Dave Ruffino posted a good comment to the recent thread on “Stopping Abductions with Prayer.” For those who haven’t been following the comments, here’s the part of Dave’s post I want to focus on:

The one thing that I really wanted to touch upon though is what some of the researchers said about the name of Yeshua not working for some people. True that maybe this is allowed to happen for some purpose that only Yahweh knows but here is something else. We have to discover who the victim considers Yeshua to be. I will explain further. I had one case where a woman called me for counseling and said that she had called on Yeshua’s name a few times with no result. After talking with her a while she revealed to me that she believed in the New Age Jesus, or just a being who once came to earth with the “Christ Consciousness” and who was on the same par as Buddha, Mohammed and other renown philosophers. When she called on Yeshua, she was calling on that personage. Basically, she was calling on one satanic force to rescue her from the aliens (another satanic force). Might as well have called on Bill Clinton or Howdy Doody because the results would have been the same. We have to wonder, and it is pretty well set in my mind, that if, let’s say that a Muslim called on Yeshua it might not work because he only sees Yeshua as one of many great prophets, and not the Son of God, or God Himself. It is also possible that a Mormon wouldn’t be able to afford the help because they have a warped (by Biblical standards) sense of who Yeshua really is, seeing that they believe that Yeshua and Satan are brothers. This idea can be used with all other religions, and especially if they don’t recognize Yeshua as being Yahweh!

I’ve read the paragraph a couple times now, closely. It appears to me that I could boil this down to “If you are not a Bible-believing Christian, it is useless to invoke the name of Jesus for deliverance in an abduction experience.” Mind you, Dave may not believe this as I’ve summarized it, which is why I want to bring it up for readers. In what follows, I am assuming that Dave might also go beyond the abduction experience in this regard — that is, he might believe it is useless for unbelievers (non-Christians) to invoke the name of Jesus for deliverance in ANY regard – that is, God doesn’t answer the prayers of non-Christians. If I need correcting there, Dave will do so in comments. But I’d like to pursue this issue. I used to believe this. What changed my mind? The Bible.

Now, for sure there are passages that speak to the issue of God not hearing the prayers of the wicked (who would not be a believer). See for example, John 9:31; Prov. 28:9. While it is true that, in biblical theology, someone who is not a believer is “lost” as a sinner (and all humans are described as such) and alienated from God (Rom. 3:10; Rom. 3:12; Rom. 3:23; Col. 1:21-22; Eph. 2:19), and that “the wrath of God remains on the unbeliever” (John 3:36), the Bible DOES make a distinction between unbelievers in general and God-fearing unbelievers — unbelievers who are seeking God in a way that God honors, who are not thumbing their nose at God, so to speak. The best example is Cornelius.

The basic question of whether God answers the prayer of an unbeliever appears to be answered affirmatively in Acts 10, with Cornelius. Cornelius is described as a God-fearing man. More precisely, Cornelius was a God-fearing pagan Gentile, not a Jew – the whole point of Acts 10 in the book of Acts is to show the gospel spreading FROM Jews TO pagans / Gentiles.1 This is not a contradiction, since MANY pagans were monotheists in the ancient world. The best scholarly study on this is Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity in case anyone’s interested. The biblical text of Acts 10 tells us that this man, who did not worship the God of Moses according to the laws God had laid out for the Jews — the truth of how to approach God in biblical theology — was still “God fearing.” He was, to use today’s parlance, “seeking God as he understood him.” Or maybe we’d say “his heart was in the right place, though his theology left a lot to be desired.” But God saw his seeking heart and heard his prayers BEFORE he was a Christian. Cornelius was NOT a believer in Jesus, since the whole point of Acts 10 is to tell us how he became a follower of Jesus the Messiah, setting off a wave of evangelism to the Gentiles.

Now, someone could argue, “Well, God only heard and answered Cornelius because he was asking God how to go to heaven” or something like that. This argument has two problems. First, the biblical text never actually tells us the content of Cornelius’ prayer, so the argument is based on nothing; it’s an argument from silence (or speculation). Second, even if the argument is on the right track and Cornelius WAS seeking to know the true God and the way of salvation, then what do we have? We have a man who was seeking truth, imperfectly or with a certain amount (maybe a great amount) of theological ineptitude. God didn’t seem to mind.

This is an important point for the “New Age Jesus” crowd. The New Age Jesus is certainly not the Jesus of the New Testament. Reading the material of both views will tell you that pretty quickly. But can God look at the heart of someone whose theology about Jesus is incorrect, or even a mess, and still answer their prayer? I think Cornelius would say “of course; been there, done that, got the toga.” Now, someone could say, “Well, God might answer the prayer of someone seeking him” – after all Hebrews 11:6 says seeking in faith is what God wants – “but he won’t answer the prayer of an unbeliever in other cases, like abductions. The seeker of salvation will get their prayer answered but that’s the only exception.” We’ve already seen that we actually don’t know that Cornelius was praying for. But let’s put him in the seeker box and address this related question: Does God hear the prayer of a non-Christian in some other circumstance besides seeking salvation?

I would suggest that there is evidence for the idea that a non-Christian can pray a prayer that is not STRICTLY the “prayer of salvation / repentance.” The key seems to be that the non-Christian is one who respects God, as opposed to being in open rebellion against God. John 9:31 (cited above) gives us this insight: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” Psalm 145:19 gives the same general principle. Here’s the point: If a non-believer / non-Christian is trying to know God in sincerity, God takes notice and, in his will and at his discretion, can respond to that person. Here are some interesting passages that, while not as explicit as the case of the God-fearing pagan Cornelius, still point in the same direction:

2 Chron. 6:32-33 (Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication): 32 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, 33 hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

Gen 30:25 As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” 27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.

The first example is pretty straightforward. Solomon, at the height of his walk with Yahweh, prays that Yahweh will hear and answer when foreigners who come to visit the temple (now there’s something odd – Gentiles in or near the temple) out of reverence for the name of Yahweh and offer prayer to him. There seem to be no other theological preconditions except reverence for the God of Israel. And Solomon doesn’t restrict the prayer to one of repentance or “becoming an Israelite” – he asks Yahweh to answer “according to all” the stranger asks. Pretty wide latitude for the prayer request! Now, we could be cynical and say God rolled his eyes at this request and Solomon was wrong to pray this, but then we’d be judging the passage by our own assumptions and silence of the text — hardly a sound hermeneutic.

The second passage is interesting because Yahweh answers the divinatory request of Laban, hardly a shining example of a God seeker. The word for “divination” here is, incidentally, also occurs in Deut. 18:9-14 (cf. vv. 10, 14). I’ve recently written an article on how it is that followers of Yahweh at times use the same divination techniques condemned in Deut 18 (but that’s off track here). At any rate, God answers Laban’s request and gives him information only he and Jacob knew, since God had spoken to Jacob about blessing him and his herds. It was really Yahweh, Laban really did use divination to contact God, and God really did answer. I wouldn’t call Laban a believer. Was he a seeker? Maybe. Hard to know what he is. It’s true that Jacob’s wife Rachel steals the “household gods” (teraphim) from her father Laban when Jacob leaves town, but teraphim aren’t necessarily idols (they may or may not be used in idolatry – again, veering off topic). I don’t see any evidence that Laban was a Yahweh-follower, but it’s hard to tell “how pagan” or how theologically misguided he was. He at least had respect for Jacob’s God and tried to contact him.

So how does this relate to the bigger issue raised by Dave Ruffino’s post? It should be apparent. Here’s what we can say with confidence (and humility) with respect to the Bible. It is quite possible for a non-Christian to pray and be answered by God. This would include a prayer for deliverance in an abduction experience. However, even if the victim is a Christian, an answer of deliverance depends on God’s will in the matter. God is no vending machine. However, God will not hear the prayer of the wicked, the person who is in rebellion and disrespectful of God, unless the prayer offered is a prayer of repentance (something the Bible says God always hears). What this means for the abduction discussion is that an affirmatively-answered prayer for deliverance in the name of Jesus from the abduction experience is not proof positive that the delivered person is a Christian, nor is an unanswered prayer for such deliverance proof positive the victim is not a Christian. If the non-Christian victim has been seeking God sincerely, but ineptly with respect to biblical theology, God can hear that prayer and may answer it. Those who work with abductees and are Christians should do that work with humility, not assuming their own omniscience as to whether a non-Christian is seeking God “enough” or “in the right way” so as to be delivered. Discerning the heart of the seeking non-Christian vs. an unrepentant and wicked heart of a non-Christian (or believer!) is part of God’s job description, not ours. If the abduction experience is demonic, in whole or in part, Jesus is Lord over that evil. And in dealing with that evil, Jesus may surprise us. If we believe he is God the Son, then we need to let him be God and not build a box for him to work in. To borrow a line from C. S. Lewis about Aslan, the Christ figure of the Chronicles of Narnia, “he is not a tame lion.”

  1. Cornelius was well respected by the Jews, but is not lumped in with the Jews – Acts 10:22; his name is clearly Gentile, not Jewish/Semitic. Acts 10:28 tells us plainly that Cornelius was not a Jew.