Only hours after I posted “Praying for strangers” last night, someone wrote a comment to let me know that there were issues with the veracity of the emailed request I quoted. My heart sank. I hate forwarded emails that take advantage of people’s willingness to believe what their friends send them. Usually I check them out at snopes.com, and sometimes reply back to the sender with what I found out.
This time I didn’t. Perhaps because I was thinking more about the larger issue of praying for strangers. Perhaps because it just didn’t press my “this sounds bogus” button. At any rate, this morning I did check snopes.com, and their explanation is not quite so simple as “True” or “False.” It actually is marked “True,” because in June 2001, Gary Hogman did send out an email requesting prayer for his wife Cindy, who was battling cancer. As of February 2002, her cancer was in remission, and when the snopes.com article was written up in November 2006, she remained cancer-free.
The email I received, however, had added a few (untrue) details as it spent the years making the rounds of cyberspace. Unlike other variations, it at least got the last name spelled correctly. But it falsely placed Gary Hogman in Iraq, and naturally gave the impression that Cindy’s cancer was a current event.
So what happens to the (possibly millions of) prayers made on the Hogmans’ behalf in response to an email that has taken on a life of its own? Were my prayers yesterday “wasted”? After all, what point is there to praying for healing of a cancer that is already in remission?
One of the articles I read yesterday reflected on how God is outside time, and does not need our requests to be chronologically prior to His answer. Sometimes someone has requested I pray for an event taking place at a certain time, such as a job interview or surgery. I get busy, and forget to pray at the designated time. When I remember later, I pray, but I wonder if it can affect the outcome that has already happened, even though I don’t know what it was.
I have been taught that yes, such prayers can make a difference, because God knows those prayers that will be said in the future and can respond to them just as well as to those said in the past. So could my prayer yesterday have helped Cindy back in 2001, when I had never heard of her? I don’t see why not. The whole logic of the role our prayers play in God’s purposes is beyond our understanding. Adding the issue of timing really doesn’t really change it all that much.
Still, this incident reminds me why I generally respond most to requests that are closer to me, because I know the people involved. There’s nothing wrong with praying for hard-to-verify emailed requests. But our energies are better devoted to those whose lives we can touch personally, not only with our prayers but also with more tangible acts of love.