So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city?"
Abraham has been told that God plans to destroy the city of Sodom in retribution for the sinfulness of its inhabitants (sinfulness that is not specifically sexual; rather, there is a general societal turning from God on every level). In what’s been called one of the most remarkable dialogues between man and God in the entire Bible, Abraham “stands before God” and speaks to God as God’s teacher—an insistent one, at that!
“Will you indeed destroy the innocent with the guilty?” (18:23) “Shall the judge of all the earth do justice?” (18:25). In essence, Abraham is saying, “Act like God not like a score-keeping tyrant!” These are strong, passionate words from one who has spent a lifetime in covenant with God. Abraham passionately argues with God, bartering like a Near Eastern bazaar trader. “Suppose forty are found there, or thirty, twenty, even ten!”
Abraham boldly presses God to consider an alternative to retributive justice (you sin, you pay); let God be the God who is slow to anger, who is merciful as well as righteous, and who offers good news, even for Sodom. Although most of the city is ultimately destroyed, “God remembered Abraham” and spares his nephew Lot. (19: 29).
It is easy to grow cynical and imagine that nothing we do or say matters, but in Abraham we have the model of someone who, perhaps because of his intimacy with God, had confidence enough to “stand up” to God and unabashedly ask for what he believes is more “Godlike” action.
I have a priest friend whose ministry has taught me about standing up to God,respectfully, persistently and unequivocally. His name is Bill. One Sunday he got an urgent call to visit a four-year-old girl who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. Family members said, “We asked him to pray with us, and I’ll never forget what he said and how he said it: ‘God this is TERRIBLE; heal this child, heal her, heal her. And start her healing right now. Amen.’"
Abraham’s defense of Sodom has been called the first pure act of altruism in the Bible. That may be true, but thanks to people like Bill, it wasn’t the last.
Thank you, God, for those who teach us, by word and example, that the freedom you give us includes the freedom to stand up and speak out—even to you. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.