Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
Genesis 18: 16-18
This little passage comes just after the three men visit Abraham in his tent to tell him and Sarah that she will have a son, and she laughs, and right before Abraham’s remarkable bargaining session with God about the number of righteous people there must be in Sodom for it to be spared. It’s a puzzling passage, not least because it is God’s little aside to the reader, a tantalizing glimpse into a thought process – should He share this piece of information with Abraham, or should He not?
I was looking at this passage with a Bible study group the other day and we were talking about it in the context of thinking about Abraham as God’s friend. I had difficulty getting my head around the idea of friendship with God. What is that supposed to mean? I know Jesus said that in the new covenant we are invited to be friends of God, but the more I think about it in practice, the more I am confused rather than comforted by the idea. Because friendship with God is almost entirely unlike any friendship I have with other people – why is it even a useful analogy?
What’s the thing about friendship with God that is really important? Perhaps it is that He is there, thinking well of us behind our backs, wondering what He can tell us that will not be too much for us to know, what he can trust us with, what He can share with us. After all, if you know overwhelmingly more than someone you love – as a parent, perhaps, knowing more than a child, your friendship towards that child must take the form of revealing only how much the child can understand and is capable of dealing with.
The thing God reveals to Abraham concerns his nephew, Lot. To entrust us with the burdens of a brother is the way God shows us friendship, the way he gives us responsibility. This is how we know we are his friends – that we are given friends of his that we must intercede for. We are God’s hands, and the people he sends us are His hands too when they minister to us.