Does God hear the prayers of non-believers? They understand that God will hear the prayer of repentant prayer like “forgive me of my sins” but does he hear unbelievers prayer in other situations like a mom praying for a kid if she’s a non-believer?
When we de-personalize God, then that becomes a hard question. He’s almost like a computer program or a safe and if you get the right combination, it opens and before that you’re shut out. I understand there are passages that say that God is not going to respond to the prayer of the sinner but you know these are usually circumstantial statements. They’re not across-the-board statements that before you get in a right relationship with God through repentance and faith and reconcile with him, he doesn’t hear your prayers. I could ask the question “Did Judas have Jesus ever respond positively to anything he ever said?” “Did Judas ever make a request of Christ that Jesus positively responded to?” Of course. I can imagine he did in three years. He’s lost, he’s the son of perdition, he’s not going to be saved, you won’t see him in heaven and yet here was Jesus the God-man responding to him I’m sure in several instances in a very affirmative way.
Obviously we have a special relationship with the God of the universe. We’re reconciled in Christ, we have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, we’re seen differently, we have a mediator, we have that relationship that non-Christians don’t have. The way I like to illustrate this when I get the question is it’s a lot like my dad hearing the requests of the neighbor kids when I was growing up. Of course he heard those requests. Did he sometimes answer those requests? I suppose yes, there were times. “Can I have a soda?” “Okay.” But he had a different relationship with me. I was his flesh and blood, I was his son so my requests were received differently. God, as a person, does he have the same responsiveness to non Christian’s prayers as he does to ours? Of course not. But I don’t want to see God as some kind of computer algorithm. You got to get the right code or sequence and then you get access to him. There are certain aspects that are like that in terms of eternal life and the rest but you know God is a person and he certainly responds to several people in the foxhole who cry out to God and they’re in the battlefield or in the midst of a hospital situation and surely God has responded.
Let me put it this way too. Everything that someone asks that’s good, when that good thing happens, every good and perfect gift is from God. So there’s nothing good happening in the world that God is not endowing to his creatures and sometimes when people ask and those things happen we would say yes, God is the giver of those things. You can see there’s a bit of a nuanced answer there because it’s not as cut and dry as people like to somehow sometimes frame it.
Do you think it comes from a misunderstanding of what prayer is generally, thinking how much we really affect God with our prayers in what we do and what we change in our prayers, thinking that maybe a non-believer can do that? Maybe they’re scared that that happens. Is it just a misunderstanding there?
When we look at James, “the fervent prayer or the effectual prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.” There’s something different about the Christian praying and the idea of a non-Christian not having that. But I think I’m even wanting to define prayer even more simply. If prayer is speaking to God, you can say he’s not reconciled so he can’t speak to God. Well, Satan is not reconciled but he comes in Job 1 before the Lord and there’s a discussion that takes place so God hears non-Christians. The question is how does he respond to those non-Christians and I would say mercifully many times, positively many times. I look at Romans 2:4 that says it’s the kindness of the Lord that wants to prompt people to repentance. So you know God is kind, he’s loving, he’s merciful. I would say he often has responded positively to non-Christians praying but there are times when I think some of the statements of the Old Testament come into play where there’s an impenitent heart, a hard heart, an evil man and God says he knows them from afar. God is not real attentive to those that are rebellious and and thumbing their nose at God.
Because the essence of prayer in Matthew 6 is to pray for God’s will God “Your kingdom come, your will be done” and so those are the ones that he wants to respond to. I can even see your point in God’s kindness of not answering and not giving what people ask for because we ask for things all the time that are not really in line with his perfect will and he doesn’t give this to us. We look back and think “God, thank you so much.” It’s all based on the relationship and I think that’s a very helpful point when you understand relationally what it means to be like.
One more passage just came to mind. I think of the Sermon on the Mount where he says he causes his rains to come on the fields of the evil and the good and how many farmers are praying for rain in the first century world or even today? Almost all of them. Anybody who’s a God-fearing person or a theist or whatever they may be, they may not be reconciled to God through Christ but when they pray for those rains, God sends those rains. Is it an immediate response to the prayer? That’s debatable but the good thing comes from God and I would say often times, we see God responding as he probably did to Judas. In Acts 14 Paul says God gives you rains in those seasons. That’s evidence that he’s good to you and the kindness of the Lord should lead those people to repentance, which it doesn’t for many.