Does God listen to pagans when they pray?

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May 2021

I’ll answer the question in the title right away: Yes. God listens to pagans when they pray.

And, well, duh. Of course he listens to them! He listens to everyone. He knows what everyone’s saying, what everyone’s thinking, and whether what we’re saying and what we’re thinking line up. (And when they aren’t, he knows we’re being hypocrites.)

He knows what our needs are; he hears us express ’em to him; he knows whether we’re sincere. True of everybody. Not just Christians.

Why’s this even a question? Because of course there are Christians who claim he doesn’t. Only we get access to the Almighty; only true believers.

(And maybe Jews… depending on whether they like Jews. If they like Jews, they always manage to find an exception to the “no pagans” rule; they’re God’s chosen people so he has to listen to them, doesn’t he? And if they’re antisemites, either Jews are simply another type of pagan he dismisses; or God’s rejected the Jews ’cause of the sins antisemites claim are unique to Jews, so he can’t abide them. Nope, these views aren’t based on reasoned-out theology. They’re always, always based on personal biases. Notice how often antisemites also figure God won’t listen to Roman Catholics, Muslims, or anybody they hate.)

Okay. Where do the Christians who claim God ignores pagans and sinners, get their ideas? Well, bible.

Isaiah 1.15 KJV
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Micah 3.4 KJV
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.

Okay. When you read these verses in proper context, both Isaiah and Micah were referring to people who should already be in conversation with God, but for whatever reason—they don’t believe in him, they don’t care to follow his commands, hot pagan sex—they’ve chosen sin. And when they suffer the consequences of those sins, God’s gonna let ’em. He warned them; he just had his prophets warn them; they’re not listening, so when they ultimately need his help, he won’t be listening.

No, it doesn’t sound very gracious of God, which is why a number of Christians who like to preach grace, like to skip these verses altogether. Or pretend they don’t exist; or pretend they can’t possibly mean what they mean; or straight-up say the prophets were wrong. I don’t care to go there: I believe the prophets are accurately relaying what God told ’em. God has infinite grace, and offers us infinite chances. But he also sets deadlines, and if we resist his grace all the way up to the deadline and beyond, he’s gotta follow through with his entirely fair judgments. And when they beg him to not follow through… what’s he gonna do, cave in like the parents of a spoiled child, and let people go right back to doing evil? Nope. He’s gotta ignore their shrieks of indignation, and stop the evil.

That’s what the verses mean when they state God sometimes won’t hear people.

The rest of the time, of course he will.

Psalm 145.18-19 KWL
18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. 19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
Romans 10.12-13 KWL
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

If God didn’t heed the prayers of pagans, it’d be impossible for pagans to call upon him to save them! Even the most hardcore cases of people who claim “God doesn’t hear pagans” have to admit this is so. And they do. It’s just they claim every other prayer these pagans make, every other thing they request, God ignores… ’cause he’s waiting for the sinner’s prayer, and only after he hears that will he move his hand.

But nope, God hears pagans when they pray. Even if their prayers are weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, or evil. Same as our prayers, when we get weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, and evil. God hears everyone.

Hearing versus answering.

Part of the problematic idea God doesn’t hear pagans, is the problematic way we talk about prayer. Too many Christians don’t describe it as talking with God, which is all it really is. They try to make it sound more Christian. Throw a lot of Christianese lingo on it. Make it sound extra-holy and sacred. Shout, and pray in tongues, and use a lot of bible quotes and metaphors and poetry, because we somehow got the idea it’s okay to get weird when we’re addressing God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care for our melodrama; all he wants to do is talk. Maybe help out a bit.

So when Christians talk about God hearing our prayers, sometimes we don’t just mean to perceive the sounds we’re making as we talk to him about stuff. Usually we mean God answering our prayers—fulfilling our requests especially.

Hence when certain Christians claim, “God doesn’t listen to pagans,” what they more accurately mean is God doesn’t answer pagans’ prayers.

Which is an idea that’s also easily debunked.

Acts 10.1-4 KJV
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Yeah, people will argue Cornelius wasn’t pagan, ’cause he was a devout worshiper of God. But he was. He didn’t worship the Greco-Roman gods, but the LORD, which is most definitely a step in the right direction. But he wasn’t a convert to Pharisaism; Jews still called him uncircumcised, Ac 11.3 which was one of their requirements for conversion. He’d follow the LORD only to a point, and otherwise do what he felt was best—which is exactly what makes any “Christian” actually pagan.

But God is gracious, and sent Cornelius an angel to set him straight by having him get and listen to Simon Peter. And as the angel pointed out, God was not unfamiliar with Cornelius’s prayers. True, some naysayers point out the angel didn’t say “God’s been hearing your prayers,” but αἱ προσευχαί σουἀνέβησαν εἰς μνημόσυνον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ/e prosevhé su… anévisan eis nimósynon émprosthen tu Theú, “Your prayers… go up to a memorial before God.” As if he’s noticed them, but not heard them. It’s ridiculous nitpicking, and creates an equally ridiculous scenario where God’s telling himself, “Y’know, because he’s pagan, I’m not gonna listen to him. But since he seems so earnest, I’ll send an angel his way.” It makes God sound petty; really it’s the fact the interpreters are petty, and projecting their bad attitudes upon God.

God rewards those who earnestly seek him, He 11.6 Christian or pagan. If they’re making an effort, same as any Christian who makes an effort, God meets ’em where they are, and tries to bring them along even further. He’s trying to save them too. Jesus died for their sins same as ours, 1Jn 2.2 and there’s nothing but their own resistance getting in God’s way. So if they’re making any small, pathetic efforts in his direction, of course he’s gonna try to encourage more of that. He’s gracious, not petty.

So yes, he hears pagan prayers. And yes, he even answers pagan prayers. Not just the sinner’s prayer; if a pagan asks to be cured of some illness, God’s definitely been known to cure pagans. Many a Christian chaplain can tell you of pagans who’ve asked them to pray for stuff, and many chaplains can tell you God’s granted stuff—and no, that’s not because God listens to the chaplain and not the pagan.

It’s because, as usual, sometimes our will syncs up with God’s, so he grants those requests. And of course sometimes it doesn’t sync at all, and even Christians get such requests refused.

James 4.3 KJV
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When pagans make selfless requests of God, same as we Christians should be making selfless requests of God, it stands to reason God is likely to respond positively to them. Hence sometimes pagans get what they ask for, and Christians don’t. God knows best.

And yeah, some of those pagan prayers definitely won’t work for us. Like when they’re throwing wishes out into the universe, hoping some cosmic law of attraction will give them what they want. We wouldn’t care to honor such poorly-expressed “prayers”; we’d want to straighten the pagans out first, and explain there’s a lot more humility involved. But y’know, when the LORD answers such requests anyway, we’ve got to remember he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to bring them along, gently and kindly; certainly more kindly than we can be. No, pagans don’t rightly understand how God works. But isn’t this just as true of so many of us Christians?

So if pagans wanna pray, let’s encourage the practice. Let’s point them to way better prayer resources than the usual mumbo-jumbo they find in the spirituality section of the bookstores. Let’s encourage them to talk with God, and try to hear him, and confirm it really is him before acting upon what we think we’ve heard him say.

And don’t be surprised when God uses their newly-evolving prayer life to point ’em to Jesus.