Saturday, April 2, 2011

Arguing with God

Arguing with God can be a sign of faith. On Ash Wednesday I mentioned my professor, Karen Joines. Dr. Joines loved the story of Abraham arguing with God. He taught me to love it.

Abraham was the first in a long line of people of faith to argue with God. When we argue with God, rail against God, we’re searching, again, for the “God beyond God,” (to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich) the God that no longer makes sense, the true God that’s left after all our images are shattered.

In the story, God declares his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Abraham, the text says, “stood before God” – as friends stand before each other and are free to question one another. He asked God, “Will you destroy the innocent along with the guilty? How can a righteous judge act unjustly?” Here is the conversation between Abraham and God:

-- Will you really sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? Abraham asked. Perhaps there are fifty innocent within the city, will you really sweep it away?

-- Yahweh replied, If I find fifty innocent in Sodom, I will bear with the whole place for their sake.

-- Abraham then spoke up and said: I have ventured to speak to my Lord, and am but earth and ashes. But please listen. Suppose of the fifty innocent, five will be lacking – will you bring ruin upon the whole city because of the lack of five?

-- God replied: Okay, I will not bring ruin if I find there forty-five.

-- Abraham kept on with this line of questioning: What, O God, if there are forty?

-- I will not destroy for the sake of the forty, God answered.

-- How about thirty?

-- I will not do it if I find thirty.

-- Perhaps then there will be twenty?

-- I will not bring ruin for the sake of the twenty.

-- Pray Lord, said Abraham, do not be upset if I speak one more time. What if there are only ten?

-- God answered: I will not destroy for the sake of ten. (Genesis 18:22-33)

Abraham thus began a long, noble tradition of those who have engaged in passionate argument with God and others about justice – Moses, Jeremiah, Amos, the Psalmist, Job and on to our century, Eli Wiesel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Wright Edelman. In Jewish and Christian tradition Abraham is called “Friend of God.” Only a friend of God can stand before God and argue.

1 comment:

Steve said...

My good sir,

I've long suspected that Abraham mistakenly argued with a false god rather than with the "God beyond God." If Tillich is correct, there is no god to argue with beyond the idolatrous image(s) we create and then contend with. Hence, no kudos to Abraham for courage. He got it wrong.

A wiser depiction might show him standing there scratching his head in confusion or disbelief, eh? What's left to do with a "God beyond God" except pause and listen to the crickets chirp?

Perhaps God is the silence that makes crickets audible.

I know you know this already. Just thought you might want to do a follow-up blog on the subject.

Your constant friend,