We are all sinners by nature (Romans 3:23). However, when confronted with troubles, we tend to think about why God seems to ignore our prayers and favor others. Aren’t happy, successful people also sinners?
This is not an uncommon thought. Even God’s people in the Bible questioned this. David, a devout man after God’s own heart, similarly begged in Psalm 13:1, “How long, O Lord?” The Prophet Habakkuk also cried out, “Lord, how long will I call for aid, and you will not hear? Or shout ‘violence!’ to you, but you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2).
Why do we sometimes perceive God’s silence? Does God turn a deaf ear to a sinner’s prayer? Does He like playing tricks on us? Does God hear a sinners prayer? Or does God have other motives and more significant goals that we do not know about?
Does God Hear A Sinner’s Prayer?
Numerous instances in the Scripture state that God does not hear sinners (Psalms 34:15–16; 66:18; Proverbs 28:9; John 9:31; and 1 Peter 3:12). However, this assertion is subject to certain conditions. While there are numerous instances of God’s refusal to hear sinners, countless verses prove God listens to sinners’ prayers (Acts 8:22–23; 9:10–11; 10:4, 31; 1 John 1:9). Thus, it is erroneous to assert that God never hears all the prayers of sinners.
Since God is omniscient, He hears everything, including every unbeliever’s or sinner’s plea. In addition to hearing the prayers of unbelievers, the Bible provides several examples of God’s responses to their requests.
In the book of Jonah, the inhabitants of Nineveh serve as exemplary Old Testament examples. God told Jonah to proclaim that the city would be annihilated in forty days. When he did, the entire city of Nineveh prayed in repentance and pleaded with God to spare them (Jonah 3:5–10). Jonah was not happy about this.
The New Testament describes a Roman centurion named Cornelius who prayed to the God of the Jews, specifically in Acts 10. God responded to this by sending Peter to Cornelius and others in his household to proclaim the gospel of salvation.
According to John 9:31, “God does not hear sinners.” However, God pointed out His only exception: the only prayers He hears are those asking for salvation.
What Does The Word “Hear” Mean?
Omniscient and omnipotent, God “hears” everything that goes on in the universe. Psalms 139:4 says, “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” Additionally, Hebrews 4:13 says, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” These verses and many others clearly state God hears every word and deed spoken or done by anybody, whether a sinner or a saint!
Meanwhile, God “will not hear” (i.e., refuse to react to) a sinner’s prayer if “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” (Is. 59:1–2). In this instance, God makes it evident that He will not answer the petition of a sinner.
These were not “alien” sinners but those of the Jews, God’s people! Then, why would God ignore the prayers of His own people? The answer is in Isaiah 59:3–4. “For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue has muttered perversity.” No one calls for justice, nor does anyone plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.
Because of their disobedience, God “will not hear” these people. They were murderers, liars, con artists, and all-around bad guys! As a result, saying that God will not listen to a rebel is a more accurate description.
What Does The Word “Sinner” Mean?
For a more precise grasp of this problem, we need to consider what we mean when we say “sinner.” All of us are sinners, according to Romans 3:23. Some people would immediately argue, “But God does hear sinners. God cares about his children!”
Sinners are those who disobey God’s commandments and laws. These are in stark contrast to those who are rebellious but are seeking forgiveness. Even though they’re still sinners, they actively search for God and obey His commandments.
While it’s true that we are all sinners, there are various “kinds” of sinners: those who belong to God yet occasionally slip into sin (1 John 1:7-9) and those who reject the will of God. There are also “alien” sinners, or those who have never known God (Ep. 2:11–12), and rebellious saints (Hb. 6:4–6).
By now, it should be evident that the question of whether or not God hears our prayers has nothing to do with whether or not we are “alien sinners” or “children of God.” Instead, how one feels about God is at the heart of the problem.
If you live in disobedience, God “will not hear” you. And this is the case regardless of whether they are a foreign sinner or a child of God! However, if someone is praying to God in good faith, God will likely answer their request.
Does God Respond To A Sinner’s Prayer?
How do we tell if God does not listen to a sinner’s prayer? In Acts 10, the apostle Peter was directed to meet with the righteous Roman centurion Cornelius. Cornelius “prayed to God regularly,” according to Acts 10:2.
By observing Cornelius’ prayers, we can see that God answered even the most desperate cries for rescue, restoration, salvation, and communion with Him.
In addition to Cornelius, three outstanding examples show that God responded to prayers and forgave the darkest sins. One is the repentance of Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul), and the other is King Manasseh. Both were notorious for brutally slaughtering innocents (I Timothy 1:12–16; II Chronicles 33:1–16). God also heard the cry of the Gentile woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon as Jesus Christ cast the demon out of the woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24–30).
We should never believe that our sins are too great for God to redeem. If they can be saved, so can we. On the other hand, whether God hears the prayers of unbelievers—those desperate to escape the physical consequences of their sins, who seek material blessings without spiritual commitment, who are willing to serve the Lord only after their will is first satisfied (Luke 9:57–622)—is unlikely. You can’t expect God to positively respond to these kinds of people.
They offer many prayers, promising God they will repent if they are blessed with a new job, a larger home, or deliverance from temporary difficulties. According to the Bible, God does not hear prayers like that. Proverbs 28:9 states, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
On the other hand, God answers prayers that align with His will because the Bible says so in 1 John 5:14–15. Maybe even non-believers can benefit from this philosophy. There is nothing that God cannot do.
God does give universal promises, such as “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). For Cornelius (Acts 10:1–6), this was the situation. But numerous assurances are reserved only for Christians.
As a Christian, when you encounter a problem, you should not be afraid to seek help from the throne of grace since you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior (Hebrews 4:14–16).
Although much of the Bible’s teaching on prayer is directed at Christians, God hears everyone’s prayers, rewards those who earnestly seek Him, and encourages Christians to pray to Him without fear. He says He will listen and then act on your behalf.