Growing up, I constantly heard the faithful praying for those who were about to undergo surgery or medical tests. The prayers often included a specific request that Yahweh would "guide the surgeon's hand" and "give the doctors and nurses wisdom." And when the results of treatment were good, all credit and praise was given to Yahweh. The surgeons and other medical professionals were just tools in the hands of Yahweh. Their years of schooling and experience and their dedication and hard work were not the direct cause of the good result. No, they were merely Yahweh's answers to the prayers offered to him. In other words, the doctor’s advice and treatment were the answer to the prayers.
Now we have the case of Angela Wright.
She suffered a heart attack. The prayer chains were activated. She suffered a second heart attack. They prayed on. She had a third heart attack. They prayed on. She had a fourth heart attack. They prayed on. She had a fifth heart attack. They prayed on. She had a sixth heart attack.
As a result of the heart attacks and other pre-existing conditions, her toes are turning black and the doctors are concerned that gangrene will set in and advance and become fatal. They have recommended amputation. Rather than accept this wisdom from the doctors as the wisdom of Yahweh provided via the doctors, the family is opposing the treatment. Their read on the events to date is that the sole reason she is still alive is their prayers. In other words, thought she has been in the hospital receiving round the clock treatment for her multiple heart attacks and other problems, the only reason she is alive is that Yahweh has answered their prayers, presumably by “guiding the doctor’s hands” and “giving them wisdom.” (Either that or Yahweh is a cruel sadistic monster that sat up there and watched these yokels beg and plead for his assistance and all he did was to allow (or cause?) five more heart attacks and the resulting complications that now put her in a dilemma between death or loss of her only good leg – he simply increased and prolonged her suffering.)
It seems to me that if Yahweh exists and listens to prayers and answers them, we have several possible interpretations of these events. Among them:
1. Yahweh has no intention of saving her leg and he has "given the doctors wisdom" to know that amputation is the answer and is standing by to "guide the surgeon's hand" in conducting the amputation. But the family is refusing to accept this answer to their prayers and rejecting Yahweh's will for Angela and themselves.
2. Yahweh has no intention of intervening and has decided to let nature take its course. He has decided the answer to their prayers is : "No. I am declining to intervene on this on. It may seem wrong to you but I am Yahweh and I have my reasons. Trust me. "
3. Yahweh fully intends to intervene and save Angela's life and her leg but only if the family will persevere in their hindrance of the medical treatment and continue to pray until Yahweh, in his own good time, steps in. His answer is: "Keep the faith and pray on my child. Joy comes in the morning if you will but keep the faith and ‘endure unto the end.’"
All of these possibilities are accepted by the theists I know. They agree that Yahweh can answer prayers by using people like doctors. He can answer a request for divine intervention with a no and let nature take its course. Or he can simply wait and see if the faithful will remain faithful and then reward them richly if they do. But it is critical for the faithful to know which is happening on any given occasion. Under the first possibility, the answer is for the praying faithful to allow the amputation and praise Yahweh for providing the doctors the wisdom to know it was needed and guiding their hands through the surgery. Under the second, they need to give up on prayer and make a decision based on natural reality, not the hope of a supernatural intervention that will not be forth coming. Under the third, they must oppose the doctors and keep praying.
But here is the question I would like some theists to answer for me. How do you know which it is? How do you know when it is time to oppose the doctors and when it is time to accept their wisdom as Yahweh's answer to your prayers for intervention?
The way I see it, this family and Angela are in a sad and terrible situation. What they are really struggling with is not Yahweh’s will but Angela’s will in light of a no win situation. Angela apparently is vacillating – telling the doctors to get on with the amputation but telling the family she would rather die than loose her only good leg. She is under heavy medication and in an awful situation and it is not surprising that she tells the doctors go when they explain they think she should and then tells the family things that are interpreted as no when they talk to her. This is a really bad situation in which none of the real answers is a good one that everyone will be happy with this time next year. It is a tough call and my heart goes out to them all. But sadder still is the way in which religion is making this so much more difficult. As indicated by my question above, religion is so malleable that it allows people to think what they want is really what some sky pixie wants. I have no doubt that if these devout people – Angela and her family – were all of the frame of mind that life is the highest priority and that loosing another leg can be lived with because Yahweh has helped her live with the loss of the first one, the amputation would have been done and, instead of thrashing around in this awful emotional pain, they would be thanking and praising Yahweh for pulling Angela through the surgery and guiding the surgeon’s hands. And see the amputation as the answer to their prayers. But since they seem to greatly fear life with a double amputation they are refusing to accept the offered medical treatment as the answer to their prayers. And if they ever realize this fact, they are going to be in even more agony trying to determine what it is their silent sky pixie wanted them to do. Maybe if they had just prayed one more day, the leg and the life could have been saved. Maybe if they had just prayed harder. Maybe if they had actually fasted instead of sneaking that sandwich two days into a three day fast. Maybe if they had not thought those impure thoughts. Maybe their faith was not strong enough. Maybe ………