I can't ask this of the Christians in my life. It would be very upsetting to them, but it's something that I've always wondered about.

As we speak, someone in my family is in surgery. I've been informed that an impressive "prayer circle" has been convened to lift her up for the duration of this very dangerous procedure.

I've always wanted to ask how this is thought to work. And although I am not a believer, I'm not being snide. I am bewildered about what paradigm is being sketched out in the idea of intercessory prayer. They fervently believe that it makes a difference, and if she survives the surgery, they will undoubtedly credit the effort of the prayers. But, one level down, what does that mean? What is the characterization of God in this mechanism?

Is God thought to withhold protection or intervention unless petitioned by a significant enough number of prayer warriors (or powerful enough?) Are they suggesting that His plan might have been to let her, or even have her, die, but that He could be persuaded to do otherwise with enough pleading?

I'm very interested to understand what the thought is behind this.