OK, let me tell you a story. A friend of mine - A - has a genetic indicator that predisposes her to breast cancer - her sisters have all had diagnoses at various times, and have had or are having treatment.
A couple of weeks ago, a lump was investigated, and a preliminary diagnosis of breast cancer was made, which was very difficult for her, and for us her friends. Naturally, as a home group, we prayer for her and the family, prior to more extensive tests and a planned removal of the lumps.
After her next visit, I received the news that she was actually clear - it had been a 1% chance false positive. The plan is to remove the lumps anyway, just in case, but she is technically clear of cancer as of now.
So did the prayer make a difference? Was the prayer for healing answered?
The answer is not simple. The thing is, there was a 1% chance of a false positive, and one can argue that A was simply one of these 1%. Now, of course, this means nothing. If all of the 1% were prayed for, it might indicate that the prayer had an effect, but it would still be a case of a 1% unexplained false positive. In itself, it does not prove that the prayer made a difference.
It might also be that her genetic predisposition was a factor in getting the positive. I have no idea about this, whether this is an likelihood, but it might throw the results. There could also be a range of other peculiarities that skew these results and explain her inclusion in the 1%.
Scientifically, this is a small error factor that is an acceptable variability in the test results. It does not invalidate the results, or the tests. Every test - every scientific experiment has a possibility of error, and one of the important aspects of being a scientist is to understand what this means, how to control it, and when it is significant.
So there is a line of argument that the prayer was irrelevant. As with any medical test, there is a chance of false results, however small. That one particular person falls into this category should be considered anything other than a minor scientific anomaly.
But, of course, in this case, A was prayed for, despite have a high propensity for cancer, and having had a positive test, and the results changed.
Except they didn't. The results stayed the same - she never had cancer. It is just that the more accurate and detailed results showed this clearly. The prayer didn't change the result - they provided support and care for A during a difficult time. That is not insignificant. That is one critical aspect of prayer.
But maybe there is more. One of the fascinating aspects of the world as we are trying to understand it is that observation is crucial - observing an event (at any level) makes a difference to the event. The old question of "if a tree falls in a forest and there is no-one to hear it, does it make any noise" can be extended to argue that if a tree falls in a forest and is not observed, does it actually fall? More, if I do not observe it, has it, for me, fallen? Once I observe - directly or indirectly - it has fallen.
Peculiar though this sounds, the fallenness of the tree is actually irrelevant to me, until it impacts me. If it falls in the Amazon, there is a brief time when I can have no knowledge of that event, and so it cannot impact me. But there is a longer time when it does not impact me, that the fallenness of the tree is meaningless. When I know about it, its fallenness then becomes significant.
And yes, I know that this principle of quantum physics applies as such only to the quantum level. But the reality is that everything is driven by events at the quantum level. Bringing this up to the macro level introduces the oddity of the infamous Schroedingers Cat - which was precisely to illustrate the quantum at the macro level - and does not directly work. At the same time, recent research does indicate that the world is always more surreal than we could ever believe. The idea that reality is only defined when it is observed may seem not to make sense, but then most of the quantum ideas don't make "sense" in that way.
Have I lost you yet? Maybe the prayer impacts the not-yet-observed cancer, to make it never have existed. Once it is observed and verified, it exists, but maybe prayer can impact unobserved events. Maybe it can have an impact, it can make a difference.
So does prayer work? It does help to support and comfort people - whatever else it does, this is a positive and helpful aspect of prayer. And I wonder whether it can also impact events, in particular events that are not yet properly observed.
I could, of course, be talking drivel. But I will continue to pray for people, because I believe it does some good. And I will continue to pray for A because it is a supporting thing to do.