“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.”John 9:31 NIV
Upon first glance that seems like a pretty definite statement doesn’t it? “We know that God does not listen to sinners.”
I have read an article floating around Facebook recently that asserts basically the same thing. It cites many verses indicating that God hears the prayers of the righteous (and he does.) It gives examples of God’s promises to look out for the righteous (and he does.) And the article gives the impression that if one is “unrighteous” or a “sinner” that God doesn’t/can’t hear those prayers. In fairness to the context of the article, it seems the reason for its writing was to refute the idea that all you have to do to be pleasing to God is say a prayer. I would agree with that last statement, but let’s not argue an accurate point by stating an inaccurate point.
Context matters. The verse quoted above from John’s Gospel is not stated by Jesus or his apostles. It is an assumption on the part of the blind man that Jesus healed Jesus, and he uses that assumption to back his claim that Jesus is working through the power and will of God (which he was.) But that leaves the question, does God hear the prayers of sinners? Let’s look at a few passages.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…”Exodus 3:7-8 NIV
The question is “were the Israelites unrighteous/sinners when God heard them?” That’s a good question. Context seems to indicate that they did not know Yahweh at this point in history because Moses would need to introduce them to their God (Ex. 3:13-15). Also note that the text does not say that Israel cried out to Yahweh, simply that they cried out and Yahweh heard them. What is clear is that God did hear their cries, and it had nothing to do with their righteousness, but rather the mistreatment they were receiving a the hands of the Egyptians.
One day at about three in the afternoon [Cornelius] had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”Acts 10:3-4 NIV
The timeline in the story of Cornelius is very clear. Cornelius worshipped God and prayed to God under what he knew through the Jewish worship practices. It seems clear that Peter’s presentation of the Gospel is the first time Cornelius and his family have heard this (Acts 10:47-48; 15:7-11). Cornelius was not saved by the blood of Jesus because he didn’t know about the blood of Jesus, yet God heard his prayers.
I share these two examples with you so that you think about the question a little, and maybe ask a better question. The Bible nowhere limits what our God can do. He is not limited to work in a certain way, and he is not bound by any rules we place upon him. So to ask the question if God can hear the prayers of sinners is shortsighted. Let’s stick with the question that one of the heavenly visitors asks Abraham:
“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”Genesis 18:14 NRSV
Our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one that brings 90 year old women and 100 year old men supernaturally born children. He’s the God that sends an 80 year old man with a stick to free his people from Egypt. He’s the God that parts the Red Sea. He’s the God that raises the dead. He’s the God that poured out his Spirit at Pentecost. He’s the God that appears to unsaved gentiles and then pours out his Spirit on them too. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and nothing is too wonderful for the LORD!
Of course he can hear the prayers of anyone who cries out to him! And making that statement does not negate what the Scriptures teach about salvation.