1. “Salvation” is much more than going to heaven upon death. Our first prayer is, “If I should die before I wake.” Most people keep this fire-escape concept as long as they live. It is one reason why Christianity has not been accepted more by the American Indian, whose religion is a here-and-now matter. Fact is, a religion that is little use for living is no good for dying. Sickness and death must be prepared for, long ahead. It is possible to work through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five steps years before the end of life. Genuine 11th-hour conversions are few.
2. Prayer is not just asking for things. Most of our problems as to “answered” prayer, of “miracles”, is based upon a low view of prayer – something to be used only to get things. Imagine thinking of marriage in terms of what you get out of it; marrying only because married people live longer, etc. Here too is where the matter of “believing you shall receive” comes in. The person with true belief does not stake his faith in God on whether he gets what he wants; he believes that God is perfectly capable of giving him anything, and faith is most shown by believing that whether he gets it or not, God is all-wise and all-loving.
3. There are different kinds of faith. It is obvious from Scripture and from experience that many non-Christians have their “prayers” answered. Jesus fed 5,000 people, most of whom did not trust him for salvation. (John 6:66) Of 10 men healed of leprosy, only 1 even thanked Christ, which is about the present average of hospital bill-collections. A chaplain, or any one ministering to the “spiritual” needs of a patient, does not fail his assignment by failing to convert a person, any more than Jesus failed with the many he helped, through faith, that were not converted.
4. Almost everybody has faith of some sort, and it is not true that the more a person has faith in God, the less confidence he has in medicine, or vice versa. The true Christian makes use of the God-given means for health that are available. Cults like Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses display their heresy (not their “orthodoxy”) by neglect of medicine, aversion to vaccinations and blood-transfusions. Similarly, the person who professes great faith in medicine but none in God, often has faith only in himself. Perfectly able to pay the big medical bills they were eager to incur, they are slow to pay the same, because of “faithlessness”.
5. Faith believes in miracles. Immediately we get into the problem of what really is a “miracle”. But faith believes that God is able to raise even the dead, and should not hesitate to ask it because of “impossibility”. Faith may decline to ask recovery from cancer, but not because it is “incurable”.
6. Intercessory prayer is a much-overlooked aspect of this question. Prayer on behalf of a Christian incapable of praying for himself is like the lungs doing the breathing for the whole body; on behalf of an unbeliever by a Christian (or even a non!) is like artificial respiration until he can carry on, on his own.
7. Faith is an intangible thing. We cannot ascertain the existence of the true versus the false, nor the degree of either, by such means as a thermometer. Sickness has a way of exposing the sincerity of a person’s “faith”, and its amount, but many people have conned themselves and everybody else, to eternity itself.