Faith and Healing

By Cassandra Spratling:

She is recognized as one of metro Detroit’s best doctors, but when it comes to healing, Dr. Earlexia Norwood is fueled by faith.

“I believe in the ability of God to work within people,” said Norwood, who works with the Henry Ford Medical Center in Troy. “My practice could not exist without prayer.”

Norwood prays daily. Sometimes before seeing patients. Occasionally, with them.

“I ask God to give me the wisdom and understanding I need to … uncover anything that is hidden,” she said. “For patients going through a terminal illness, I pray because I know they need more than the science and medicine I can provide.”

For believers like Norwood, faith in a higher power long has been considered a healing balm. But now, a growing body of medical research — including a recent Wayne State University study — is validating the power of faith….

There was a time when medicine and faith had clear borders. Doctors treated the physical body and religious leaders fed the spiritual body. But thanks to a growing body of research and the increased presence of health practitioners whose faith is part of their practice, religion and medicine are joining forces in ways far beyond the hospital chaplain.

“There is a fair amount of science to substantiate the power of prayer, belief and spirituality to positively impact the healing process,” said Dr. Michael Seidman, medical director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the Henry Ford Health System. “It matters not what you believe. It matters that you believe.”…

This year, a Wayne State University study found that if traumatic brain injury victims feel close to a higher power, it can help them rehabilitate. The study of 88 patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan in Detroit was published in the February issue of Rehabilitation Psychology.

“Feeling connected to a higher power positively impacted not only their feelings, but their functional outcomes, what they were able to do. So they didn’t just feel better, there was evidence they functioned better in their ability to do daily tasks,” said lead investigator Brigid Waldron-Perrine, who’s now at the University of Michigan doing postdoctoral work in neuropsychology.

The study used various questionnaires to assess patients’ spiritual practices and beliefs and their physical and psychological well-being. Researchers also interviewed the patients as well as significant others about how well the patient handled daily tasks, such as managing their own finances and going out in the community alone….

“Having a connection to a higher power was predictive of positive rehabilitation outcomes,” Waldron-Perrine said.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant allowed University of South Carolina researcher Jane Teas to interview 135 people who believed God had a role in healing them. The study was published last year and resulted in a book titled “Faith That Heals: Stories of God’s Love.”

“Our stories give testimony to a supreme presence and power of God; but not as passive, hidden in people’s souls or sitting aloof on a throne in heaven. God in these stories is active, transforming the ordinary wounds of sickness and adversity to well-being and joy, using visions, dreams and whispers heard in the heart,” Teas writes in the book’s introduction.

“We’re not saying throw out your medicine,” Teas said in an interview. “We are saying there is something powerful that goes with believing. I can’t say it’s not real. I can say there is a force in our world that we don’t know enough about to discount. I suppose one day we’ll have a nasal spray for the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

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  • I’m not a charismatic, nor have I witnessed any miracles of healing in my lifetime. But, 3 years ago when I did a missions trip to Honduras, I witnessed a teen girl’s broken arm be healed as a result of our group praying for her. She had an X-ray done at one clinic that proved she had a broken arm. From the time she was taken from the X-ray clinic to the doctor’s office to get fixed we prayed for her. When she arrived, the doctor did a careful examination of her arm and looked at the X-rays and determined she did not have a broken arm. Ironically, her pain and swelling literally disappeared and she was back in class the next day.

    Coincidence? Faulty medical diagnosis? Bad equipment? Or, genuine miracle of God? One of the full time missionaries there told me she sees stuff like this happening all the time in Honduras. This, and one other miracle I observed in Honduras changed my perspective about miracles. In just a short few days I went from a cessationist to miracle-believer.

  • Big Words of Caution!

    These studies are riddled with difficulties, interview-based studies in spades. For one thing there is no mention of the “blinding” protocols used here.

    Other observations about this kind of study:

    “There are two major problems with this study, however. The first is that the survey process itself is likely to bias reporting. If you ask people about their faith (or that of a family member) and then ask them how they are doing, the answer to the one question is likely to influence the answer to the other.

    “Second – the study found a correlation only, and was not designed to infer any cause and effect. One possible interpretation is that those who were doing better in terms of their recovery from TBI were more likely, as a result, to feel positive about their connection to god.”

  • Joe Canner

    “It matters not what you believe. It matters that you believe.”

    In addition to the methodological issues Scott raises in #2, this quote pretty much confirms that the effect, if any, is just as likely to be psychosomatic as it is divine intervention. I have no doubt that God heals and aids in healing, but I doubt that medical research studies can measure the frequency and extent of such intervention.

  • Fred

    My impression of these kinds of accounts is that most of them occur in poorer countries which tend to be more Pentecostal in orientation. Not sure if that plays into this but…

    Also, is that last statement meant to be humorous?

  • EricG

    I’ve always been a huge skeptic, and rolled my eyes at this sort of thing, but recently have witnessed what I believe is a healing — my own — that I can’t really explain.

    I was diagnosed with cancer that each oncologist I saw characterized as incurable 9 months ago. They did palliative chemo, to make the end of my life go a little easier, but it ended up killing the cancer in ways they hadn’t seen before. I now have “no evidence of disease”; my surgeon (who is a believer) refers to my situation as a miracle.

  • Robert

    Even if the effects are purely psychosomatic, that can be a preety powerful effect.

  • Scot McKnight

    EricG, awesome!

  • Tim

    Can I ask how they’ve managed to establish it is the spiritual component that matters and not merely the cognitive state of mind of the patient? Mental health and outlook is well known to impact recovery outcome. Also, what is the theological explanation for non-Christian theism proving as effective as Christian theistic beliefs? Their interpretation of the results is that it doesn’t matter “what” the patients believe so much as they believe. Is this the view of the “power” of prayer as Christians understand it? Even among Buddhists who reject a personal God but embrace something more akin to a force?

  • Fred

    Good for you, EricG!!

  • rjs

    Great news Eric.

  • Joe Canner

    Robert #6: Quite possible… Even though I was trained to eliminate placebo effects when designing and analyzing research studies, I often wonder if we shouldn’t also be harnessing the psychosomatic portion of the placebo effect. Sometime it would require unethical things like telling someone they were getting treated when they really weren’t, but here we have an ethical approach to achieving what might be a positive effect (psychosomatic or otherwise).

  • DRT

    EricG, way to go!

  • Jon Bartlett

    30 years or so ago, at a charismatic Anglican church in London, a local doctor friend commented, “I don’t care if a lot of healing is psychosomatic, it would empty my waiting room.”

  • Amos Paul

    It always blows my mind when, scientifically speaking, we come to conclusions that seem to indicate that it’s *actually healthy* for humans to be religious–and yet anti-religious or anti-spiritualist people accuse belief in an actual healing and Godly power of being arbitrary and irrelevant to this fact. If a theistic view of the Universe is true, then it follows that we are, in fact, designed to be religious…

  • JG Rogers

    First, I appreciate the courage to address these things, They, in fact, still do happen and will always happen because someone has the audacity to thing that the Living God is still offering living results. Second, the question is, are we so sophisticated that unless our creator passes our test we will withhold any confidence in the word that continues today and sustained by things that the Lord Jesus said like, “heaven and earth will pass away but my word will never pass away? We of course need not be gullible but neither are we to hold the word and spirit of God in contempt either.

  • Duane

    A little over 20 years ago I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. After surgery I had a regimen of chemo and rediation. During that time I sensed very specific impressions of prayers being offered for me at different places around the globe, especially Haiti where I had been a coupld of year earlier with a group of men building a school. I then sensed the need to return to Haiti and say thanks. I did, and indeed they had heard of my situation and had been pleading my case (I am an attorney). I do not how this works, but I experienced clear evidence that it works.