Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Does God Hear the Prayers of Non Christians?

  photo man_duaa_silhouette_zpsf39fc670.jpg

  The Guy recalls the famous prayer fuss in 1980 when Oklahoma pastor Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, made this off-the-cuff comment: “It’s interesting to me at great political battles how you have a Protestant to pray and a Catholic to pray and then you have a Jew to pray. With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. For how in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says that Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah? It is blasphemy.”[1]
 This issue has arisen on a message board with atheists asserting that God wont hear the prayers of sinners (oddly enough, since he doesn't exist--one would think an non existent God hears no prayers).
God clearly hears everything in the sense of knowing about it. By "hear" is meant a special relationship. If God never heard the prayers of a sinner how could sinners ever repent? So the real question is "how does God regard the prayers of non Christians? Or, how does he regard the prayers of other faiths? There are Christians who assert bold faced "God doesn't prayers of non Christians." It's tragic but amusing what they have to do to scripture to justify saying this. Let's look at a "typical" example by someone I would call a "fundamentalist": main verse John 9:31. This is so ironic because it's actually saying the opposite.

 The Bible clearly says that God will not answer prayer requests of those who are not saved nor will He even listen to their prayers (John 9:31).  Believers have had their sins forgiven but those who are not Christian are separated from God by their sin (Isaiah 59:2).  I Peter 3:12 plainly says that God will hear a believer’s prayer but not those of the unsaved: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[2]
 Let's take a quick look at that passage in John (9:31). First of all who is speaking? Did Jesus say  this? No, first the guys who are marveling that the man born blind has been healed! These are the guys who are saying this. Then the pharisees confront the man healed and actually tell him he has not been healed. The spiritual giants show us their Biblical acumen by telling the guy who has been healed that he's not healed. This is pure irony, yes it is intentional. They are so blind themselves, they are telling the guy who got healed that he's not healed! They refuse to believe that Jesus is anybody. These guys are in the same theological camp (pharisees) as those who blasphemed the Holy Spirit. How much more Biblically ignorant we get? Could we find a more ignorant and narrow minded segment?

The passage begins with the Apostles ignorantly asserting that the man was born blind either because he sinned or his parents sinned. How the guy could be born with sin I don't know. Some might think this is a proof of reincarnation in the Bible, I'll leave that for another time. Of cousre Jesus says neither one, he was born this way "so the works of God might be displayed in him." To me that does not mean God creates people to have bad things happen to them just so he can make examples of them and heal them. Literally that is the logical inference, and I can't prove the didn't mean that, but I just think this is just a euphemistic way of saying "it just happened." Everything is an opportunity for god to manifest his glory. He doesn't need to create people born with infirmity to do that. It's a poetic way of saying "'stuff' happens." I just offer as evidence that statement in Matthew 5:45: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." He brings good to both. 
One caveat before continuing. The healed man also echos the notion that God doesn't listen to unsaved people. He's arguing with the pharisees and his argument is, if Jesus was a sinner, as they had asserted, then he couldn't have healed me. He says:

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Of cousre this doesn't convince them they assert that the healed man can't tell the truth or know what's what.34 "To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out." So that ends the interview with the narrow minded crowd refusing to even examine the evidence. That seems familiar. What about the healed man echoing this idea? "Se know that God Does not listen to sinners." Obviously it must mean he doesn't listen to sinners (which is everyone--all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God--) except and unless they are sincerely seeking forgiveness. The man born blind, the healed me, he was not a sinner. Jesus says he wasn't a sinner. Since we are all sinner we can assume this means he wasn't living in sin. He was seeking to do right even though like all of us he screwed up from time to time he was not living in a manner that took the concept of sin lightly. That he healed man believed what he said about God not hearing the prayers of sinner, he was arguing for Jesus not being a sinner. He was no Bible scholar either.I will argue and prove that God listens to "sinners," not in a manner that ignores their sin, but when they are seeking truth, forgiveness, are just desperately turning to God for help. He did me. That's the first bit of evidence i present. If God did not hear sinners at such a time I would never have been saved.

The back up reference Wellman offers: 1 Peter 3:12 

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil
Of course this passage doesn't really say what he wants it to. It doesn't say God doesn't  hear sinners, it says he searches for the righteous and his face is against those who do evil. It doesn't say that he doesn't hear the prayers of sinners his face is against those who do evil. So that would mean those who live in a manner that sloughs off sin and takes lightly the idea of pleasing God. That would be those not calling out to God in desperation or seeking truth or seeking to repent. So we can assume that when the Bible asserts that God doesn't hear the prayers of sinners it means those who actively peruse sin not just anyone who has sinned. We can see this in the cross references. These cross references I found on Bible Hub when I looked up John 9:31.

One example is the house of Cornelius in Acts 9:11. He was praying to God and he was not a Jew, or a Christian. He was a Roman solider. God sent Peter to him to preach the gospel. Obviously then God does hear the prayers of non Chrsitians who are seeking God.[3]

Cross References
Deuteronomy 1:45
You came back and wept before the LORD, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.

In this one he was not taling to unbelievers, he wasn't talking to people of other faiths who worshiped other God's but the Children of Israel who followed Moses in the wilderness. So they were the believers. Here he's not listening to the prayers of believers. They had not been faithful and  not been faithful. This verse can't be used to say that God doesn't listen to the prayers of non Christians. From a Christian standpoint the Children of Israel were the Christians of heir day so to speak, we Christians are spiritually part of Israel according to Paul.

Job 27:8
For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, when God takes away their life?
That does not say that he doesn't hear their prayers. It's speaking of after they die. So if you die in teh condition of enmity with God and you have repented then you are cut off from God. It's too late to pray anyway.

Job 35:13
Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it.
First of all, he might not listen becuase it's empty. Meaning, they are sincere. They didn't quote the full passage:

12He does not answer when people cry out
    because of the arrogance of the wicked.
13 Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea;
The plea is empty becuase they are prideful and arrogant and they don't seek truth or to seek to change.

Psalm 34:15
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;
That's casting an inference but it's really argument from consequent. We are supposed to think well if God is listening to the righteous then he must not listen to the unrighteous. Not logically proven. It's an informal fallacy. This comes under the heading of my first comment that "hearing" refers to a special relationship. The eyes watching the good that is also a special relationship.It does not mean that God is no attentive to people seeking help or who want truth and want to do what's right, or want to change who realize they are separated from God and repent. The view Bible Hub takes in using this to back the idea that God doesn't' hear sinners is in contradiction to the guy in Job Elihu who is not rebuked, the only non rebuked friend and he is not rebuked specially becuase he says God  punishment on both, good and evil, for different reasons. [4] 

Psalm 66:18
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;
By now it should be obvious how to answer this one; it doesn't pertain to all non Christians, all sinners, but to those who cherish evil, not seeking to change, don't seek the good.

Psalm 145:19
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
Again, just becuase it says he hears one group doesnt' mean he never heards another group.

Proverbs 15:29
The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
 He doesn't have this special relationship with those who seek evil and who do not seek truth and don't care about the good, or about God. In addition to this we are told he does listen to those who seek good, that doesn't' say "to Christians only."
 Grace to You does a good job of explaining, on their page "Does God answer the Prayers of unbelievers?[5]
 Acts 10:2 House of Cornelius. Donald P Ames Truth Magazine good article arguing that God does hear all prayers. We can also look at Paul's message to the Greeks on Mars hill. He didn't tell them "you old Homsexualite Greeks are just a bunch hell bound pagans!" What did he say?
 Acts 17:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

He made us to inhabit the earth that we might find him. He quotes Greek poets saying he is not far from us. In saying they are ignorant of what they worship he's saying they know God, they just don't understand the set up. Why didn't he tell them God doesn't hear their prayers? In Romans he says:

Romans 2:
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

If you are following the moral law upon he heart you are following Jesus even though you may not understand that. To that extent the heart  may excuse them or defend them. they may be justified because they are living up to the light that they have. I'll explore this theme more compeltey in reference to the Church next time.

[1] Richard Ostling, "Does God Hear Prayers from Just Anyone," Get Religion, December 2, (2013)
accessed 1/21/14
[2] Jack Wellman, "Does God Answer the Prayers of The Unsaved or Unbelievers?" What Christians want to Know. May 21, 2011. Blog:
accessed 1/21/14

[3] Donald P. Ames, "Will God Hear the Prayer of  a Non Christian?" Truth Magazine.
accessed 1/21/14

[4] "Interpretations of Elihu in Job," Stack Exchange biblical Hermeneutics,
accessed 1/21/14

[5] No author given,   "Does God answer the Prayers of unbelievers?" Grace to You, Blog
accessed 1/21/14


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Always liked that passage in Acts 17. I'm also thinking of Matthew 8: 5-13, where Jesus healed the Roman Centurion's servant.

Metacrock said...

Yes that'a a good one, and also the centurion's daughter. Those were "heathens" whose "prayers" he listened to. Good point.

Metacrock said...

I love that passage in Acts too.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

People that argue that God doesn't hear the honest and honorable prayers of unbelievers, remind me of the folks who think Jesus was actually named Jesus, and that he spoke in King James English.

I recall the part in Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, in The Last Battle, mentioned here in this Wikipedia article:

"Emeth, who expects Tash to smite unbelievers with heavenly fire, goes searching for Tash in Aslan's Country, but instead meets Aslan. It is revealed that Aslan and Tash are opposites, with each existing as the antithesis to the other. Aslan tells Emeth that 'all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me' and further explains that 'no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him'. He explains that Emeth's pious devotion, because it was rooted in a love of justice and truth, was really to Aslan rather than to Tash, although Emeth had not been aware of this; Emeth finds great happiness in this revelation."

Metacrock said...

Yes I've heard that quoted often and I think it's a great way to put what I'm talking arguing for. That identifies the ideals of truth and justice with God, which is something that drives a lot of CARMathesits up the wall. sorry. Glad you are not up the wall.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Well, they are on CARM after all. ;)

I'm sure most of them read the Bible in the same way as a fundamentalist Christian. Quite ironic.

Metacrock said...

too true. It's so ridiculous over there. both sides.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that so many who use modern translations do so because they believe them to be easier to understand than King James Version and yet believe that those who use King James Version are ignorant. I use KJV, not only because I believe it to be the inspired word of God for English speaking people, but because it is beautifully written. Intelligent people don't read modern translations of Shakespeare's work so it will be easier to understand. They study to understand it as Shakespeare wrote it. If you want to use a modern translation, do so, but don't criticize those who choose the beauty of God's word in the King's English.