On Assessing Prayer, Faith, and Health

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David G. Myers

Abstract

Hats off to Sandra Elfring, Darla Olson, and Leanne Van Dyk for their thoughtful responses to my essay, and for being such good sports in making their predictions of the outcome of the Harvard Prayer Experiment. According to my tally, Darla Olson predicts there will be a demonstrably positive clinical result of the experimental prayers, while Leanne Van Dyk joins me in expecting not (as I infer Sandra Elfring does as well).

All of us agree on many things. We all root our lives in a leap of faith—believing and hoping that God exists, cares about us individually, and will ultimately redeem our suffering and death. We all feel discomfort at putting prayer (and God) to the test. We all see prayer as, in Van Dyk's words, "fundamentally an act of worship, an expression of dependence and relatedness to God, a creaturely orientation to Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer." (Gregg Mast describes this relatedness as "a conversation with the  Almighty about the joys and concerns of our days. It is like the walk two disciples shared with Jesus from Jerusalem to Emmaus.") And we all find the prayer experiments reflecting what Van Dyk calls a "meager, pinched view of who God is, how God acts, and what God wills."

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