"God, what am I missing?"
I was standing at the cutting board in the kitchen, indiscriminately adding vegetables to a big pot of stew. (Carrots? I hate cooked carrots!) But that wasn't the problem. The soup had already been cooking way too long, and I'd been making additions all morning. And that wasn't the problem, either. I was chopping to procrastinate. I was chopping because I couldn't write.
You see, when I first thought of this post, I knew what the topic was going to be: Friendship with God. It had been on my mind for some time --the very last part of James 2:23, where it says about Abraham " . . . and he was called a friend of God." But when I sat down to write, I didn't know where to start. Or where to end. Or, if I was honest, anything that would go in between those two things. And so . . . Soup. (Note to self: Next time you have writer's block, just do a recipe blog.) But the more creative my dinner got, the more I realized -- I was trying to write about something I wasn't practicing.
Jesus says in John 15:14, "You are my friends if you do what I command." And surely I was trying to live my life based on the commands of Jesus. Wasn't that the whole point about Abraham? That he did what God told him, even being willing to sacrifice his own son? Abraham didn't even talk back. He just obeyed.
But as I thought on this topic, there was one story that stuck in my mind -- a time when Abraham DID talk back. It was at the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18. We get a glimpse right into God's mind as He asks himself whether He should discuss the coming judgment with Abraham. And He decides to. He lays His plan out before Abraham. And Abraham questions Him:
“Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? 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?"
And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.”
They continue on like this, Abraham talking God down from fifty, to forty-five, to thirty . . . and eventually to ten.
Now, this is just my theory, but I believe that if Abraham had carried on the conversation, from ten people, down to asking God to spare the city for one righteous person, that God would have spared Sodom for the one righteous person who lived there (Abraham's nephew, Lot). But for some reason Abraham backs off in the middle of his intercession. He believes God will be angry with him. Why? God was the one who brought it up in the first place!
The reason I have this theory is because we see it happen with another person known as a friend of God: Moses. Exodus 33:11 tells us, " . . . the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." And when the Lord threatens to destroy all of Israel after their idolatry with the Golden Calf, Moses isn't worried God will be angry with him. Nor is he timid when he responds, in essence, reminding God of His own character -- "Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self . . . " (Exodus 32:12-13, emphasis mine). And it says the Lord relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people.
This is a pattern throughout the bible, as in the following conversation recorded by the prophet Amos:
The Sovereign Lord showed me a vision. I saw Him preparing to send a vast swarm of locusts over the land . . . In my vision the locusts ate every green plant in sight. Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, please forgive us or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.”
So the Lord relented from this plan. “I will not do it,” He said.
Then the Sovereign Lord showed me another vision. I saw Him preparing to punish His people with a great fire. The fire had burned up the depths of the sea and was devouring the entire land. Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, please stop or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.”
Then the Lord relented from this plan, too. “I will not do that either,” said the Sovereign Lord.
How can this be? Does this passage seem like a contradiction to you, too? In the very same sentence that God is described as "Sovereign" -- i.e., indisputable -- He seems to be allowing Amos to dispute with Him. It makes no sense!
That is . . . unless you read this as a conversation between friends. What might seem like and argument between strangers, or a negotiation between business partners, takes on a whole different tone when you know it's based on relationship. And it is relationship that God wants with us. Moses understood this. Amos understood this. That's why Amos 3:7 says, "The Lord God does nothing without revealing His secrets to His servants the prophets."
Jesus follows that very same verse about obeying His commands that I mentioned earlier by saying, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
That's the part of friendship I was missing. I wanted to know the Lord's marching orders for me at every turn, but I never stopped to listen to His plans. And not just for me, but for the world.
Back in Genesis, when God tells Abraham of His plans for Sodom, Abraham is standing with two servants of the Lord. They hear the message and journey on to Sodom to warn Lot about the coming disaster. They are under orders -- but Abraham? He hasn't been told what to do. He could have just gone back into his house. And yet, he doesn't. Genesis tells us " . . . but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and spoke . . . " (18:22-23).
I have another theory. My theory is that every time we see something terrible or tragic happening in the world -- that is an invitation into a dialogue with God. Ruth gave such a beautiful example of this in her post last week. We are in a unique position among all the people in the world, to know what Father God is doing. Do we still expect to be treated as servants and merely told what to do? Or will we stand before the Lord . . . draw near to Him . . . and speak.
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