Puritans ruin everything. That, at least, is one way to summarize the spectacle of the recently ended government shutdown that brought our economy, and perhaps the global financial system, to the brink of disaster. Politicians who are unable to negotiate a compromise, and who are willing to inflict horrific consequences on the public unless they get their way, violate the social contract, causing great damage to others and ultimately to themselves. Still, people caught in a puritanical craze can find it impossible to see the implications of their own behavior. All they recognize is their own principle, and any gesture of compromise can seem like a betrayal of their most cherished values.
In contrast, consider Abraham, a man of principle, and yet one who never hesitates to engage in negotiations, fighting for the best deal possible rather than insisting on perfection. This is how I read the famous dialogue that he has with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorra. God engages Abraham as a public defender of the sinful cities so that Abraham can demonstrate his righteous leadership, and perhaps so that God can, through an adversarial system, govern the world more justly. God doesn’t quite threaten to wipe out the cities, and certainly doesn’t state any intention to kill the innocent—read verse 21 carefully—but Abraham accepts his role as defense counsel with alacrity and masterfully reduces the liability of the sinful cities.
Abraham keeps arguing until he gets God to spare the cities if only ten righteous individuals can be found within them. Why stop at ten? Was that the best deal available? Could it be that God just decided, enough already, and walked out of the negotiations (see v.33)? But if the death of fifty innocents is unacceptable, then why should 9 or even 1 innocent death be tolerated? Why didn’t Abraham go chasing after God saying, hold on, I’m not done?! Afterwards, why didn’t Abraham complain to God about the ruined cities? What happened to the zealous defender of the innocent? Continue reading