Monday, January 19, 2009

A Righteous Problem

Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once, Suppose ten (righteous men) are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:32)

In Genesis 18, we have an amazing dialogue between Abraham and the Lord God. God decides to speak of his plan to destroy the city of Sodom due to its wickedness. And as is the case with us today, Abraham had a hard time finding justice in the wrath of God. It might have been difficult for him to believe that a Holy, loving God would do such a thing. So he bargains with God. Sound familiar? He begins by being honest before God. He says quite boldly, "Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the bargaining continues.

Abraham was wanting God to withhold his wrath if he were to find but fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom. God agreed. Abraham then asked the same for forty-five righteous people. God agreed. Then the bargaining continued. Forty? Agreed. Thirty? Agreed. Twenty? Agreed. And finally, the numbered withered down to ten. God agreed.

One very distinct question rises out of this dialogue for me. Why did God continue to entertain Abraham's questioning? Why did he endure the questioning as it withered down to one-fifth of the initial numbering? Same question. Different angle. I believe God had a purpose in doing so.

I believe the answer to that question takes us to the book of Romans. Romans 3:10 says, "As it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one who understands; no one seeks for God'." God was tolerating Abraham's questioning not to validate Abraham's point. Rather, God was making a point of his own. There is no one who is righteous. Fifty...forty-five...thirty...twenty...ten. It could have evaporated all the way to zero and still Abraham would have been left searching for answers. The problem wasn't God's inability to look for the remaining righteous. The problem was that there weren't any righteous people to be found.

When we think of God's judgment, we must be careful not to fall into the same trap that had caught Abraham. We must be careful not to think of God as not being just or righteous in his judgements. If we do fall into this trap, it means that we have forgotten two very important things. First, we have forgotten the holiness of God. God is holy. And because God is holy, he must punish sin. If God were able to tolerate sin, he wouldn't be God at all. His love for us wouldn't be pure. Even more, he would be unable to save us from our sin. Second, we have forgotten the depths of our own sin. Our unworthiness. Our rebelliousness. Our inability to reconcile the problem of our own unrighteousness--for there is no one who is righteous.

This should lead us all to an absolute adoration of the gospel message. Romans 5:8 explains, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Each time a repentant sinner receives the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in faith, God does not destroy Sodom--figuratively--for we all deserve the wrath of God because there is no one righteous. But, the punishment was still given. It just didn't fall on the repentant sinner. Rather, God's wrath fell upon his son--Jesus Christ. This is what is meant by, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

God's love and holiness cannot be fully understood unless we are willing to acknowledge our own righteous problem.

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