Question:

I am writing, after reading your article, wondering your understanding of the Scriptures that point to God willing not to hear because of sins or God not hearing a sinner’s prayer, or even yet, God hears open to the prayers of the righteous? From those Scriptures I arrive at the following conclusion:

  • God is aware of the sinners' prayers, but choose not to hear them
  • God ears are open to the righteous
  • But, Corneilus was able to pray (being an alien sinner) and his prayer was heard

Therefore, in situations where a sinner is seeking salvation, they can pray to God for someone to show them what they must believe and do. Otherwise, this Scripture doesn’t set precendce, but rather was a special occasion for a special event (bring the Gentiles into the fold). I have understood thus far that prayer is about your relationship with God (sinner or saint) What is your conclusion on the matter?


Answer:

I assume you are referring to "Does God respond to the prayers of the alien sinner?"

What is missing is a lack of distinction between a person actively engaging in sin and a person seeking forgiveness of his sins. A person who has sinned and is not yet forgiven is a sinner in one sense of the word. But generally the Bible talks of sinners as people who are actively engaging in sin. God doesn't hear the prayers of those involved in sin. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalms 66:18). In the passage commonly cited:

"Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken lies, Your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity. They hatch vipers' eggs and weave the spider's web; He who eats of their eggs dies, And from that which is crushed a viper breaks out. Their webs will not become garments, Nor will they cover themselves with their works; Their works are works of iniquity, And the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace. Therefore justice is far from us, Nor does righteousness overtake us; We look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness!" (Isaiah 59:1-9).

The answer to why God was not listening was because the people were engaged in sins. It is the same warning James gave:

"You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:2-4).

Cornelius' case is different. While he sinned like all men, he is not described as a sinner. "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:1-2). Though he still needed to be saved from his sins, it was because of his devotion that God heard his prayers. The angel told Cornelius, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4). Those prayers did not save Cornelius. They did not change the fact that Cornelius needed saving from his sins, but because Cornelius want to do what was right and tried, God helped him find the way to salvation. Cornelius did as James would later advise:

"Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:7-10).

When a person seeks out God, the Lord can be found. To expect answers from God when we are not concerned about following God isn't sensible. But when a person seeks God, He will point the sinner to the way of righteousness. Even in Cornelius' case, God did not directly tell Cornelius what he had to do to be saved. He told him where to find the answer. Even today, I believe God answers the prayers of those seeking Him. The answers may come in the form of access to a Bible or just "happening" to run across a Christian who is able to teach that person the truth. The person still must respond, but I don't think God ignores all but those who have already been saved from their sins. The case of Cornelius shows us that.