Do God listen to the prayers of unbelievers?

DAILY BIBLE READING:

1 Samuel 20:1–21:15 
John 9:1-41 
Psalms 113:1–114:8 
Proverbs 15:15-17

BIBLE VERSE(S) FOR TODAY:

John 9:31 “We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he listens to him.”

REFLECTIONS ON TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):

The verse I have chosen for today may seem like an unusual choice … especially since it is presented as a truth-claim that isn’t true.

Now that I’ve got your attention …

As students of the Bible, there is something very important that we must learn. In seminary, it’s called hermeneutics. In the real world, it’s just the ability to understand the different ways that Scripture is presented (poetry, narrative, apocalyptic, etc.) and how to interpret those various types of literature.

For instance, the book of Proverbs is written as wisdom literature. Along with the wise musings of the writer, it is a compilation of short wisdom nuggets. In this type of literature (genre), we must realize that the truths are presented as general truths, not absolute truths that are true all of the time. It will take wisdom to determine which principle(s) applies. (Just read Proverbs 26:4-5. These verses would clearly contradict each other unless what I have just said is true – that this book of the Bible is filled with general truths and it takes wisdom to know which verse(s) to apply.)

In our verse for today, we understand that it appears not in wisdom literature but in narrative literature. The Gospels are written as stories. So, this type of literature carries it’s own set of rules in how it is to be read and interpreted. 

One of the rules of reading the narrative portions of Scripture is that the words are presented the way they were said. But, the truth claims of the one doing the talking are not necessarily true. We must investigate to determine whether the one speaking actually aligns with the rest of Scripture.

For instance, when Jesus speaks, His words are always true. We don’t have to worry about determining if what He said is true. It is true and is the standard against which all other truth claims must align.

But, what about the man in John 9:31 who made the truth claim about God not hearing the prayers of sinners? The Bible is without error in that it tells us what the man said. But, is what the man said actually true? Realizing the this is written as narrative, we cannot assume that it is true. We must investigate (at which point we realize that the man’s statement was NOT true).

First, we realize that the man wasn’t even a believer in Jesus when he made this claim. He wasn’t saved until verses 35-38. So, he uttered these words when he was an unbeliever. If we use John 9:31 as a proof-text for saying that God doesn’t listen to sinners, then we are appealing to the words of an unbeliever as proof.

Further, we realize that while there are very specific principles that must be complied with if our prayers are to be heard and answered, and while it is true that unbelievers are incapable of complying with some of them, it is also true that our God can do whatever He pleases and sometimes, in His mercy and grace, listens to the prayers of sinners:

God listened to the pagans who threw Jonah overboard:
Jonah 1:14-15 “Therefore they called out to the LORD, ‘O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.”

God listened to the prayer of the sinful tax-collector:
Luke 18:13-14 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other…”

There are a few others instances in Scripture that I could point out but you get the point. There have been times when God, because He is filled with grace and mercy, has listened to the prayer of sinners.

Now, understands that these instances are the exception to the rule. It is only because of God’s grace and mercy that He listens to anyone. And it is only through the blood of Jesus that God can express His love and justice simultaneously by listening to and answering prayers. My point is not who God listens to … but that we need to be very intentional when reading God’s Word. We need to understand what kind of literary style God is using to present His Word to us and then use the necessary literary rules to properly understand what God is saying.

(I may have raised more questions than answers. If you’ve got some questions, you can e-mail me at mattellis1997@gmail.com and I will gladly provide further elaboration on this topic.)

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

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