my other medical providers. Fine (although getting different medical caregivers to communicate on my behalf in the past has proven quite challenging).
I was surprised the form didn’t ask whether I wanted the results made available to the People’s Republic of China, but immediately realized that was a moot question since they have access to every American’s most personal data. And due to their earlier breaches of Department of Defense systems they probably already have my DNA code.
The final question on the form was not surprising. Still, in the (literal) Friday morning fog, I considered responding rather than simply passing on to the next sheet. “Is there anyone else we can speak to about your condition?”
I had an answer to that, and even I doubt anyone will ever read it once the paper is filed, I decided to write it down. “You have my permission to speak to God on my behalf.”
The Theological Ramifications of My Invitation
Being a Lutheran, especially a theologically trained one, means you can never take something simply at face value. You have to critically analyze it to the point where each of the statement’s innate flaws is stripped bare. I’m sure some readers are doing that right now with my words.
The question boils down to whether or not it is a “good” thing to have people from alien worldviews or faiths pray for you. I’ve met people in the past who were quite clear about not wanting Christians, for example, to pray for them.
A few of these were atheists. In such cases I tried to give them the benefit of not desiring to be seen as a hypocrite by “welcoming” such prayers during a crisis – but I sometimes thought they were actually afraid of the turbulence that would result from God showing his divine hand in the pristine secularity of their lives.
Returning to my case, I have never consciously rejected anyone’s offer to silently pray for me. The following ideas guide my thinking on the subject.
1. It could well mean absolutely nothing. The offer to pray is frequently just a reflex. Many people say “I’ll pray for you” the moment they hear about a need, and I think we’d all be disappointed to discover how many actually follow through. While this sort of thinking is not healthy for those who manifest it, it causes no harm to the intended recipient of the prayer.
2. Non-Christians who might be called “spiritual” want to wish others well, and I don’t see any benefit in preventing them. This sort of person may use prayer terminology, but some are more self-aware and say things like “I’m sending you positive thoughts.” To be gracious, they are attempting to communicate their empathy. To be accurate, they are wasting their time. I know I don’t have telepathy, so any thoughts they may be able to transmit in my direct won’t be received at this end. Likewise for the new age trope “positive energy.” That’s the immaterial stuff that gurus have supposedly been harnessing for centuries to make our world a more peaceful place. Since I’m pretty sure it’s 100% sentiment, it doesn’t hurt me, so I don’t mind having it launched toward my vector.
3. Adherents of other religions will sometimes offer to pray for each other. In this too, I find no problem. Those who know me, understand without a shadow of doubt, that I believe Jesus Christ’s declaration that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him.
But if they wish to offer me the sincere expression of their friendship by offering to pray for me, I regard that as an honor. Not something that will result in a positive intervention by a deity which does not actually exist.
(By the same token, when I offer to pray on their behalf, I do not expect them to believe in the faith I profess, or even the existence of God himself.)
So, this sort of prayer does me no harm, does not compromise my Christian witness, and can strengthen bonds of friendship and shared humanity with other individuals for whom Jesus died.
4. People who worship real entities. Now, this is really “out there,” as they say, and so uncommon as to be something none of us are likely to ever experience. But let’s discuss it theoretically, since it falls under the umbrella of having “anyone” pray for you. In this scenario, we have a person who worships an actual supernatural entity. Let’s ignore the lower echelons of the “principalities and powers” and skip right to their boss, the broken-winged Lucifer. Let’s also ignore the fact no true Satanist would be inclined to intercede for a Christian who ridicules their Master. But, let’s assume someone did mention my name in their conversations with Screwtape’s “Our Father Below.” It would mean, and accomplish, nothing. Christians, you see, have nothing to fear from Satan. He is powerless against the Holy Spirit of God himself who lives within us.
So, as it turns out, I just got a call from a nurse at the clinic and . . . yes, I do have a case of covid. It was mercifully short, with no temp now and decreasing nasal congestion. Basically back to “normal,” with a future “natural immunity” added to my “vaccine-induced immunity.”
Adding new T cells to my body’s arsenal will be a beneficial consequence of this week’s sickness.
The dangers of covid for people (like myself) possessing so-called comorbidities, are real. I pray regularly for medical breakthroughs in battling the viruses, bacteria and cellular aberrations that plague human life.
But I recognize all too well that life is fleeting, as the Scriptures say, like “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
As Larry Norman used to sing, we’re “only visiting this planet,” on our way to a new and unfallen world like the one the Lord first created for us.
This pilgrimage entails many challenges. And, although I know my Savior will see me safely through everything I face, you have my permission to pray for me.