If you pray for Joan Rivers or wish good luck, who benefits? (Hint: Not Joan)

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If only we had Joan Rivers – throwing out her acerbic one-liners and to heck with our tender feelings – to find the humor right now.

Humor, she often said, is “how you get through life. If you laugh, you can deal with it. Done.”

Tuesday, doctors were planning to bring the 81-year-old comedienne out of a medically induced coma and assess her mental and physical condition after she had a heart attack last week during an outpatient procedure.


Whether you turn to prayer or superstition to wish for stricken Joan Rivers’ recovery, you may be the beneficiary.

While she’s silent,  everyone else is talking — and praying for a miracle or simply crossing their fingers, or both like her daughter Melissa.

Does either make a difference? For whom?

If you judge by what becomes of the endangered person, the evidence is not good for intercessory prayer. Indeed, if you really care about Joan, you might hope no one mentions to her you are praying on her behalf.

The Templeton Foundation, always focused on the advancement of both spirituality and science, spent $2.3 million to conduct a scientific study of third party prayer for patients following heart surgery. The study, which wrapped up in 2006, concluded:

“Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery …but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.”

So, is it back to the rabbit’s foot, fingers crossed and other superstitions?

In Jewish tradition (since Joan is Jewish it seems appropriate) there’s a superstitious tradition to change a sick person’s name so the Evil Eye would not know where to look. Maybe it’s time to rename her Chaya (Life) and put a hamsa, the upheld hand sign also intended to ward off evil, by her hospital bed.

I say all the above. Prayer and best wishes do work — but the work is on the person taking action.

Expressing care for someone is focusing your attention on another person’s needs. If you are part of their community, that might be accompanied by action – the proverbial banana-bread delivery to the overwhelmed caretakers, the ride to a medial appointment, the dog walked. That community might be a church, synagogue or mosque or the local atheist meet-up group or your Sunday morning basketball team.

If you’re just a far-off fan of a celebrity, you might be moved to make a donation to that person’s cause. Or perhaps attention to someone else’s ills mean less time stewing over your own woes. Your Tweet or Facebook post showing concern for an old school friend or acquaintance (stay well, Dan!) or a never-met-in-person Facebook friend (thinking of you, Judith!) might hearten them in difficult times.

We’ll never know it prayers have the ear of God, if intercessors on earth or in heaven move the almighty to reset the clock and intervene in daily human affairs.

We’ll never know if our best wishes steered someone to good health and long life.

Neither is it proof of evil triumphing — or insufficient prayer or best wishes by us — if the celebrity or the loved one or friend is not healed,

But we know if we’ve shared our love, our best selves, and we’re better for it.

Be well, Joan. Come back to us and make us laugh, and sometime cringe, with your dead-eye humor.

As she once said:

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, that’s why we call it the present.”

  • Geoff Stabb

    I find these comments purely fictional. Two rival tribes fighting each other in a war….Both sides pray to God to win….ONLY one prevails. I guess God didn’t listen Right…

    Things are what they are because of Lifestyle, attitudes and every other influence we as the Human Race can muster,,,GOD has nothing to do with it. People need to start taking responsibilities for their actions,

  • John

    Guess which religious news agency just declared prayer useless? RNS

    And that a think tank debunked prayer? RNS

    And that we can’t know that God even hears our prayers? RNS

    Oh wait, I forgot…they just report the news, they don’ t have to believe it themselves.

  • Larry

    Plastic surgeons everywhere are making contingency plans for the potential lost business.

  • Fran


    Sadly enough, when people warring against each other pray to God for victory, it is against God’s will since he wants us to love our fellowman as ourselves (Mark 12:31), not kill him. And usually both sides lose many to death, so it is really a losing situation.

    This was confirmed by Jesus, God’s son, when he said: “Return your sword to its place, for thise who use the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).

    Our prayers should therefore be in accordance with God’s principles, guidelines, laws and commandments, as outlined in his Word, the Bible. If they are, we can be assured that God will listen to our prayers and take appropriate action. “Oh, Hearer of prayer, to you
    people of all sorts will come.” (Psalm 65:2).

  • Jim

    Suppose I pray to Zeus, the Greek king of gods, that my sick friend recovers, but he dies. Believers in the efficacy of prayer will tell me that Zeus is a myth and there’s no point in praying to a myth. Suppose that you pray to your god that your sick friend recovers, but he dies. Why do you not conclude that your god is a myth? Because you have been told that it is not. Suppose that I pray to Zeus that my sick friend recovers, and he does recover? Believers will probably tell me that Zeus had nothing to do with it, it was a coincidence, and that other factors were involved. When a believer prays to his god that his sick friend recovers, and he does recover, why does he attribute to his god?

  • Lles Nats

    All I see is a jewish writer talking about a jewish celebrity and criticizing prayers of healing….which I do not know if traditonal judaism embraces. I know they pray, or chant…perhaps, but not like a christian, who will pray when sick or before “a big game”.

    We should ask ms grossman if she chants to god or not, and if she believes it works.

  • Good questions… But the believer will say that’s where faith comes in…. Being certain of what they do not see, etc. Etc. So, in short, you’d never get a real answer to any of those questions.

  • Grahog

    I am a Pagan/Wiccan.
    While some “cast spells” they more rightly fit the profile of a prayer. A request to work with the Goddess in an endeavor. BUT the majority of Wiccans will not just up and pray for someone.

    First we must ask permission from the person because we may not know the whole truth. What if the patient has cancer and it is fatal but they pretend to everyone is just not enough sleep, ETC. What if we inadvertently pray for something they don’t want? Does prayer work? They are all heard and answered but sometimes not the way we want.

  • Earold D. Gunter

    God’s will be done, or pray that God do my will.

    Both equally absurd, both equally unbelievable.

  • Barbara R

    What a stupid article although I appreciate the sentiment. You can live in your world where you are confused and don’t know the answers. Apparently this is the case because you said, “We’ll never know it prayers have the ear of God, if intercessors on earth or in heaven move the almighty to reset the clock and intervene in daily human affairs.” I know for a FACT that prayers have the ear of God and that intercessors on Earth AND in Heaven move the Almighty to reset the clock and intervene in daily human affairs. How? Because I am living proof. My aunt was a church going woman who loved the Lord very much. I’m not sure if she was right with Him or not but she prayed for me since I was a baby. Had it not been for her prayers, who knows where I would be but those prayers led to me the Lord and saved my life. I didn’t save my life because of my right choices … I should technically be dead right now but because He saved my life and put people in it in order to redirect my steps. I love knowing that God is real and that He does in fact answer prayer. So many in this world that have no faith in anything and how truly sad. I’ve been praying for Joan since I heard the news last week. I know right now while she rests her mind, God is walking and talking with her. If she doesn’t come back to us then all I can say is, “What a way to go!” I cannot think of a better way to leave this Earth than to just go to sleep with no pain especially at an 81 year old woman who couldn’t bear to live a day without perfect health (she said so). If Joan comes out of it wonderfully then what a blessing and testimony but just like Lazarus was raised from the dead after being DEAD for three days, many either believed in God or they did not. I’m afraid that this world is so cold and calloused that it won’t believe. Even in the case of a miracle with Joan. They’ll explain it away just like they did thousands of years ago. I think it’s best that Joan stays resting. And if she cannot come out of it her old self, then it’s best that she stays in that state and we remember her for who she was.

  • Lles Nats

    Or the cliche that describes the worldview alternative to prayer….shrug shoulders and say “poo happens”.

  • Jim

    First, you didn’t address my comment at all. Second, at the moment, your prayers seem to go unanswered. I saw on the news just a few minutes ago that Joan is now on life support. Your position seems to be that if she recovers, your prayers were answered. If she dies, it was God’s divine will. That’s a win/win situation. I’ve often wondered about the efficacy of prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “thy will be done.” If God is going to do whatever it wants anyway, why pray? Is prayer an attempt to change his will?
    I’m happy that your faith comforts you. But I think you should try to be more rational.

  • Anne

    I cannot believe that the study cost $2.3 million. I could have developed an equally cynical conclusion for a lot less.

  • Joan, I pray that you get stronger every day and you make a complete recovery. I watch Fashion Police all the time and the show can not and should not go on without your witty humor. You are an Icon one the comedy world and a super star in your own rite. You are missed by me and by everyone. I know in my heart you’ll make a complete recovery.

  • Melissa I just heard about your mother Joan passing away. My prayers and best wishes are with you and your son Cooper during this difficult time. Your mother was a wonderful lady, a wonderful host of. Fashion Police, and a wonderful comedian. Just know, if this helps, that God needed a special angel with him in heaven and put his hand out to your wonderful mother. May she.rest in peace.

  • Garson Abuita

    Yes, saying prayers for healing is very traditional in Judaism. Announcing “Let’s pray for Joan Rivers” is not. Most Jews in America find it easier, as her daughter did, to say something non-offensive and non-committal, but based just as much on a non-scientific belief, like “Let’s cross our fingers.”

    As I write this, it is coming over what used to be called the wires (and now called Twitter and Facebook) that Joan Rivers has died. So the traditional Jewish response is appropriate: Baruch Dayan Haemet: Blessed is the True Judge, and Zichronah Livracha: May her memory be for a blessing.

  • Fran

    It is sad to just learn that Joan has passed away. She was such a hilarious person who I enjoyed getting to know and making me laugh so much through my life.

    I am, however, comforted to know that she is now resting or sleeping in death (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10) and has the marvelous hope of being resurrected back to life on a cleansed earth to be reunited with Melissa, the rest of her family, friends and fans, in the near future by through God’s kingdom (Acts 24:15; John 5:28,29).

    Even sickness, old age and death will be done away with (Revelation 21:1-4) through that kingdom. 😀

    We can then again enjoy her unique personality and laughter that she so graciously provided to us.

  • Pingback: Joan Rivers’ gift: Wicked humor with a Jewish touch | Joan Rivers’ gift: Wicked humor with a Jewish touch | Social Dashboard()

  • Susan

    There are prayers for healing that are part of most Jewish services even non-traditional services. I prayed for my mother and later for my father for healing. Did I think that God was going to miraculously heal my mother from cancer? No I did not. The prayer still offered me comfort and consolation and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    Fran, according to you God does not hear the prayers of non-Christians. What if the Dalai Lama died? Did God hear his prayers?

  • Barry

    Only those who truly know Jesus will believe in him.. I don’t believe in him because I was told to do so, I believe in him because I know he’s real, he’s worked miracles in my life. He isn’t an toy that we play with, and boss around.., he’s the ruler of this earth, with all power in his hand..the fact that a lot of us are still living, shows his unconditional love for us.. Thru his death. Its the father in heaven who’s going to judge us on the other side, according to our works here on earth

  • Barry

    Its all about Jesus

  • Barry

    Amen, I like and agree with u on a lot , especially the should be dead part.. I’m an walking example. should be dead time and time over.. The reason people don’t believe is because they are deceived and truly don’t want to know the truth. growing up I believed in any and everything, and Jesus is the only thing that has stood for me. And as far as unbelievers at death, there is no rest on the other side.. Only an eternity of torment. Don’t shoot the messenger, im only delivering that which is and will be.

  • Barry

    @ Jim.. You just have to face the fact, that some people have been given time and time over to believe, and simply refuse.. Then God refuses to hear prayers for them.. Micah 3 say
    “Listen, you leaders of Jacob ( can now be interpreted as USA and other country leaders aka celebrities and people in high places),
    you rulers of Israel.
    Should you not embrace justice,
    2 you who hate good and love evil;
    who tear the skin from my people
    and the flesh from their bones;
    3 who eat my people’s flesh,
    strip off their skin
    and break their bones in pieces;
    who chop them up like meat for the pan,
    like flesh for the pot?”
    4 Then they will cry out to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them.
    At that time he will hide his face from them
    because of the evil they have done.

  • Jim

    If you had been born in Iran or Saudi Arabia, you probably would have been told to follow Islam. Would you still believe that Jesus is a god? One’s religious faith seems to be mostly an accident of birth. You would probably be just as good a person if you were a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist.

  • Barry

    I see tour point, good indeed.. And thanks for humbly responding, with no animosity. I believe everyone gets an chance to hear about Jesus, and because Jesus is Real, he will open their heart to receive, but its up to the individual to believe. I’ve had prophecies in the name of Jesus, from prophets who shouldn’t know the things they told me. I know that I know, that he is Lord. I can’t really answer that question, but i m sure its a lot of believers out there who are from those locations, once taught to walk after other Gods, but gained an relationship and had an experience with Jesus who could clearly answer that question for us both

  • Jim

    I think you are superstitious, but I’m glad that your faith comforts you. Many Christians leave their faith for other faiths and usually for no faith at all. It’s a big problem with Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians. The main reason they give is that religion is irrelevant in their lives because most Christian clergy do not give any guidance on moral and ethical matters that are of most concern to them. The second fastest growing religion in the U.S. is Islam. The fastest growing spiritual belief is atheism.

  • H. Ward

    Most of the comments I have read on this page regarding prayer and salvation are not based at all on biblical truth. Eternal life with God does not take place just because you died and while alive you were a nice person. The bible states clearly “God so loved the world He sent His only Son, believe in Him and you will live for all eternity”. It also states that His word is written in the hearts of all, many will turn away Him. To ignore God, and pray to Him just when you want to get something from Him is ignorant and totally against what the bible teaches. I don’t know what was in Joan Rivers heart, God does. He alone will determine where she will spend eternity. She will be missed by many.

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