Arguing with God
Do you ever argue with God? Have you ever considered who actually provoked the argument?
Genesis 18:23-33 records an argument between Abraham and God, in which Abraham questions the goodness of God. But verses 17-21 suggest that it is God who stirs up the argument, for God asks himself (in verse 17), “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”
To set the context: In verse 18, God speaks of his desire for Abraham to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. In verse 19, God expresses his desire for Abraham to guide successive generations in the ways of righteousness and justice. Then God confides in Abraham, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin.” From there, Abraham and God argue over God’s impending judgment against Sodom.
I believe that God stirs up this argument with Abraham in order to teach Abraham three important lessons pertaining to righteousness, justice, judgment, and in what is involved in being a blessing to others:
Lesson #1: Righteousness begins with hearing the outcry of those who are hurting from injustice.
The Hebrew word translated as “outcry” in verse 20 (ze’akah) appears throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the agonized cries of the oppressed and brutalized. It is used to describe the cries of Israelite slaves in Egypt in Exodus 2:23, and the cry of the oppressed widow and orphan in Exodus 22:22-23, and the cry of the cheated laborer in Deuteronomy 24:15, and at various places in the book of Jeremiah to describe the screams of terror of an individual or a city when under attack.
Ray Vander Laan comments, “Ze’akah, one of the most impassioned, power-filled words in Hebrew communicates intense emotion…. Such an outcry rises out of great pain, suffering, and despair caused not simply by impersonal suffering but by the brutality and cruelty of other people. Scripture reveals that God never fails to hear ze’akah, and his response against those who cause it is frightening.”
People from all around were being abused, oppressed, cheated and mistreated by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ezekiel 16:49 states, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The outcry of “the poor and needy” had come to God, and he was determined to do something about it.
Lesson #2: God’s care includes judgment; God’s response to the outcry of the suffering includes decisive action to address injustice.
David Seamands remarks, “‘But,’ someone continues to protest, ‘I don’t understand this anger of God business—it scares me.’ Maybe it will help if we ask, What is the alternative to the anger of God? The alternative is not a God of love, because…love and anger are two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without the other. The alternative to anger is apathy, which would mean an apathetic God who is morally neutral and indifferent to the outcome of the battle between good and evil. That would make him a God who sits on the moral fence of the world and says, ‘I don’t care what happens to them. Let them sin if they want to, that’s their business. I’m not going to interfere in their lives.’ So whenever the biblical picture of a holy God who gets angry about sin seems old-fashioned and frightening, try to imagine something a whole lot scarier—an apathetic God who doesn’t care. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world like ours if God were personally indifferent and morally neutral. That would be a terrifying nightmare.”
“It is the reality of a holy God who is irreconcilably opposed to all sin that makes life tolerable in a world like ours…. It means, too, that we know which side God is on—he has declared himself on the side of right and righteousness. That’s comforting—not scary!” (Freedom from the Performance Trap, p. 76-77)
The judgment that will come against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 comes as God’s response to the outcry of those who have suffered. Judgment against injustice flows out of God’s care for those who cry out to him.
Lesson #3: Righteousness involves interceding on behalf of others.
When God’s compassion for others begins to makes its home in Abraham’s heart, he begins to plead with God on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God begins to grow within us a genuine concern over the outcry of those who are suffering, we will cry out to God for their sake.
Proverbs 21:13 stresses, “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” Abraham’s ears were not closed to the cry of the needy, neither was his heart. May we open our ears and our hearts to the cry of those who are hurting so that we join our prayers with theirs.