The Bible is such a marvellous book that we who have been studying it for decades still find so much that is surprising and challenging. Because it is one book in 66 volumes from the one source, we know and can demonstrate with utmost conviction, that it contains no contradictions and ambiguities if properly understood. The Bible is the one book in all the world that stands or falls, confuses or enlightens, saves or damns on the mighty foundation of its context. Without a proper understanding and appreciation of this indispensible ingredient of Biblical context the search for truth is as elusive as a man trying to find gold at the end of the rainbow.
The question before us is straightforward and not couched in technical terminology that needs to be deciphered. Does God hear the prayers of sinners or doesn't he? Some believers say yes he does and others say no he does not, so who is right?
For those who say he does not it would appear many scriptures give them support:
"The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that GOD HEARETH NOT SINNERS: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing." (John 9:30-33)
"And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us." (1 Samuel 8:18-19)
"For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? WILL GOD HEAR HIS CRY when trouble cometh upon him?" (Job 27:8-9)
"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. THEN SHALL THEY CALL UPON ME, BUT I WILL NOT ANSWER; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." (Proverbs 1:24-28)
"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, WHEN YE MAKE MANY PRAYERS, I WILL NOT HEAR: your hands are full of blood." (Isaiah 1:15)
"But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that HE WILL NOT HEAR." (Isaiah 59:2)
These and other scriptures are enough to show that the idea of God not hearing sinners have a basis in both the Old and New Testament. It is also clear that the countervailing view that God hears sinners has scriptural foundation as well as we see by the following scriptures.
God heard the prayers of Cornelius a sinner, "He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, THY PRAYERS AND THINE ALMS ARE COME UP FOR A MEMORIAL BEFORE GOD. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter." (Acts 10:3-5)
God heard the plea of blind Bartimaeus a sinner, "And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. AND JESUS STOOD STILL, AND COMMANDED HIM TO BE CALLED. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee." (Mark 10:47-49)
God heard the plea of wicked demons, "So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. AND HE SAID UNTO THEM, GO. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters." (Matthew 8:31-32)
God heard the prayers of the sinful Ninevites, "But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? AND GOD SAW THEIR WORKS, THAT THEY TURNED FROM THEIR EVIL WAY; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; AND HE DID IT NOT." (Jonah 3:8-10)
So here we have evidence that God hears the prayers of wicked people and responds to them in different ways to suit particular circumstances. So how do we square this circle and reconcile what appears conflicting scriptures.
First we should note that there is no conflict or contradiction. What we have here is a perception and not a reality for these apparent contradictions remain so until proper exegesis shows them to be non-existent and the application of genuine Biblical hermeneutics lay those ghosts to rest.
We need to understand that all of us are sinners, even genuine, born-again believers and if God did not answer the prayers of sinners then all human-kind beginning with Adam would be lost. Since we know that some will be saved, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25) "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:13-14) it therefore follows that God hears the prayers of sinners.
Next we need to realize that there is a difference between sinners. All sinners do not stand equal before God not because God is bias and unjust but because sinners take a posture of facing God with the attitude of appropriating his help or backing God in an attitude of derision and disdain. Christians who are redeemed and walking with God are not immune from sin and are the first to confess that they do sin from time to time (therefore they are sinners) but their sins are repugnant to them and they seek God's face in humility asking for forgiveness and mercy and is therefore reconciled to God. The Bible states, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John1:9)
Other sinners, those not walking with God and therefore not in fellowship with him, are not occasional sinners but have adopted a sinful way of life, they luxuriate in sin, they thoughts and every action are driven by sin and they take pleasure in others doing sin. These are the reprobates and blasphemers, the Satanist and degenerates who given the opportunity would gladly destroy the true and living God and to them the Bible states, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2)
Thirdly we need to have a clear understanding of what we mean by God hearing prayers. It would be iniquitous to suggest that the Almighty God who sees and knows all things cannot hear something; even that which is most insulting and derogatory. When the Bible says that God does not hear the prayers of sinners, in nearly every context, it does not mean that he cannot hear their voice or understand what they are saying, it simply means that God will not comply with their request, he will not empower them in their wickedness for to God it is as if they had not spoken.
King David who was a man of God said this, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." (Psalm 66:18) The basis of God hearing prayers has always to do with the compliance of God's will. This understanding holds good for sinner and saint alike and is never set aside. Elijah could pray for a drought and get it because God had said to the Israelites, "Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain..." (Deuteronomy 11:16-17). The Ninevites could turn and ask God for salvation and get it because of God's promise, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7). Sinner or saint whenever prayers are rnade to God it is those that comply with God's will that really count.
Lastly we should pay special attention to the privileged position of believers. When we are saved we enter a new and blessed relationship with God on the basis of sonship. Every parent knows how to treat their children and no matter how kind and hospitable you are to strangers you never treat them on equal terms with your children. This is the same with God but even to a greater extent. Here is how Peter sees it, "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." (1 Peter 3:12) God is actively listening, eagerly awaiting to hear the voice of his children and even before we can ask he already has answered. Believers should know by now that they are truly blessed.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013