Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Are there times God ‘zigs’ when you thought he should ‘zag’? Situations in which your understanding of God conflicted with what God did? 

How do you deal with these conundrums? Do you respond with: 

  • denial or resistance;
  • confusion, even despair; or,
  • anticipation and appreciation? 

Abraham had a number of these experiences with God. In each, Abraham’s relationship with God deepened. 

Abraham was called a ‘friend of God’ (2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). What can we learn from him about these zig/zag moments of life? 

Meeting with God 

Let’s explore one of Abraham’s life-changing encounters with God. 

Take a moment to read Genesis 18 – we’ll focus on verses 16-33.

Abraham had just received some amazing news from God: his wife, Sarah (who was beyond child-bearing age) was about to become a mother. 

As the Lord began to leave, he said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” 

This rhetorical question indicates God is about to disclose something more to Abraham.

Key concepts about God

The Lord repeats the blessings of Genesis 12:1-3 and then continues with (18:19):

I have chosen [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right [tsedaqah] and just [misphat], so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.

Doing what is “right” (or righteous) and “just” are two key concepts informing Abraham’s understanding of God.

What follows becomes a zig/zag moment for Abraham. 

A ‘zig’ moment

God is about to investigate the behavior of Sodom and Gomorrah.

No doubt Abraham anticipates a guilty verdict and judgment. But his nephew, Lot, and his family live there. 

Lot is not impressive. Yet, despite Lot’s compromised life-style and mediocre faith, he is referred to as “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7). 

Imagine Abraham trying to reconcile God’s statements:

  • “If God is righteous, how can he judge the righteous and the wicked together – without distinction?”
  • “Does God have different standards?”
  • “If God has called me to be a life-giver and a blessing, what does that mean for others?”
  • “I don’t get it! How can this be?” 

As Abraham wrestles with these questions, it’s not surprising that the words “righteous” and “righteousness” (tsadiq; tsedaqah) keep reappearing.

Some bold speech

The Lord and Abraham are together – just the two of them. I picture Abraham taking a deep breath and drawing near to the Lord, as he says:

Will you indeed sweep away the righteous (tsadiq) with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous (tsadiq) within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous (tsadiq) who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous (tsadiq) to death with the wicked, so that the righteous (tsadiq) fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just (mishpat)? (18:23-25 ESV)

Wow! That’s bold speech

Abraham is not speaking from rebellion, or idolatry, or dismissal of God. He is asking questions focused on the apparent disconnect between the Lord’s righteous character and his intended judgment. Abraham finds the act of God – as he understands it – to be inconsistent with the character of God – as he understands it. 

What follows is Abraham – in humility and yet determination – moving his argument from fifty, to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and finally to ten righteous (tsadiq). At each stage, the Lord affirms “I will not destroy it” (18:27-32). 

Four things to learn

1.    Attitude:

Abraham’s attitude is marked by humility and a desire to honor God. 

Walter Brueggemann observes:   

[Abraham] is disciplined and restrained in articulation, but nonetheless daring in his address to God. Abraham’s credentials as one utterly obedient to God are in order (Gen. 18:17-19). He does not, however, shrink from his duty or his freedom as Yahweh’s best friend. 

In your experiences of disconnection, do you maintain a posture of humility and a desire to honor God

2.    Anticipation:

Times such as these are often indicators that you will undergo change. Some respond to such change with resistance, fear – even anger. Their long-cherished ideas of God are being challenged and exposed as inadequate. 

Anticipate the discomfort of being stretched, and expanded in your understanding of God. Keep in mind that God is much bigger than your ideas of him. Remind yourself of the climax of Romans (Romans 11:33-36). 

3.    Assurance:

God neither reveals himself, nor acts, in ways that are inconsistent with his revelation as Jesus Christ, a right understanding of the Bible, and his character of love (See: “Is that you God?”). 

Be assured that within these boundaries, your understanding of God will grow larger and richer.

4.    Appreciation: 

Abraham is transformed by each encounter with God.

Fast-forwarding to Genesis 22 shows us that Abraham thrusts the roots of his trust ever deeper in the soil of God’s faithfulness.   

With Abraham as a model, develop appreciation for the God who loves you, and uses all things (including the times of disorientation and discomfort) for your good as he conforms you to the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

What can you add?

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Photo credit: Steven Christenson via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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