T. PIERCE BROWN
When the man said in John 9:31, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners,” he probably had in mind Proverbs 28:9, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” As we often do, many of us in an effort to defeat the false doctrine which encourages the alien sinner to pray for his salvation, have tried to make the passage say more than it says. We have heard preaching that sounded as if the prayer of an alien sinner not only would have no value, it would actually be an added sin, for the person would be engaging in an unauthorized act!
There is nothing in the record that indicates that God was displeased with the prayers of Cornelius and Saul of Tarsus, though it is evident to a student of the Bible that He did not grant them salvation as a result of those prayers. But in affirming that salvation is not offered as a result of prayer, we do not need to affirm there is NO value in a sinner praying. The very act of prayer may help the sinner get in a receptive attitude, even if God did NOT promise to grant his petition. There are subjective values as well as objective values in prayer.
This involves a PRINCIPLE that is broader than the subject of prayer. The principle is: Whenever a person, no matter what his attitude or belief, appropriates and uses a law of God, that law will operate for him. An atheist who obeys God’s law of friendship suggested in Prov. 18:24, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly,” will make friends. If he obeys God’s natural laws — such as the laws of agriculture — he will be able to raise corn. If he obeys God’s laws of aerodynamics he will be able to fly much better than the Christian who disregards them. This principle is true with ANY and ALL of God’s laws, in whatever realm we may choose — mental, physical, moral, psychological, financial or spiritual. Remember that all the “laws” by which the universe, including mankind, operates properly are God’s laws!
My point today is that whenever a person earnestly desires and prays for something, there are some strong subjective laws operating. The Olympic players use this law in doing what they call “psyching” themselves up. So-called “faith healers” are using this law with many who find themselves “healed” of their psycho-somatic disorders when they get prayed for and hands laid on them. Almost any medical doctor will tell you that there is a close and important relationship between mental attitude (and this includes a desire to be healed) and healing. The Hindu “fakir” is not necessarily a “faker” when he can sit on spikes or walk on hot coals without apparent harm. He may be using some of God’s laws, even if he does not believe in God!
We can admit all sorts of subjective values of prayer, which involves earnest desire, strong mental attitudes, and elements of self-hypnosis without denying anything the Bible says about prayer. Nor do we need to affirm values in prayer that the Bible does not teach.
One of the marvelous things about it is that, as Christians, we can have all the subjective values that are available to ANYONE who will obey God’s psychological, mental and emotional “laws,” but we can also have the OBJECTIVE value of having God actually intervene in our behalf! Tennyson was right when he said, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” James of course was more specific when he said, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James5:11).
But the thing I want to emphasize in this article is that even the fervent prayer of an unrighteous man might avail a little if/as/when 1. It helps get a person in a frame of mind in which he will more readily respond to God’s will when he finds it and/or 2. It involves his appropriation of one of God’s physical, mental or psychophysiological laws.
Just because we do not believe in “fake healers” and false claims of various religious groups does not mean we need to deny the great powers of God’s gifts of mental and emotional qualities that He gave to those made in his image. God grants many blessings even to atheists.