Text: Genesis 18:17-33
Old Testament for Proper 12, Year C
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Col 1:2.)
One of the biggest obstacles to faith today is the presence of suffering in the world. This objection is often intensely personal and emotional. Those who have deeply experienced pain, suffering, abuse, and loss, are the ones who most commonly identify with this objection. One person remarked, “This is personal, I won’t believe in a God who allows suffering, even if he, she, or it exists. Maybe God exists. Maybe not. But if he does, he can’t be trusted.” Many refuse to trust or believe in any God who would allow history and life to go on as they have. The reasoning goes, if God is all good and all powerful, then surely he would have the motivation and ability to do something about the evil and suffering in the world. The fact that evil and suffering exist means to many that this God simply can’t be trusted. Once, Abraham also wondered if God was about to do the right thing.
The Lord Does What is Right
Our Old Testament text picks up right after last week’s reading where we read that Abraham received three unexpected visitors and provided them with the best feast he could. Over the course of the meal, Abraham came to realize that these were not ordinary guests. They were God himself, and two of his angels. Today we read that Abraham, ever the good host, escorted his guests as they departed from his tents.
The Lord takes a moment to decide whether or not to tell Abraham what he’s about to do. The Lord was going to wipe Sodom and Gomorrah out. These were terrible cities. Their inhabitants cared only for themselves and brutality, oppression, sexual perversion, and violence were rampant. There was a great outcry against these cities. In Sodom, the innocent cried out and God heard them. The Creator God himself had taken notice and was going to intervene.
As the two angels move on to go down to Sodom, Abraham steps in front of the Lord. He can’t believe what he is hearing. God is just going to wipe out two entire cities? Men? Women? CHILDREN? His nephew Lot and his family? Abraham thinks its just not fair for God to let righteous people suffer the same fate as the wicked who oppress, brutalize, and victimize and who should get whats coming to them. And so Abraham intercedes on behalf of the city, “What if there are fifty righteous people in that city? Are you really going to just wipe them out too? You could not possibly do such a terrible thing! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do the right thing?” (Ge 18:25). Here we see that Abraham also is questioning the justice of God’s decision. Abraham is also pleading on behalf of these cities.
God calmly responds to Abraham. If there were fifty righteous people in Sodom, God would spare the entire city on their account. Abraham timidly continues to test out the justice of God. Just how fair and righteous is this Creator God? What about forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? TEN? Abraham stopped there. He moved out of the way, and the Lord went on his way. The Lord would have shown mercy if there had been anyone upon whom he could bestow it. That is why in the next chapter, after the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah it says, “And it came about when God annihilated all the cities of the neighbouring region that God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the destruction” (19:29 LXX). God saved Lot and his family because God remembered Abraham. Abraham prayed on behalf of the city and God had mercy.
The main point that this story wants to get across is that God is always just, fair, and good, despite what we may think. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Being righteous or just is an essential part of who and what God is, and because of that, all his actions are just. We can rest everything in life on this truth. It will never change. When we say that God is just, we’re saying that God is the very definition of what it means to be just. The judge of all the earth will do right. God doesn’t need Abraham to tell him to do the right thing. Abraham needs to be reassured that God is just.
You see, many say that God can’t be trusted because there is suffering. Behind this objection there is startling assertion. Not only are they raising questions about God’s justice, they are suggesting that they would be more just if given the chance. It’s the, “if I were God…” option. “If I were God, then things would all be better.” So, when people question God’s fairness and justice because of the suffering they see in the world, they really think that if given the chance, they could be a better god. People think they can sit in the comfort of their lazy-boys and be better a quarterback or prime minister, even it seems, a better God. Here we are dealing with arm-chair gods who think they know better than the Creator. In order to know better than the Creator God one needs to actually know as much as God does and be as righteous as he is. The “If I were God…” option will always fall far short of the option of letting God be God. We never have all the information and we are never wise enough to perfectly apply what little information we do have.
But sometimes, like Abraham, we need to God to reassure us that he is just and merciful. The Lord heard the outcry against Sodom. God also hears outcries today. He hears the cry of the baby as it suffers abuse. He hears the cry of an old man beaten on the street. He hears the cries of the teenage girl as she is abused. He hears the tears of the abandoned wife. God hears them all, including your cries. But, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Of course he will. God takes notice and acts. He intervenes. He judged wicked Sodom, and He has promised that there will be a day of judgment when wrongs will be righted, and this horribly crooked world will be put straight again.
The Lord Gets Involved
But did you notice in our text that despite the fact that God heard the outcry against Sodom, he nonetheless decided to come down and see it for himself first hand. He is not content to just sit in his heavenly office and rely on second-hand reports like a distant politician. God investigates it for himself. But far more than that, God himself knows what it is like to suffer. God chose to suffer. God doesn’t just investigate for himself, he became one of us! God became a man. As someone once put it, “God had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. He has gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death.” Jesus of Nazareth, God himself become a man, suffered the horrendous death of a Roman crucifixion, the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. The question that really matters is not why does a good God allow suffering? The real question is why does a good God suffer? Why does God allow himself to become a human and experience one of the worst forms of torture ever devised?
At Christmas, the Creator God entered into this world of pain and suffering—not as a tourist, but as a Saviour. God’s desire to show mercy towards a suffering world was so great that God chose to share in its pain and suffering. God comes among us. He suffers along with us. In our text Abraham intercedes that God himself should spare Sodom. And God responds, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” To spare the city is to forgive the city. In Hebrew, the world translated spare or forgive is also the word for “carry”. When God forgives people, instead of making them carry their own sins, wrongdoing and its consequences, He does so. God carries our sins. God the Father has found one truly perfect righteous man on this planet, Jesus of Nazareth his own eternal Son. Jesus has carried our injustice and wrongdoing all the way to the cross. He has born our sins and suffered died in our place. For the sake of that one Righteous man, for the sake of his holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death, God will spare, he will forgive. God will spare and forgive you, for the sake of the sufferings of his Son who carried your sins upon the cross. God spares you because he did not spare his righteous Son. Abraham prayed for Sodom, and his nephew Lot was saved. Christ, the risen and ascended Lord intercedes for us and God hears his prayers and grants us mercy.
There is suffering in the world. God doesn’t tell us why he allows suffering. He tells us to trust him. The Lord tell us that he is a just, good, and merciful God. The issue is not about suffering, its about whether we trust God or not. The Creator has demonstrated that he is good and merciful by becoming a man and dying on the cross for us. God is just, and he has a good reason for allowing suffering in this world. And so, in view of the sufferings of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, we trust God. We let God be God. We trust that he has a purpose and reason which we may not understand. When we see that God himself went to the cross for us, we can be reassured that God is good. We can know that God is with us, present in our sufferings. We can have hope in the promised resurrection of the dead. God promises that we will get the life we have longed for, in an infinitely more glorious world. God has pledged this to us through the resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. As stanza four of our hymn of the day said:
O Jesus Christ, my Lord,
So meek in deed and word,
You suffered death to save us
Because Your love would have us
Be heirs of heavenly gladness
When ends this life of sadness.
(In God, My Faithful God, LSB 745, St. 4)
Thanks be to God for his mercy and goodness. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Php 4:7.)