Thursday, September 27, 2012


What thoughts go through your mind as you hear the word stress? Chances are that it brings up memories and specific times from your life with little effort. You may even be feeling stressed at this very moment! Some amount of stress in our lives can be a good thing. Stress can spur us on towards change, as it is motivation for us to find relief.

It is when stress becomes distress that our outlook changes. What happens when our stress turns into suffering? In a research study that Rosmarin, Krumrei, and Andersson (2009) performed, they found that those who practiced both “general religiousness” and “religious practices” were more likely to have lower levels of distress (i.e. worry, anxiety, depression). They also came to the conclusion that these practices of religion within both Jewish and Christian communities acted as a buffer against the impact of such suffering. The study also resulted in the conclusion that positive religious core beliefs such as trust in God that He is active in the world today, that He has the ultimate power over the universe, and that He is merciful, brought about lowered levels of worry, anxiety, and depression. However, negative religious beliefs such as mistrust in God, the belief that God ignores us, and that God is not in control, the distress levels were heightened. While the participants may have had periods in their lives that are marked by suffering, the study demonstrated that faith and religious practices allowed for some amount of relief during those times.

So what does this mean when we feel stress? Carver (1997) found that people cope with stress in different ways, such as denial, humor, seeking emotional support, venting, turning to drugs or alcohol, distracting themselves through whatever means they can find, just to name a few. Rosmarin et al. (2009) saw that participants, in their times of stress, turned to God and placed their trust in Him. It was through prayer, attending religious services and reading religious literature, such as Scripture, that they found strength. These individuals in the study had hope in spite of their circumstances.

When you are stressed, or to the point that you are suffering, where do you find yourself naturally turning for relief? What are/will you rely on to make it through when stressful moments crop up on you? As Romans 5:1-11 and Isaiah 40 promise, Christians have hope even in our times that are stressful or even have reached a point of suffering. Even though there are those difficult moments in our life, they can be used for good. Stress does not have to overrun your life so that it turns to despair. Instead, Christians have the reassurance that it is in such moments that the Lord can teach and mold us into what he intended when we were created.


Carver, C. (1997). You want to measure coping but your protocol's too long: consider the brief cope. International Journal Of Behavioral Medicine4(1), 92.

Rosmarin, D. H., Krumrei, E. J., & Andersson, G. (2009). Religion as a predictor of psychological distress in two religious communities. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy38(1), 54-64. doi:10.1080/16506070802477222

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Doubting Thomas: Implications of Religious Doubt

Thomas’ doubt after Jesus’ resurrection is a favorite story among Bible school teachers. Thomas was unfortunately not present with Jesus when He presented His resurrected body to the remaining twelve disciples. John 20:25 (English Standard Version) displays the reaction of Thomas when the disciples share with him the news of the resurrection. Thomas exclaims, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hands into his side, I will never believe.”  Thomas is a prime example of a person experiencing religious doubt. According to Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt & Pancer (1993), religious doubt is defined as “…a feeling of uncertainty toward, and a questioning of, a religious teachings and beliefs” (p. 28). Further, the argument asks the question: does religious doubt promote healthy or unhealthy mental hygiene? Theologians and researchers alike debate the impact of religious doubt on psychopathology and mental illness.
                While some scholars believe that having religious doubt is important and essential to truly have a complete and truthful understanding of Christ (Krause & Wulff, 2004) many researchers have contributed religious doubt with less satisfaction with their health, greater depressive symptoms, general anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, paranoia, hostility, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms (Galek, Krause, Ellison, Kudler & Flannelly, 2007). So what is the correct response? Should we as Christians fear any doubt that we have in Christ and his teachings? After all, our mental health seems to be at stake. As Krause & Wulff (2004) explain, what happens to the Christian man when the faith that he has depended on for his identity is called into question? But let us turn back to the Scripture to see how both Jesus Christ and Thomas handled the doubt that Thomas experienced. Jesus responds to Thomas’ doubt by saying “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe: (John 20:27, English Standard Version). He invited Thomas to explore. Further, he does not condemn Thomas for his unbelief; but instead; Jesus shows Himself to Thomas and asks him to believe.
                Just as a common cold left untreated can turn into a medical disaster, religious doubt left unchecked can turn into psychological problems. James 1:5-8 describes the disastrous effects of unchecked doubt. James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously …But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” The Lord does not tell His people to ignore the doubt they may have; He asks them to seek out truth amongst the doubt. When we acknowledge our doubt, and seek the Lord, He will always show Himself to the seeker. James 4:8 verifies this promise, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” What was Thomas’ response when he stepped out in faith and touched the scars of Jesus’ resurrection? “My Lord and My God!” was Thomas’ words. (John 20:28). This may have been one of the first times Thomas acknowledges the Lord as his personal God and Savior. His search for truth created a trajectory change in his life. After Christ’s ascension, Thomas became a great missionary in present day Iraq and Iran proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ (Wilson, 2012). Though research may say that religious doubt can create psychological disorders, if we seek God amongst our doubt, He will surely take us by the hand and show us His truth and His promises.
Galek, K., Krause, N., Ellison, C. G., Kudler, T., & Flannelly, K. J. (2007). Religious doubt and mental health across the lifespan. Journal of Adult Development, 14, 16-25.
Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, M. S. (1993). Religious doubt: A social psychological analysis. In Research in the social scientific study of religion (pp. 27-51). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Krause, N., & Wulff, K. M. (2004). Religious doubt and health: Exploring the potential dark side of religion. Sociology of Religion, 65(1), 35-56.
Wilson, R. F. (2003). Learning faith from doubting Thomas. Retrieved from LeadershipU website:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Religious Doubt

According to one article findings on religious doubt, health, and wellness are inconsistent. Some studies have found no relationship between religious doubt and psychological distress, and there is emerging evidences that would suggest that not all people experience the effects of religious doubt in the same way. For example, many older individuals do not experience the psychological distress that may accompany religious doubt as younger people do. Still there is information to suggest that doubt does lead to disturbances such as depression, shame, and guilt. Another point of contention is the positive and negative aspects of doubt. Some people experience doubt because of a genuine desire to deepen their faith, others experience seeming paradoxes between the world they live in and the religious ideals they ascribe to which may lead to cognitive dissonance (the holding of two or more conflicting ideas) and other forms of psychological distress. The consequences of doubt depend largely on the origin of the doubt (desire to grow spiritually or seeming paradoxes) and how the individual handles that doubt (Seeking spiritual growth or suppressing the doubt). Suppressing one's doubt may result in negative psychological consequences when an individual feels that questioning some aspect of their faith is wrong or sinful and as a result would not be acceptable to their religious congregation. On the other hand embracing doubt and seeking guidance can lead to growth.

The question on the mind of those of a faith tradition seems to be, "what does the presence of doubt mean for/about me?" Religion offers answers for the deep existential questions of origin, meaning, and purpose that we all ask ourselves. Doubt threatens in some regard to strip us of those answers and leave us without the assurances of purpose and meaning. Although not everyone experiences doubt the same way, most of us can attest to experiencing it in some regard. The truth is if we were to be completely honest many of us have the notion that doubt is a thing to be banished. Sadly, many of us may have gotten the idea that doubt is a thing to be avoided due to teachings in our places of worship and reinforcement by others and this may lead to the undue perpetuation of guilty and shameful feelings.

I think we have demonized the notion of doubt and as a result exposed ourselves to miasma of internal turmoil. Perhaps doubt is not something to be avoided like the plague. Maybe a healthy exploration of our doubt is the ticket to avoiding unnecessary psychological distress and moving on to healthier religious practice and stronger belief. In the words of the late apologist C.S. Lewis “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.”

Krause, N. (2006). Religious and psychological well-being: A longitudinal Investigation. Review of Religious Research, 47(3), 289-302.

Ellison, C., Krause, N. The doubting process: A longitudinal study of the precipitants and consequences of religious doubt. Science Study Religion, 48(2), 293-312.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Emotional Self Control

In his book, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain, author Louis Cozolino discusses the concept of cortical inhibition and conscious control. He explains that as the cortex develops (the upper regions of our brain), it forms numerous neural networks with subcortical brain areas. These top-down neural networks provide the brain with pathways to inhibit reflexes as both body and emotions come under increasing cortical control. In his paper Neuroscience; Area Responsible for ‘Self-control’ Found in the Human Brain, Marcel Brass pinpoints the dorsal frontal-medial cortex (dFMC) of the brain as the center for self-control. This area, the author explains, is critical to self-control, or the brain’s ability to have ‘free will’, or in this case, ‘free won’t’. One of the leading neuroscientists and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder researchers, Jeffrey Scwartz, in his book The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity andthe Power of Mental Force, elaborates further on the idea of free will and free won’t. He explains that free will operates not only to initiate an act, but to suppress one as well. By willfully attending to certain thoughts/event and not to others, we can utilize our mind’s mental force to modulate neural functioning in multiple brain regions, increasing some areas and decreasing others. Thus we use our brain, through the process of cortical inhibition, to control our emotions. 

Although it was only briefly reviewed above, there exists much literature on the importance of controlling our thought process. In fact, the entire area of Cognitive Therapy rests upon this understanding: If we can control our thoughts, we can control and shape our behaviors. However, long before Cognitive Therapy came about, Christianity, through the Bible, has been teaching this very same concept. In 1 Peter 1:13 we read, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled”. The importance of emotional self-control is key for the average person, but also for overcoming multiple mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

So we see that God calls us to be self-controlled people and He gives us the ability to do so through cortical inhibition (as confirmed through neuroscience). But why would we apply this to our own lives? Well, in a similar manner to the field of mental health where emotional freedom is key, God too desires for us to enjoy a life of freedom through Jesus Christ (John 10:10). This includes spiritual health, physical health, and mental health. Demonstrating self-control over our body and emotions isn’t just a biblical principle or fruit of the spirit, but also a means by which we can enjoy greater freedom in our day-to-day life.   

Brass, M. (2007). Neuroscience; Area responsible for ‘self-control’ found in the 
     human brain. Biotech Week, 1, 210.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain 
     (4th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Schwartz, J. M., & Begley, S. (2002). The mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and 
     the power of mental force. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spiritual Disciplines Influence on Personal Growth

Willard (1996) defined spiritual disciplines as “an ancient tradition of activities which are means of grace, ways of approaching and relating richly to God…activities in our power, things that we can do, to meet God in such a way that we become able to do what we cannot do by direct effort.”  These activities or practices have been helpful for followers of Christ over the centuries:
Categorized through abstinence and engagement, spiritual disciplines emphasize denial of flesh and the connecting to God and other people.  Vos (2012) indicated that Willard describes The Spiritual Disciplines as tried and true activities employed in order to give our spirits more control over our bodies, by molding and shaping our embodied selves.  Vos goes further in the literature stating that the spiritual disciplines are limited in power, because they are designed solely to put us in a place where God's grace can change us; making us totally reliant on God for our spiritual transformation. 

The ideal of personal spiritual growth, in general, is birthed out of pure discipline.  This discipline or obedience may be entailed through routine activities, such as The Spiritual Disciplines, being exercised that create a favorable
-->outcome—synonymous to that of an athlete.  In a Christian capacity, as Vos indicated, we need to be transformed spiritually if we wish to effectively minister.  When taking a closer look at witnessing and The Spiritual Disciplines, the concept of relationship readily comes to surface...whether vertically or horizontally.  At the heart of the spiritual disciplines lies discipleship.

I believe the overarching principles associated with the influence of The Spiritual Disciplines on personal growth is the emphasis of relationship and the heightened sense of accountability.  Proverbs such as "iron sharpens irons..." promote personal growth and the essentially betterment of mankind.  To that end, I believe this sharpening process is only attainable through The Spiritual Disciplines' underlying message of being fully reliant on God. 

Willard, D.(1996). Spirituality: Going beyond the limits. Christian Counseling Today, 4 (1), 16-22.
Willard, D. (1998). Spiritual Disciplines, spiritual formation, and the restoration of the soul. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 26 (1), 101-109.

Vos, B. (2012). The Spiritual Disciplines and Christian ministry. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 36(2), 100-114.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

                                                         God Attachment

             Attachment is a huge part in the development process of an individual. Our attachments with family structure and dynamics create an essence in defining our relationship with God. However, one's attachment towards God is based on personal history of life and experiences that describe the uniqueness in God attachment. According to Zahl and Gibson (2012), the distinction between individuals' doctrinal representations (head knowledge) and experiential representation (heart knowledge) of God determines; what one should believe God is like and what one personally feels God is like. God attachment is defined through avoidance and anxious attachment. It is described as avoidance in intimacy or anxiety about abandonment. Research shows that positive doctrinal representation (head knowledge) relates more to the avoidant attachment to God and positive experiential relates to the religious commitment and avoidant and anxious attachment of God. (Zahl and Gibson, 2012). 

                  Humans long for relationship and to the world at large, we were made for relationships.  It is quite normal and natural that people long for the supernatural help or look to God for a safe haven especially during times of stress and discomfort. According to Clinton and Straub 2010, The attachment style impacts how God is viewed. The types of attachment described are a) Secure: He is there, I can count on him. He will accept me, in spite of my flaws. b) Avoidant: He isn't there for me when I need him. I will have to go at life alone. I really need him. c) Ambivalent: I'm too flawed. God will surely reject me. I probably committed the unpardonable sin. d) Disorganized: I'm flawed, beyond repair. God will strike me down down if I turn toward him. He will surely reject or punish me. Furthermore, the worldwide phenomenon according to some researchers shows that "the range of responses to our internal attachment to God has a profound influence on the way we do relationships, intimacy, and life choices". 

             I believe that attachment style with the head knowledge of God and heart knowledge of God are all interconnected. The knowledge of God can either keep one closer or draw one further away from God. Knowledge in its beauty is sacred, however, can be dangerous. Attachment towards God through knowledge only lets you know something is there, it is visible. In contrast, the heart knowledge the experience and the intimacy of knowing God opens the door to see the invisible. Everything is rooted within the heart of a man and according to how one perceives a matter, that course determines the outcomes of things we come in contact with. Relationships need the supernatural force to take us beyond our visible self into the invisible. God attachment defines the type of a relationship an individual has with God. In conclusion, through the secure attachment or making changes in the attachment styles, the negatives to positives, a person is capable to work towards the selfless love, not just remain in the selfish realm of human relationships. 

Religion can give self-control, but Christianity gives satisfaction.

Americans are addicted to almost anything now days.  Americans are addicted to food and the obesity rate just seems to be skyrocketing.  They are obsessed with their social image.  Forty-eight percent of Americans have some sort of social account and they check it constantly.  This has also lead to an addiction to technology.  The rise of smart phones is making it easier to access the internet no matter where a person is.  Americans are addicted to coffee.  To a normal America, you cannot get enough caffeine.  Americans are also obsessed with crime shows.  They are addicted to illicit sex and immorality runs rampant.  Because of such behaviors abortion is at an all time high.  There are those addicted to drugs, pain killers, gambling, and the list goes on.  In short, Americans are addicted to almost any thing and simply put: American have little if any self-control.  The reason why people struggle with addictions is because they cannot control their appetites.  So what is the cure for such addictions and how can someone gain more self-control?  The answer is Religion. 

It can be said that self-control is the master virtue.  With it one can obtain all the other virtues.[1]  In their book Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Poloutzian and Park discuss three main elements of self-control.  The first element is there needs to be an ultimate standard.  Each person needs to know what to do.  Secondly, each person needs to monitor his own behavior.  The individual needs to know how he is doing in relation to the standard.  And thirdly, the person needs to have the will power and the ability to change to that standard (pg. 414-415). Now there have been many papers done exploring the effect of the religion on the human psyche to help and individual gain self-control (see McCullough and Willoughby2009).  There have even been studies done on people to see if these papers are true (see Rounding et. al. 1012).  They have found that religion does help someone gain self-control.  Why is this?  Poloutzian and Park speak about this also.  First off, religion gives a standard for one to follow after.  Secondly, it provides motivation.  Every religion gives plenty of reason why the striving for the ultimate standard is good- the most basic is G(g)od wants him to.  Third, religions have times and ways for people to monitor their growth in self-control.  Fourth and maybe the most important one, is religion can help a person monitor his desire for vices (418-425). So by this religion can help one curb their desire for vices and give them self-control; however, this will not help an individual in the long wrong. It will merely curb their appetites.  Ultimately the issue is a heart motive that needs to change.
Christians view evil as being a deprivation of the good.  Augustine said that evil is a provatio boni.  This means evil does not possess its own essence.   It is merely the privation of good; similar to the color black.  Black is not a real color but the absence of color, so evil is the absence of good.  However, Augustine expands on this idea in Confessions.  In it he says evil can also be the abuse of evil.  Taking this view, everything is good in and of itself, but becomes evil when it is abused.[2]  What man seeks for is joy. He tries to find it in all the temporal pleasures around him and by doing so he abuses them and turns them into vices.  Kiekegaard believed every soul longed for God but most men tried to fill this longing in other worldly things (Four Upbuilding Discourses).  Likewise, Augustine said, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you" (Confessions book 1 chapter 1).  So true joy and happiness is found in God and what he has done for us through Christ on the cross.  We do not need to seek joy in other things outside of Christ, but it is who and what Christ has done for us that satisfies man.  And it is only until a person realizes this can he truly have self-control.  For without the ultimate form of joy in their life, they will seek out joy in other things.  So while religion in general can give a form of self-control, it is only Christianity that can give true joy that leads to everlasting contentment which will produce ultimate self-control.  The heart will have what it longs for- Christ- and it will not longer have to seek it out in temporal objects.

[1] See Roy F. Baumeister and Julie Juola Exline “Virtue, Personality, and Social Relations: Self-Control as the Moral Muscle” in  Journal of Personality, 1999.
[2] Cf. C. S. Lewis - Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing, 1978. Pgs. 49-54.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Religious Coping Strategies: Illness and Death

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, how do they cope with the illness and the realization that their life may be coming to an end? How do loved ones cope with the death of someone close to them? This is a challenge that, unfortunately, many people have faced or will potentially face in their future. This is a challenge that our family had faced only a few years ago. My mom was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 1990. The doctors encouraged her that, for the most part, this disease is not life threatening. In 2008, she was told that it had spread into her lymph nodes and organs. In 2009, we were told she only had days to live. My mom and the rest of our family used religious coping strategies throughout my mom’s illness and death. Without our faith in Christ, this event could have destroyed our life with depression, anxiety, and many other psychological disorders. What exactly are religious coping strategies? Some examples of religious coping are “positive revaluation, collaborative religious coping, active surrender to God, searching spiritual support, religious purification, religious forgiveness and seeking support from clergy or members of the church community” (Religious and Nonreligious Coping among Cancer Patients). Commonly, we find that most people choose prayer as their religious coping strategy. When my mom was told her cancer had worsened she started a prayer journal. This brought her comfort and peace. By having this communication with the Christ, who has control over each and every life, the patient dealing with an illness is comforted and becomes more hopeful. Religious coping strategies are usually thought of “as emotion focused but can potentially have cognitive (e.g. appraising an illness as part of God's plan) and also behavioural (e.g. praying or attending religious services) components” (Do religious/spiritual coping strategies affect illness adjustment in patients with cancer? A systematic review of the literature, 2006). In the same article the authors share with us that, ”Religious resources may also serve multiple functions in long-term adjustment to cancer such as maintaining self-esteem, giving emotional comfort and hope, and providing a sense of meaning and purpose”. Many studies also show that religious resources and coping strategies have an incredibly positive affect on patients with life threatening illnesses. “In fact, reviews have generally found religious coping to be more typically a help rather than a hindrance”.
We live in a fallen world where we humans will face hardships. Each individual who goes through a hardship will use some kind of coping technique whether it is negative or positive, religious or non-religious. It is important for people to know that there is a beautiful life after this. That this life we live now is only temporary and what is to come is everlasting filled with God’s amazing love. Many people who are dealing with cancer or a life threatening illness realize that this life is indeed short. This is why many turn to religious coping strategies as they go through this process of sickness or in some cases the process of dying. Sometime facing the hardship of illness and death, we have the opportunity to experience Christ’s love, peace, and comfort in a way that we could never experience Him in any other situation, that is if we use religious coping strategies during the trials of illness and death. By using religious coping strategies as a Christian, we realize how extremely blessed we are to have Christ in our lives. No sickness nor death can separate us from Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardley we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prayer and Healing: Beyond Prayer or Be In Prayer?

“Pray for me...Pray for our troops...Our prayers are with the families of this tragedy...You are in my prayers...Our thoughts and prayers are with you...Let’s take a moment of silence…”

From our President addressing the nation in the face of crisis, to strangers circling spontaneously in prayer on the streets of a horrific tragedy, gestures of concern and a search for healing and comfort are often in the utterances of prayer around the world.  Hospital bedsides are frequented by chaplains of all faiths making petitions to various versions of a supernatural 'healer' when doctors say a patient's healing is out of their hands--families in crisis are sometimes brought to their knees recognizing they do not have the earthly strength to  remove the pain they are facing.

Is bending a knee worth the energy? 

In an age of data driven practice, this seems to be a question researchers in the fields of medicine and psychology are beginning to ask more frequently in their research efforts.

Recently, medical research has emerged within academic literature exploring the physical healing benefits of religious activities from various faith communities, including meditation and prayer, as complementary alternative therapies to traditional medical practice.  The work of Green and Turner (2010) explores the health benefits of meditation in working with brain injury patients and presents a call for further research on the healing properties of meditation.  Researchers in the field of pediatrics  have examined and call for continued research regarding the appropriate integration of spiritual and religious practices into their work with patients; including, but not limited to praying with patients.  Rekha Chaudhary M.D., presents her mother's story of 'supernatural' physical healing in a case study published in the Journal of Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology—She proposes her mother’s story is an example supporting the possibility of physical healing resulting from intercessory and personal prayer. 

Of particular interest to this reader are the results from research studies examining the correlation between specifically Christian prayers said for patients who were unaware they were being prayed for and their improved physical health outcomes.  In San Fransisco, a study in which cardiac patients who were unknowingly prayed for by Christians showed those prayed for had less congestive heart failure, required less medical intervention, and had less medical complications than the control group of patients who were not prayed for.  A similar study was conducted on cardiac patients in Kansas City yielding analgous results.  Of final note, was a study on hospital patients suffering from a bloodstream infection.  The duration of fever and overall hospital stay of individuals for whom intercessory prayer was said for, was less than a control group of patients who were not prayed for.  Overall mortality rate was only slightly lower in those prayed for.
However, not all medical research points to an empirical correlation between physical healing and general types of prayer.  For example, in a study of the relationship between physical healing and music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy and masked intercessory prayer of various faith systems (the patient was unaware of the prayers), no significant relationship was found.  Additionally, an article in the British Journal of Cancer documents a replication study by Zachariae et al. (2005) in which the researchers found that contrary to the indications of a previous study, patients with cancer who were unaware of being prayed for did not experience significant improvement in their physical symptoms when compared with a control group.  The researchers propose that there may have been psychosocial and psychophysiological  benefits to the patients, but no physical healing of the cancer cells (Zachariae et al., 2005).

In regards to mental health and healing, researchers in the field of psychology have been increasingly examining the relationship between spiritual practices such as prayer and mental health.  A meta-analyses conducted by Hodge (2007) of empirical research studies on intercessory prayer showed that in alignment with the APA's Division 12 criteria, intercessory prayer can be considered an experimental intervention with a small, but significant positive effect (Hodge, 2007). The research of Laird et al. (2004) on five dimensions of personal prayer in the lives of arthritis patients showed that healthy mental adjustment to arthritic conditions was positively related to specific types of prayer (ex. prayers of Thanksgiving), level of faith, and frequency of personal prayer in patients’ lives. Of particular interest to this reader, are the writings emerging in the field of psychology presenting preliminary findings surrounding the use and efficacy of specifically Christian Inner Healing Prayer (Garzon, 2005; Tan, 2007).  During this type of prayer (Theophostic Ministry) a counselor, with the client’s permission, guides the client as he/she prayerfully walks through painful memories seeking God’s insight and healing (Tan, 2007; Garzon, 2005).  Siang-Yang Tan (2007) presents a case study presenting what he believes is a practical and ethical use of prayer and inner healing prayer in conjunction with Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

A survey of both Christian and Secular academic literature on prayer and physical and mental healing shows that researchers in the medical and mental health communities are engaging in and calling for more data regarding the potential existence and nature of the relationship between prayer and healing.  Although I am personally encouraged by the research community’s interest in prayer and the nature of its relationship to physical and mental health and healing, I am beginning to wonder as Krucoff and Crater (2009) examine, whether we can ever truly empirically capture the complexities of the relationship between prayer and healing.  Part of my personal belief system is that healing from God may not be limited to physical and mental improvement in the material realm.  Can we assume that because a person who is prayed for does not physically heal or improve in their mental functioning on earth that prayers are not heard and answered?  I must admit, I am excited and quite curious to see what the emerging research surrounding the topic of prayer will reveal in the future.  However, I am even more curious to know if the God of the Universe--who is said to typically not be a fan of being tested, will sit still long enough under the microscope for us to figure Him out.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Near Death Experience

Near Death Experience: Explained

 People who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE) make some challenging claims about what happens when the lights go out. Over the last 40 years, studies have been done to test the validity of those claims. Those studies have discovered enough data to merit the attention NDE is getting in the news and society. NDE can be described as “trans-physical, perceptual, and/or mental capacity,” after death (Holden, 2012). In the most polarizing cases, the person who had the NDE was considered clinically dead, no registered pulse on an EKG, no measurable brain activity with an EEG. That person was resuscitated and then described their experience to the awe or disbelief of those around.

           Typically people who have had a NDE can differentiate between their body and consciousness. For example they can often describe what happened in the operating room even as their body lay dead on the table. Furthermore, what they experience while dead is implanted in their memories when they wake up, something that is not suppose to happen if the brain is no longer functioning. In the most polarizing case studies, the person can describe events in other places simultaneously as they lay “dead” under the surgeon’s knife; for example, they are able to describe what family members were doing in another state or what the surgeon was thinking as the operation was in progress. Some NDE patients have even been able to describe the death of another family member unknown to anyone else; an event that happened at the same time as the crisis of the NDE patient—all with verifiable accuracy.
            Some say the older view of naturalism requires that the mind is merely an illusion, but that concept no longer fits with what objective observable data seems to indicate (Brooks, 2008). Brooks even goes so far as to say that the naturalist view is outdated, and that neural-science proves that a kind of Neural-Buddhism is the truth. Others believe that data for NDE strengthens the Judea- Christian world view as well (Habermas, 2012). Whether or not the NDE proves that humans are more then tissue and chemicals will continue to be debated by believers and critics alike. Nevertheless, it should be assumed, and the NDE data seems to indicate that humans are more then material—that we are immaterial as well (Anderson).To take the logical leap forward, NDE data suggests that there is now evidence of an afterlife and theism is not that far behind. Why should the possibility of an immaterial world, exclude the existence of Deity? Apologists such as Gary Habermas (2012), can now claim that the Resurrection of Christ has 21st century merit; maybe more then at any point in Church history. To some, NDE data will be confirmation of an afterlife, or perhaps evidence of what the Bible describes. However, to others no matter how much corroborated data is collected confirming NDE, atheism will always be their faith of choice. Ultimately it is up to the reader to decide what to believe about NDE.                         
Anderson, N. T. (2006). The bondage breaker (New and Expanded Edition). Harvest House Publishers. ISBN: 0-7369-1814-0