Q: Dear Pastor,
What happens when atheists start praying to God?
A: I would imagine this happens all the time. Our precious war-veterans coined a phrase: “There are no atheists in a fox-hole.” This is what they mean: “Everybody prays when its life or death.” While I’m sure there are stone-cold, spiritually-void people who would reject the savior through to their last breath (I’ve met a few), most people do the bulk of their praying when it’s urgent. Emergencies, crises, unplanned disasters and especially near-death experiences tend to compel people to embrace the spiritual realm and start begging a God they never met.
God, in his infinite mercy hears every cry, regardless of who’s doing the bleating. The Almighty put his own words in the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name” (Isaiah 65:1, NASB). The remainder of that chapter explains to us how God makes himself available to everyone; even the hardened rebel, the evil-minded and lost. Truth be told, there are many times God’s people behave like heathens, think like the devil and operate on religious agendas wrought in hell. If God were deaf to the cries of the sinner... let alone the atheist... no prayers would ever make it past heaven’s front desk. Rest assured, God is listening.
God’s mercy is eternal and non-partisan. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap between our moments of indiscretion or flat-out unbelief, and the good times when we draw near to God and he slides easily into our atmosphere as the rescuing savior; answering prayers. I’ve often clung to a verse, also found in that same glorious chapter: “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 25:64). I find it reassuring that God knows what’s going on with me every second. My prayers are anticipated and well-received. Indeed, he knows our thoughts and our needs. Yet like a mother bird will coax her young out of the nest when it’s time for flight, God asks us to grow in our faith, trust in things not seen and believe he is good even when it doesn’t feel like it.
What’s interesting is that the rare examples in the Bible where God ignored people’s prayers (only for a season) occur in the religious camp. God hates religion since he is spirit and void of all bullying dogma. Jesus, if you study his life, came to earth to blow up the religious system and usher in a new kingdom based on relationship with God, not religion’s checklist. They of course killed him for it. Here’s what Father God said about religion when it lacks the relational, spiritual side: “Bring your worthless offerings no longer; incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:13-15).
The Christian God has the final say in everything. He is the most-high-God, according to the holy scriptures; his authority rules above every court, judge and jury. Prayers are heard by him and considered on a case-by-case basis and he alone decides both how to answer and when. As we read the Bible with an open mind and heart, it doesn’t take long to sense God’s attitude toward human beings. He loves all people. And he loves when we pray.
Adrienne Greene pastors two Christian churches in southeastern Indiana. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, Ohio 45030.