For those who have eyes to see, this is part of the medical art.
"And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him… There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians, for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life."
- Ben Sira, The Book of Sirach
So what of physicians? Practiced rightly, their work is of central importance, even if only realized by some of us in a time of need. This is an art of life. Human life. Here especially an art bumps up against the astounding richness — and at times the opacity — of concrete reality: the living body of this human person! How to discern the truth of what is going on here? How to discern the best course of action?
Though study and practice yield invaluable results, no advance of science and no length of experience will ever remove the challenge of discerning and directing this person toward health, right now.
And so Ben Sira speaks of a physician praying. This is not window dressing or bedside manner. It is not primarily for the comfort of the sick or the family. It is not out of desperation, or because something has gone wrong. It is not to make up for lack of study or practice.
For those who have eyes to see, this is part of the medical art. Of course it is. How many times do 'science' and 'experience' fall short in the pursuit of health?
For the physician, to pray is to recognize the truth of the situation: I see what I can see, and I cannot see what I cannot see. Oh Lord, guide me. I will do all that I can. I ask you to empower me, and to make up for my failings. Please, work through me. For the life of your precious child, whom I serve.
For the physician, to pray is to recognize the truth of the situation: I see what I can see, and I cannot see what I cannot see.
And somehow, this is part of the wise plan, and our taking part in it. The medical art is profound and powerful. It is what it is, and it is not what it is not. Ben Sira writes: "And he [God] gave skill to men that he might be glorified in his marvelous works. By them he heals and takes away pain…"
Ah, the wonder of what sages call 'secondary causality!' The physician can be a real cause of healing and taking away pain. At the same time, perhaps especially in experiencing the limitation of the medical art, both practitioners and those served by them can see something else. Something that transcends medicine and bodily health.
God is always the first cause. This is scientific. And, he works in and through other persons, who are also real causes of astounding effects. Sometimes the effects, the outcomes, are not what seemed best, to us. But there can be hidden effects too; especially when, by prayer, we discover and enter into the larger plan.
It is always about life. Real human life. And wisdom is justified in her children.
John A. Cuddeback. "Why a Doctor Prays." LifeCraft (March 9, 2022).
Reprinted with permission from the author, John A. Cuddeback. Image credit:
John A. Cuddeback is chairman and professor of Philosophy at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He is the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness and Aristotle's Ethics: A Guide to Living the Good Life. He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children — and a few pigs and sundry — in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. He blogs at life-craft.org.Copyright © 2022 John A. Cuddeback
back to top