One of the greatest examples of “speaking truth to power” is found in this week’s parasha, Vayera. God has heard the great outcry that has come up from Sodom and Gemorrah. But, unlike when God hears the outcry coming from the Israelites under the burden of slavery, which was the impetus (finally!) for God to get going, ending their oppression, here in Genesis, the people’s outcry makes God want to “go down” and find out what the heck is going on there. And what is going on down there isn’t good. It’s pretty depraved, enough so that God wants to wipe the place out. Drastic perhaps, but that’s how God was working at that point.
So, faced with this imminent destruction, Abraham remained standing before God and began his challenge to the Divine decree: “Will You indeed sweep away the innocent with the wicked?” (Gen 18:22) What if there are innocent people in those cities, God? Aren’t you supposed to be the great Judge, and shouldn’t You of all entities, act justly?
Pretty chutzpa-dik. But there’s a sentence that comes before this challenge that gives some insight into God’s thinking, so to speak, and the relationship between God and Abraham. The text reads, “God then thought, ‘Should I hide from Abraham what I am doing?’” (Gen 18:17).
It seems that God knew Abraham was going to have a problem with the plan to destroy the cities. So, God contemplates just not telling him. Ultimately, God does bring Abraham in on the plan, and as God had predicted, Abraham protests. Maybe that’s what God wanted to hear. Maybe God wanted to make sure Abraham’s internal righteousness-alarm would go off and he would have to speak up. Was this another test to determine Abraham’s moral fiber? If so, he passed.
We read every day about kids knowing things about their friends being in danger, or engaging in dangerous behavior and we hope our children will be courageous enough to tell the parents. We hope they will hear their friends’ cries and stand up for them. We hope they will have the fortitude to speak truth to those who may not want to hear it. As difficult as it is, it’s not a betrayal of secrets, but a hand extended in love and protection. These brave kids may feel like they’re breaking a trust, but it’s one that has as its goal the safety and healing of those they hold dear.
Even as an adult, it’s hard to confront a friend and tell them their behavior is self-defeating or harmful. A good friend will say, “Seriously, you have GOT to change your taste in dating…you keep picking people who destroy you!” It’s not an easy conversation, but the truthful among us will admit that we’re grateful for the wake-up call from a real friend.
God was uncertain as to whether or not to bring Abraham into God’s confidence. And as a true friend, Abraham challenged God to make sure the actions would be just. Abraham knew that even one innocent life should be saved, and was willing to confront even God to protect that life. God appreciated the honesty. So do true friends. Lucky are those of us with those kinds of friends, the ones who will “go down” to the dark places with us, and hold our faces up to the light we don’t want to see.
Before going through with destructive behavior, God realized it was a good idea to run it by someone we trust, even though the first impulse was to keep it to ourselves. Truth is, we really do want to be challenged by that person who cares deeply about us. Even though ultimately God destroyed the cities, Abraham was that kind of man, and we continue to learn from his example.