This past Sunday, many congregations heard an Old Testament lesson from Genesis. In it, Abraham and God are having a conversation about Sodom--a notoriously wicked city. God has heard bad things about the city and is going to investigate. If the reports are true, he tells Abraham, he is going to destroy the city and all its dwellers. Then begins a dialogue between God and Abraham which is startling. Abraham, very politely it has to be said, begins to question God’s decision.
“What if there are fifty righteous in the city? Will you destroy the righteous with the ungodly?” Abraham asks. “No, for the sake of fifty, I’ll spare it,” God replies. And thus begins the negotiation. Forty-five? What about forty? Finally, Abraham settles on ten and God agrees if there are ten righteous people in Sodom, he’ll spare the city.
If you’ve listened at all in Church and Christian Formation classes, you know Sodom is not spared. Not even ten righteous were found. But, there were a few righteous living in Sodom. Four, in fact: Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. God warns them to flee the destruction, but he doesn’t spare the city.
I have a couple of comments to offer for your consideration. Abraham’s challenge to God is not an isolated event in Scripture. In Psalm 10, the Psalmist takes God to task for allowing wicked people to prosper. Clearly the Psalmist’s sense of justice is offended by God’s inaction. Another example is found in Psalm 22 in which God is accused of forsaking the writer. In a nutshell, “We trusted you, we worshipped you, and still you have forsaken us.” And, of course, the story of Job is a third example of questioning God’s mercy or justice.
This is a not uncommon kind of prayer, especially among Jewish folk. A modern example can be found in Fiddler on the Roof in which Tevye scolds God for not making him a rich man. “Lord who made the lion and the lamb, you decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”
So, point number one: Christians do not have to simply say in the fact of bad things, “It was God’s will.” Really? Maybe not. Maybe a bit more persistence and God will have another will for that situation. [This is a troubling reality and warrants more space than I’m giving it. Perhaps another post.]
Point number two: Maybe Abraham didn’t get to four in his negotiations because Lot had lived among the inhospitably and wicked people of Sodom for so long, that he had disappeared from sight. As Christians, we would do well to try to establish (re-establish?) ourselves as counter-cultural so we don’t face the same charges. The danger is always present that, in our desire to not offend, we overlook the truly offensive in our culture. Doing so certainly undercuts what is often called “our witness.”
Think on these things. Jerry+