James tells us that Abraham was a friend of God (James 2:23). Is it possible how God and Abraham interacted is a template for how God longs to interact with us?
It’s hot in the desert. Abraham sits in the shade, and he notices at a distance three men walking toward him. You’ll find the account in Genesis 18.
Abraham immediately recognizes one of these men as not a man at all, but as Yahweh, whom we know as “the LORD” of the Old Testament. Abraham invites them in for a bite to eat and for something to drink.
This, he learns, is more than just a friendly visit. God and two of his messengers (“angels”) have come to conduct some very serious business: to investigate what they are hearing regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down to see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21).
An interesting theological issue springs from this comment. If God is all-knowing, then why did he have to go down there to see for himself? I bring this up to illustrate that the nature of the God of the Bible doesn’t exactly track with our cultural and theological baggage about him, and that baggage gets in the way of our relationship with him.
This is the same God who, in a moment of transparency, wonders, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Verse 17) Many sermons correctly encourage us to be transparent before God in order to draw closer to him. This is good advice, but it is also true that God wants to be transparent with us. In the case at hand God has a very good reason, for Abraham’s sake, to be transparent. Abraham’s beloved nephew Lot lived in Sodom, and God decided that Abraham needed to know what was about to happen.
When confronted with God’s will we might think that it is always right to resign ourselves to it regardless of how unpleasant it might be. Certainly there is a time to say, “God’s will be done,” but Abraham, the friend of God, didn’t think that this was such a time. Abraham starts to argue or, better said, reason with God.
“Far be it from you to destroy the righteous with the evil! Surely you wouldn’t destroy it if you find fifty righteous people there!” And God agrees. He promises not to destroy it if fifty righteous people are there. In fact, Abraham reasons God down to a mere ten righteous men. For the sake of the ten, God would spare the city.
If God were sitting across the kitchen table from you, would you question God in the same way that his friend Abraham did? If you say no, understand that this type of exchange between God and his friends is common in scripture.
Moses argued and reasoned with God many times and even succeeded in changing his Lord’s mind. (Exodus 32 and Numbers 14)
Jacob wrestled with God and wouldn’t loosen his grip until he received a blessing (Genesis 32:24 – 30).
The Psalms are full of pleadings and reasons and arguments brought before God (Psalms 22, 28, 31:9-18, 83, to name just a few).
Jesus gives us permission in two parables to keep striving with God (the persistent friend in Luke 11:5-10 and the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-5). If an unjust judge or a rude neighbor can be persuaded with the rightness of your case, how much more God!
Think of it this way. God wants us to be his partners, not his yes-men. He wants sons and daughters, not pets. He wants us to inherit the family business. Does not scripture say that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)? As such we are expected to be active participants in God’s work today, and sometimes that means working to change God’s mind.
Even more to the point, we need to be active partners with God in bringing a bit of his Kingdom to this earth every day we draw breath. If you are wondering how to do that, read the fifth through seventh chapters of Matthew. Trust me: reading is the easy part.