I heard the most horrible thing yesterday. It seems there’s a meme (that’s an idea that has gotten popular over the internet, as I understand the word) around the phrase “power of prayer.” It seems that to some, the phrase now means that you use prayer to deal with illness instead of clinically proven evidence based medicine. That’s frightening.
The only thing that I could think of is the drowning man. He prays to God to save him, and when a fisherman in a boat comes by, he doesn’t get into the boat, he says “God will save me.” Then, when the rescue copter flies overhead and lowers a ladder, he won’t climb it but says “God will save me.” When the coast guard throw him a life preserver from a nearby ship, he won’t grab it, and says “God will save me.” So, of course, he drowns. He stands before God and asks God why there was no response to his prayers. “What do you mean,” answers God, “I sent a boat, a helicopter, and a life preserver.”
Trust in God, in the power of the universe to make things work out is important and essential, powerful, magical and wonderful. But it can be misused. Anyone who thinks prayer will help without any additional action is being just as foolish as the drowning man. Yet, people still do! So, others reject faith. How, they ask, can they trust someone who encourages people to kill others, to refuse medical help, to do all the crazy things that people do in the name of faith?
The thing about faith, however, and this holds just as true for adherents of organized religion as anyone else, is that everyone’s faith is their own. No one can make me believe a certain way, or think a certain way, no matter what. In fact I chose the organized religion that I am in specifically because it lets me choose my belief to a large extent. So, I can choose to trust God – to pray for everything I need – but to depend on the actions I take and the help I can get from people, God’s representatives.
In the Judaism I follow, one is certainly not supposed to just pray for something and expect God to deliver with no assistance. One is supposed to do one’s best to deal with a need or situation and then to pray that one’s actions are met with positive results, that one has the strength to do what one needs to, that one has the fortitude to deal with whatever those results are. This isn’t necessarily the “sun stopped in the sky” and “walls fell down” type of miracle, but a sudden good mood, a bit of courage where it was lacking, a fortuitous phone-call – those types of miracles are enormously powerful, and something I can trust God to provide.
It’s a two way street, trust is. In every mature relationship, people trust each other to help to some extent when asked, but at the same time, to give each other the freedom to live and to learn and to act. God trusts me to do my best, to work and to learn and to grow and to ask for help when I need it. I trust God to leave the world working the way it works and to keep giving me challenges to learn from and opportunities to grow. I believe in the power of prayer – which is why when I’m sick, I’ll be praying hard, right after I call the doctor.