Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Why John Wasn’t Healed by Prayer: Perspectives Across Disciplines

Patients and family members often turn to prayer in response to serious, life-threatening illness. Prayer for a miraculous cure is often the request. While prayer can keep hope alive, it may also promote unrealistic expectations that fuel demands for life-preserving technology in medically futile situations. Furthermore, if prayer does not achieve the desired results, then disappointment and disillusionment may follow and make the coping process even more difficult. We present here a case of a seriously ill man whose family and faith community prayed for his healing. John, however, was not healed. A medical internist, two psychiatrists, a sociologist, and a theologian discuss their perspectives on the apparent failure of prayer to heal John. This cross-disciplinary discussion reveals insights that we believe physicians can use when confronting such issues with patients.