I gravitate towards hard drama for my entertainment. I was lured to the 2019 Netflix DVD, Breakthrough, by the first sentence of its description: In this fact-based drama, 14-year-old John Smith falls through a frozen lake and is pronounced dead after 27 minutes of CPR fail to revive him.
Like a fly to a sore, I was drawn in by the first sentence. I should have pondered the second sentence more carefully: But his mother is having none of it and prays loudly at John’s bedside — until his heart begins beating.
Years ago I watched a relative struggle through seven weeks of an induced coma for what began as an e-coli infection. At last, the cascade of his failing systems was remedied and his condition stabilized enough to bring him out of the induced coma only to have him suffer a pulmonary embolism upon removal of his IV catheter. It took ten minutes in the hospital, mind you, to restore a pulse. He was left in a persistent vegetative state and hooked to a feeding and hydration tube. This experience left me with a persistent curiosity about the science behind near-death experiences.
But I should have picked up on the phrase in the synopsis “prays loudly at John’s bedside until his heart begins beating.” I ended up fast-forwarding from after the delivery of John’s prognosis to the end, just to see if my dreadful expectations would pan out. Of course they did. Mama bear prayed and she kept negative talk and thought out of her son’s hospital room. Of course her prayers were answered! A miracle! The boy eventually revived and resumed his normal life as a high school jock, only now a very devout high school jock.
I don’t understand the assumption that prayer was the determining factor in John’s recovery. Was this miraculous recovery God’s intervention, or was it a case of diving reflex, or hypercapnic vasodilation, or some as yet not understood physical process? What suspension of reality exists in people for them to believe that the all mighty creator of all things in this vast universe has the time or interest in micro-managing the outcomes of his most unreliable creation of all, humanity? And what hubris is it to think that one person’s fervent prayers are answered while another faithful believer’s prayers go unanswered? Why did exactly 2,606 persons die as a result of the World Trade Center collapse and not 2,607, or 08, or 12? Were these 2,606 souls just evil people undeserving of God’s mercy? Were their families not praying hard enough, or correctly, or often enough, or in the correct language, or pointing in the approved direction, or wearing the proper attire? What about all those who did survive that horrific event? Can they stride through life knowing that their survival was God’s will? How very special.
Life is full of perplexing wonders and mysteries—some good, some awful. But just because we don’t have a nice pat answer at hand, is no reason to credit or to blame God for what we simply don’t know.