Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” —Genesis 18:23-24
Prayer in Judaism is defined as “the work of the heart,” which profoundly changes the nature of prayer from one of entreating God to an act that transforms who we are – not what God does. Our devotions for the next three weeks are focused on different facets of prayer and what lessons we can learn about the power of our prayers. For more inspirational teachings about prayer, download our complimentary study.
Sometimes, things happen in life that leave us bewildered. Recently, a friend of mine, a 38-year-old mother of three children, suffered a massive heart attack, went into a coma, and is not coming out. Another friend tells me of a young man, still in high school, who lost his father to kidney disease three years ago, and just now lost his mother to cancer.
We probably all know of similar stories that leave us wondering where is God in these circumstances? Does He still love us? Does He even care about what’s going on?
Certainly, there are times in our lives when we question God’s presence, His justice, even His love. There are times we beseech God for help, for an answer to prayer, and the answer comes back “No.” The Jewish view is that it’s OK to question God, to challenge His justice and fairness. It’s OK to ask why.
Remember when God announced His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham challenged God, saying: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Genesis 18:23-24).
After God responds that He would spare the city for 50 innocent people, Abraham amazingly continues to bargain with God. What about 40? 30? 20? And to each, God says, yes, He would spare the city. Finally, Abraham asks if God would destroy the city if there were only 10 righteous people.
At this point, I’m waiting for God to really give it to Abraham. But He doesn’t. In His graciousness and in His mercy, God respects Abraham’s questions, and says yes, He would spare the entire city for 10 righteous people.
Through this exchange, God showed Abraham — and us — that asking for anything is allowed, with the understanding that God’s answer comes from His perspective and not ours. In the Jewish view, we are holy partners with God, not just His subjects. We have the right to question His justice and love just like Abraham did — but then we must accept God’s will as sovereign and our own.
God welcomes your questions, your doubts. Bring them before Him in prayer and love. Trust His answer, even if it is not in harmony with your expectations.
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