Thursday, May 12, 2005

Does God answer the prayers of sinners?

My brother Jared Coleman has started a mini-storm with his question, "Does God answer the prayers of sinners?" You can check out the commentary volleyball over here.

One commenter, David Scarpino, started his volley by saying, " I see no evidence that God listens or answers the prayers of the unrighteous..." and uses verses from Proverbs, Job, Psalms, and Isaiah to basically show God as saying, "If you're sinnin', I ain't listenin'." (These were the kinds of verses, by the way, that used to make me run from church, and Christians, in hopeless despair. You see, I already knew what I was - a hopeless, helpless sinner. And as such, I had been given scriptural proof that God would never, ever listen to a poor sinful schmuck like me.)

My friend [rhymes with kerouac] commented on Jared's blog: It just seems to me that the verses Mr. Scarpino quote refer to the long term, unrepentant sinner who has purposefully and willfully turned their back from God - and consciously chosen to act in defiance of Him.

Now I respect [rhymes] a great deal - and usually, I'd agree with what he writes. (To be fair, he goes on to point out that Jared and Mr. Scarpino are talking about two different things.)

And I'd even support the Scripture-slinging of Mr. Scarpino and others over there - except that so much of it flies exactly in the face of my personal experience.

You see, I drank in an alcoholic fashion from age 11 until nearly 34; I walked away from church, and belief in much of anything, for over half my life, from age 17 until nearly 34. In my former life, I have done things I couldn't bring myself to mention to a priest in confession. In every way imaginable, I fit the definition of someone who "willfully turned their back from God - and consciously chosen to act in defiance of Him."

In fact, I was consciously considering suicide - actually planning it - when I prayed that last desperate prayer: "God, help me!"

The events of the next 2 hours of that morning in December, 1990 led me to sobriety, and eventually back to faith. I won't bore you with the details (well, that's a lie; I've already bored readers of this blog repeatedly with that tale...), but the story of that morning was a series of events that even the Infinite Improbability Drive couldn't have conjured, without the considerable and loving involvement of a very-much-Higher Power.

You can sling Scriptural proof-texts around all you want; but you'll never, ever, ever convinced me that I'd repented of my sin on that December morning. (I got tired of the consequences, to be sure, but I didn't truly "repent" of my sin for weeks afterwards. I didn't "climb out of the hole," that morning, so much as I "simply quit digging." I think there's a big difference between "cease-fire" and "putting down the rifle.")

However, you will also never convince me that God didn't answer my prayer that morning. Fourteen-plus years of continuous sobriety, and blessings beyond my imaginings, indicate otherwise.

If I had to "become righteous" or "holy" before God heard my prayers, my light would have been snuffed out years ago. I believe that the fact that I am still drawing breath, and giving thanks to God for it, either affirms God's unending mercy or denies God's justice. Take your pick.

I'm glad the folks are having fun volleying back and forth over at Jared's. For me, however, the fact that I spent this day sober and reasonably non-toxic to my fellow human beings is testimony and proof positive that God answers my two simplest daily prayers: "Help me today," and "Thank You for doing so, even when You had every right and excuse not to do so."

In my own game of life, it seems that God always bats last. Perhaps the Ultimate Clean-Up Hitter?...


Michael Dodd said...

I could be wrong, but if God doesn't listen to the prayers of sinners, whose prayers are left? I haven't had a chance to check out the entire conversation you linked, but I assume someone has mentioned Luke18:9-14 (Pharisee and Publican), and noted that Jesus says, the publican "went home justified, not the [Pharisee]; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Note that Jesus did not say the publican arrived in the Temple justified, but that he went home justified. God heard and answered his prayer. The Pharisee's prayer was just a litany of praise about himself, cloaked as gratitude to God. The only answer God could give to that, I imagine, was, "Good for you. Try it on your own tomorrow, and then come back and we'll talk."

Proof texts are an oxymoron. They prove nothing. They do reveal another layer of the mystery which is God's merciful love which calls us to transformation in Christ.

New Life said...

Yes, I saw Jred's post. I thought it was a bit silly (not Jared) the notion that GOd doesn't hear the prayers of sinners. That is horseshit... complete horseshit.

Okay, God doen't hear my prayer because I said horseshit or does God not hear my prayer because I have NOT horshit to stop folks from starving to death; haven't done shit to stop the spread of AIDS; of health insurance for the poor children.

Sin? I hope God hears the prayers of the unrepentant sinner. Repent means "to turn away from". I haven't done much to "turn away from" the injustice against humanity that surrounds me on daily basis. I sit by and worry about whether GOd hears your prayer because you said, "horseshit" on a blog. That is why I say I don't have the guts to follow Jesus and settle for being a CHristian instead.

I love you bro!

APN said...

Dang. Damien already said was I was thinking -- we're all sinners. All have sinned, all do sin, all will sin. Jesus died to forgive me and the world of committing those sins. Thus, God hears prayers -- everyone's prayers, not just Christians, whether "living for God" or "back-slidden."

CS Lewis refers to this in The Last Battle with the Calormene (and Tash-worshipper) named Emeth. When questioned by Emeth and the children as to why he was able to get through the door as Narnia died, Aslan responds with this, "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done for me. ... For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. ... Unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly."

God hears our prayers. He's God -- our creator and our father. How many of you Dads out there would intentionally NOT hear your kids when they ask for stuff, no matter how bad they might have been? (Matthew 7:9-11) To say that God doesn't hear us makes for a pretty trite, prideful, and small God. God hears our prayers when we obey and when we don't, when we're praying on purpose and when we're not sure who we're really talking to.

Anonymous said...

Here's how this whole mess least, here's what I think might have happened....

*Some* of the texts Mr. Scarpino brought into play referred to the nation of Israel coming under the judgement of God for it's willful departure from him - to worship other gods. If the purpose of such judgement (in the form of the Assyrian or the Babylonian armies occupying Israel, for instance)was to ultimately bring His people back to dependence on Him alone....well then, it was necessary for Him to close His ears to their prayers until the time of His judgement was complete.

That's how I think some of the OT texts Mr. Scarpino quoted about God closing His ears to the prayers of sinners are to be understood.

Mr. Scarpino, however, then extrapolated from those texts to state that God does not hear the prayers of unrepentant sinners of all kinds in all situations, a blanket generalization that is not necessarily validated by those texts. I bought into his assumption also and it's taken some further reflection on my part to realize the the error of my ways. Unfortunately, a retraction of my original response isn't possible.

I spoke without fully thinking my position through, something I am oft wont to do. I feel awful at the prospect that I might have been responsible for disagreement arising among the body of Christ, and am very, very leery of saying anything more - there's no way of telling where cyberspace ends and people's hearts, minds and lives begin.

Erin said...

No disagreement from me.

Jesus, God incarnate, listened to sinners constantly and consistently. Healed, etc. in response to a request from sinners. Dialogue with God-incarnate seems like prayer to me.

And Rhymes... never regret starting a discussion that caused others to think more deeply about their relationship with Christ.

Anonymous said...

Great comment, wilsonian.

David U said...

Steve, I am right with you brother!
I hope you heard my "AMEN" all the way from Arkansas! :)

The Shepherd knows the voice of His sheep........especially the ones He wants to bring back in the fold.

"What can separate us from the love of God?" Paul

Anonymous said...

I don't think g/God listens to anyone's prayers. If he does, the answers s/he gives out seem to be completely random, as if s/he's put a hand over his/her eyes and simply pointed down to earth and said, 'okay, that one! we'll answer that one today.' Why should my prayers be answered when another's are not? I am a sinner. I am a seeker. I'm just another human who's trying to figure it all out - JUST AS WE ALL ARE. Why aren't we all worthy of grace?