Just how merciful is God? That’s the question that Abraham tries to answer in today’s passage. Some people think that Abraham is pleading for innocent lives when he negotiates with God, but really Abraham is pleading for the reputation of God. The entire passage hinders on Abraham’s declaration, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Keep that in mind as you read Genesis 18:22-33.
Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be wiped off the map. Even today, archaeologists have varying opinions on where these ancient cities actually were because they were so utterly destroyed by the judgment of God. Abraham seems to have some idea of what this coming judgment will be, so he pleads with God to spare the cities for the sake of those who are righteous within them. But how many righteous people will it take to outweigh the depth of these cities’ sin? 50? 40? 30? What about only 10?
So many people have asked a similar question and had a similar negotiation with God in regards to their own sin and judgment. We know that deep down we are no better than Sodom and Gomorrah. We know that we deserve the judgement of God. Still, we plead for His mercy.
Since we often compare the mercy of God to our own mercy, we think of God in human terms: “If I were to show mercy to someone, then I would need to see some demonstration that they have changed and are now doing more good than bad.” So we bargain with God; we negotiate with God; we plea with God for mercy based on our good deeds. We ask, “God, how many good deeds do I need to do in order to be forgiven for this sin? 50? 40? 30? What about only 10?”
Some churches take this to the extreme and declare that we must perform so many acts of penance or say a particular number of prayers in order to be forgiven of sin. Maybe this sin requires 50, that one 20, that one only a couple. But this whole mindset is contrary to the nature of God.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
God must punish sin. It doesn’t matter how many good deeds you’ve done. If you’ve sinned, you deserve to be punished. Period. If God were to go against this clear principle of justice, if God were to show mercy, then it wouldn’t be based on some arbitrary standard of measurement—as if God were somehow weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds to determine if He should show mercy or exercise judgment.
If God is going to show mercy, then it is based on His character, not ours. This is good news, because we could never do enough good to earn God’s mercy. We are evil to the core, just like Sodom and Gomorrah.
When Abraham negotiates with God, he isn’t trying to see how many good people it would take to outweigh the bad people in the city. Abraham is trying to determine just how merciful God is. And he finds out that God’s mercy has no ends! Abraham could have kept going: “God, would you destroy the city if there are five righteous people in it?” and God still would have saved the city for the sake of five. In fact, God has ordained that the whole world may be saved for the sake of just one righteous person.
Only One Person has ever lived who was truly righteous, and He gave His life as a sacrifice for you and me. The mercy of God is so great, that He sent His Son to take our place. There is nothing we can do to earn it—we just have to accept it. Stop trying to earn God’s mercy, and simply trust that He loves you because He is a merciful God. The Judge of all the earth will do right.
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