Recently I made the point that, in some situations, God will not “hear” our prayers. What was interesting was that, although there are a number of scriptures that establish this point, several people objected strongly to what I was saying because of other verses in the Bible which they cherished and seem to teach the exact opposite! So what do we do when the Bible seems to contradict itself and we are earnestly in search of the truth? Every one of us will find ourselves in a situation like this at some point as we get to know our Bibles. The temptation is to hold onto a ‘proof text’ which agrees with our own convictions and to downplay the difficult or contrary scriptures. This will ultimately result in a distorted view of truth, of God, and of the subject matter we are studying.
It is vital that we are able to reconcile the difficult Scriptures which seem to contradict our position, before we can be assured that our position is in fact rooted in the truth. Let me illustrate by using some of the specifics on the topic of ‘Does God always hear our prayers?’
1 Peter 3:7 is one of the scriptures that teach that sometimes our prayers will not be “heard” because we are living in rebellion to God in a matter. Peter tells us that husbands are to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman… So that your prayers may not be HINDERED (emphasis mine).”
Peter uses the Greek word ‘egkopto’ which means ‘hindered’ or ‘blocked’ to explain what will happen to the prayers of the rebellious and unloving husband. The word ‘egkopto’ is used by Paul in Romans 15:22 and 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and in each of these it specifically means that he was stopped from getting to a destination that he intended to reach. Thus the use of the word ‘egkopto’, applied as Peter uses it in connection with our prayers, clearly means that if a husband does not treat his wife in a Christ-like manner, his prayers will be hindered from getting through to God. God will not “hear” his prayer in this circumstance.
Then someone who does not like what Peter has said will respond with something that John said which seems to contradict Peter’s statement… In 1 John 5:15 we read “and if we know that he hears us in WHATEVER (emphasis mine) we ask…” This statement by John seems to produce a theological stalemate against Peter’s statement in that now it seems that God always hears us! Those who want to believe that God will always hear us will now use this to justify their position and will try to make Peter’s Scripture fit their premise. They could do this by challenging the word ‘egkpto’ (“hindered”) to justify John’s statement.
What begins as a small difference in interpretation over whether our actions can sometimes hinder our prayers can later develop into doctrinal factions, church splits, and various other nasties! Sadly, this is largely because we do not apply basic principles of interpretation. In legal letters such as wills, Bills of law or contracts, we find that writers use the general intent or principle in broad strokes. Then when they are explaining the intricacies of how the general legal principle works, and because in some cases the general principle cannot apply, they drill down on the subject to illustrate the intricate details.
This is even true of the instructions for taking medicines. In the instruction pamphlet which comes with medicines we normally find an explanation of what the medicine should do when given to a patient, such as treat headaches. However, in each pamphlet we will also find two very important headings a little bit further down on the pamphlet… 1) contra indications and 2) interactions. These are very important to read because they explain that while the medicine would normally act in a certain manner, in certain circumstances the medicine will act very differently. When we mix the medicine with certain other preconditions or scenarios the medicine will not do what it should. We may find that the medicine does not treat our problem or may even harm us!
It is the same with the Bible. We find that writers will write about a general rule, but then as we read the whole of Scripture, we find that God drills down on the subject to explain the intricate details and out workings of the general principle. Often times in these details we find that as God is more specific, he gives exception clauses, or specific applications which actually contradict the general rule.
We see this in the Constitution of South Africa. There is a general principle which is guaranteed in the Constitution of ‘religious freedom’ for all. But then, as we drill down on the details, we find that religious freedom has some contraindications and dangerous interactions which the writers of the Constitution must clarify so that the concept of religious freedom remains earthed and healthy. If religious freedom is guaranteed without any clarification, then Satanists (who have their own religion) would also be afforded the right to sacrifice a baby in a ritualistic offering to the Devil. The writers of the Constitution, realising that religious freedom needs some explanation to be properly applied, provided specific clauses to show when this general principle does not apply. In this case, we cannot use one law (religious freedom) to break another law (the right to life). The law must be upheld as a whole.
The same is true of the Bible! We must be able to hold the whole Bible in context to properly understand the detailed out-workings of God’s will. In general terms, God hears our prayers and wants us to know that he is lovingly listening to us as a father. The Bible teaches us that, in general terms, we should have confidence when we approach God in prayer. Thus the general rule is that God “hears us” when we pray. This general rule is what we find in 1 John 5:15.
But then as we drill down on the specifics, we learn that there are some 1) contraindications and 2) interactions to the general rule of prayer. It is here that we pick up on Peter’s writing as he explains that in some circumstances things work a little bit differently. Peter tells us that the general rule of prayer will not work if we are living in wilful disobedience to God. He clearly shows that in the case of a husband living in wilful disobedience to the Holy Spirit, he will find that his prayers are not heard. They are “hindered”.
Learning this principle of interpretation – of finding the general rule and then searching for the specific contra indications and interactions, is vital for us to grasp if we are to properly understand any biblical truth. We must be able to hold seemingly contradicting versus together and in tension in order to find God’s wisdom. Failure to do so will always result in us deceiving ourselves. Sadly this can then lead to Christians forming opposing sides on a doctrinal matter, divided opinions, factions forming and schisms in the body of Christ. Remember to apply these principles as you study your Bible. My prayer is that as we faithfully apply ourselves to these matters we will find that we land together in the truth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew is the lead apostle of Four12. He also leads Joshua Generation Church (JoshGen) and is the founder and director of FOR SA (Freedom of Religion South Africa). He is based in Cape Town along with his amazing wife Emsie and his daughter Enya. You can follow him on Facebook.
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