I have a friend whose mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer. My friend has an acquaintance who said she would offer prayers for her mother. There is only one problem. The acquaintance is Hindu. She is going to go to the Hindu temple to offer prayers to one of the Hindu gods (there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of them). That fact has my friend perplexed. She thanked the acquaintance for praying for her mom, and then she started pondering:
I was sitting there thinking about prayers that are prayed to a different God…it’s an interesting thought – guess I never really thought about it before. Seems like they are really meaningless…????
If we approach the matter from a biblical perspective, we know that the only way to come to the Father is through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has opened the way for us to come into the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-20). Where does that leave the people who pray to God, but not in Jesus' name, or who pray to some other god but not to the living and true God of the Bible? Are their prayers offered for others wasted? Does God pay attention to what they say?
I thought for a while about the prayers of the Hindu offered on behalf of my friend's mother. Certainly it is a kind gesture when anyone cares about the suffering of others. And we ought always to be thankful when people care enough to share our burdens, especially the burdens we carry for our loved ones. So at the very least my friend can be grateful that her acquaintance cared enough to care at all. That in itself is a lovely thing. We should all be so kind to those around us.
However the prayers she offers are to a pagan god. Sometimes people ask, "Does God hear the prayers of unbelievers?" It depends on what you mean by "hear." Since God is God, he "hears" everything and knows all that happens. He is 100% aware of the prayers of all people, no matter who they are praying to. And he sometimes answers those prayers in the sense that what is being requested, he grants even though the prayer is offered in ignorance to a false god. The Bible says he makes the rain fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). This is what theologians call common grace. God is good even to those who are not in his family. Were it not for common grace, no unbeliever would live another day. |
It helps me to think of it this way. I have three sons and I know their voices. I can be in a very crowded room filled with clamoring voices, but let one of my boys say, “Dad,” and I will stop what I’m doing, turn to them, and talk to them. If they need something, I will do what it takes to help them out. That’s what a father does for his children. My sons have a special claim on me that no one else has. But what about the others in the room, many of them clamoring for my attention? They aren’t my sons so they don’t get the same special attention, but as I am able and willing, I may help them also. Some of them may even be rude to me but I may show kindness to them anyway. Others will ignore me but I may help them out. I am under no obligation (except that which springs from my own kindness) to show favor to those not in my family. But I often do it anyway.
When that Hindu woman prayed, she had no claim on the Father’s attention, but he in his mercy is aware of her prayer and notes the genuine concern she has for my friend's mother. I suppose you can say it this way. God has obligated himself, on the basis of Jesus' blood, to hear and answer the prayers of his children. He cannot turn them away. He doesn’t have the same obligation to everyone in the world, but in his goodness he sometimes answers anyway. This is the kindness of God that is meant to lead us to repentance.