[Abraham said to the Lord,] “Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25)
The summer after I graduated from high school, I was at a house party in my home town when I began to feel ill. I went outside and laid down on the steps of the house because I was feeling so awful. I thought that I was going to die.
In my distress I called out to God and did what we humans sometimes do when confronted with circumstances that are overwhelming us: I bargained with God.
“O God,” I promised, “if you save me from this, I will do whatever you want.”
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually my symptoms began to ease and I returned to normal.
In Genesis 18, Abraham does something similar. The Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three men and indicated that the heir God promised to Abraham was going to come within a year. This heir would be the lineage through whom God would form his Blessing People.
God also told Abraham that he is going to destroy the city of Sodom because of its wickedness. There are times when even God’s patience wears out and he says, “Enough is enough!”
Abraham is concerned about the welfare of Sodom and of his nephew, Lot, and his family, for they live there. So Abraham begins to bargain with God for the sake of the people of Sodom.
As he does that, Abraham appeals to a certain aspect of God’s character, his justice. Unlike us, God’s character is unimpeachable and his motives are always pure. So Abraham appeals to God’s character. Justice demanded that the evil in Sodom be brought to an end to limit the damage to God’s creation, but justice also demanded that those who were right with God and therefore had not given themselves over to the evil ways of their neighbors, not be swept away along with those who were not right with God and had given themselves over to evil.
How different from what I was doing on that doorstep. I was begging for mercy for myself and offering my obedience in the hope that it would move God to look upon me with favor.
Abraham was begging for mercy for his neighbors. He offered nothing to try to change God’s mind. He likely knew he had nothing to offer God. Everything Abraham had, including his life, already belonged to God, and God had no need for anything Abraham possessed. God is not incomplete or lacking in any way. I tried to bargain with God based on what I had. Abraham bargained with God based on who God is. My bargaining was the way of religion. Abraham’s bargaining was the way of faith. Abraham already knew that God was for him and, because of that, Abraham knew that he could approach God and bargain with him based on his good qualities.
To the human mind, mercy and justice are polar opposites. We cannot comprehend how the guilty can go unpunished, which is mercy, and be punished perfectly, which is justice.
But God is both merciful and just. To perfectly pay the price for forgiveness for all our sins, God himself, in the person of Jesus, suffered in our place to set us free. The cost paid by Jesus was so great that the only just thing to do is to forgive all who put themselves under the shelter of Jesus’ goodness by trusting in him.
His mercy was what moved God to save us. His justice is what sets us free. As God’s Blessing People, we can approach God and bargain with him for the sake of our neighbors. God is already motivated to be merciful and just towards them just as he was with us. Perhaps through us, they can know the salvation and freedom of life with Jesus.
Dear Jesus, thank you for your unconditional love and acceptance of me. Help me to trust in your justice and mercy for myself and move me to bargain with you on behalf of my neighbors for more of the same for them. Amen.