Approximately four thousand years ago, Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities of the plain near the Dead Sea were known for their immorality.
Ezekiel 16:49,50 encapsulates the sins that led to their demise - "This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit."
But, before they were destroyed, God determined to inform Abraham of His plans. This caused Abraham to come near to the Lord and ask -"Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (Gen. 18:23ff). Abraham is curious about God's justice and continues investigating. "Suppose their were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You!" His next question is critical to our lesson today: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" I don't believe Abraham doubted that the Lord would do what was right, but he did not fully understand what that action would be in the circumstances under consideration.
God affirms that He would not destroy the cities if there were fifty righteous souls therein. Abraham then asks Him about forty-five righteous souls and gets the same response. Then, he inquires about forty, thirty, and twenty, each time with the same answer from God. The lowest number Abraham is able to ask God about is ten. "'Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten [righteous] should be found there?' And He said, 'I will not destroy it for the sake of ten'" (Gen. 18:32). God would go no lower. If there were not at least ten righteous, the cities would be destroyed. The fact that they had to be destroyed shows their overflowing wickedness. They were not even able to muster ten righteous souls! How exceedingly tragic!
Why should we bother to consider this passage today? Because there is a principle we must learn. There is nothing wrong in wondering or inquiring about matters of divine justice (if our attitude is humble and reverent), but even when we cannot fully understand we must trust the word delivered by God and know that the Judge of all the Earth will do what is right!
This principle has several applications. Let's consider some of them at this time.
1. HOW CAN GOD BE RIGHT TO APPOINT DEATH FOR MORTALS?
Hebrews 9:27 teaches - "And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." Death is not the end but the beginning of a new existence. It is an exit from this life and an entrance into the next. Death does not terminate our consciousness. After sin was committed in Genesis 3, death became necessary for man's welfare. It would not be good for man to live forever in a state of sin and rebellion. God wanted something better for mankind. God is right to appoint physical death because He has opened the way to heaven. Revelation 21:4 describes this wonderful place - "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." It is there that man can eat of the tree of life and live forever (cf. Rev. 2:7). It is true that God appointed physical death, but He also appointed eternal life for those who qualify themselves for it. Additionally, without physical death what would life be like on Earth? It would soon become unbearable as we would overflow the planet.
God has intended for death to be one of the sweetest blessings for His faithful ones (cf. Phil. 1:21). Paul did not question God's justice on this issue, and neither should we (even when we don't understand why a certain loved one died when they did). Remember Psalm 116:15 - "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints." The Judge of all the Earth does right!
2. HOW CAN GOD BE RIGHT TO SEND THE WICKED INTO EVERLASTING FIRE?
Matthew 25:41 - "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Also, consider II Thessalonians 1:9 - "These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." Very few people question the appropriateness of punishing the wicked. However, most believe there should be a limit to the amount of punishment they endure. The wisdom of men would suggest: "Sins committed during a finite amount of time should not be punished for all eternity! That's just not right!"
But, is this reasoning valid? No. Consider God's options. What should He do with the rebellious? What should He do with those who accept His blessings and then reject His Son and the means by which a heavenly home could be realized? Should He annihilate them? This is contrary to His design. We are made in God's image, which implies an immortal spirit. Should He allow them into heaven after some suffering? Can we imagine the rebellious residing in heaven? This would allow the devil in eventually!
These options are simply not feasible because God has no intention of allowing anything that is defiled into heaven (Rev. 21:27). Let it be understood, of course, that we're all defiled without the forgiveness made possible through Christ's blood.
God has given us the power of choice, but we will live with the consequences of our choices! We will reap what we sow (cf. Gal. 6:7). It should be noted that some places in hell are "hotter" than others (cf. Luke 12:47,48). The Judge of all the Earth does right!
3. HOW CAN GOD BE RIGHT TO NOT SAVE EVERY "GOOD, MORAL PERSON"?
We all know people who fall into this category. We have friends, neighbors, and loved ones who respect the laws of our land and embrace many principles of Christian living, even though they refuse to completely give themselves to the Lord and His church.
What will be the eternal destiny of those folks? Jesus was clear in John 8:24 - "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Consider also the case of Cornelius in Acts 10. He was described as "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). However, before meeting Peter, Cornelius was ignorant of Jesus Christ and had not yet obeyed the gospel (cf. Acts 10:6,47,48). Although he was a "good, moral person," Cornelius was not saved prior to developing an obedient faith in Jesus (cf. Acts 11:14). Had he never developed faith in Christ, all of his good works would not have been sufficient to save him.
But Stephen, wouldn't it make sense for God to make man's good works as the basis for his salvation? The answer is "no," for it would imply that Christ died for nothing! Salvation is a gift that must be received on God's terms.
It is true that we value and respect those who live good, moral lives above those who don't, but there is much more to salvation than good morals! The Judge of all the Earth does right!
4. HOW CAN GOD BE RIGHT TO ALLOW THE RIGHTEOUS TO SUFFER?
There are many who ask this question. Some lose their faith over it. "If there really was a God, then why did this happen?" or "If God really loved me, He wouldn't have allowed this to happen."
There are many reasons why we suffer--sin, correction, character development, and protection. Pruning a tree is sometimes necessary, as is spanking a child, etc. Not all suffering is bad. Psalm 119:71 emphasizes this truth - "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Also consider James 1:2-4 - "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
There is always a reason for suffering, even if we do not understand it! The wise will remember Romans 8:18 - "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." The Judge of all the Earth does right!
5. HOW CAN GOD BE RIGHT TO EXPECT ALL TO EMBRACE ONE FAITH AND HIS ONE CHURCH?
Ephesians 4:4-6 teaches - "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." There is only one faith--it's not Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. "But, that's not right," some will argue, "people should be able to believe whatever they want." As I said earlier, God does allow freedom of choice, but He also expects us to accept the consequences of our decisions.
There is no salvation except through Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Members of false religions will be lost. Additionally, there is only one church or body (cf. Eph. 4:4; 1:22,23). To be a member of a man-made religious group is not sufficient. We must submit to the pure gospel message by believing in Jesus, turning from sin, confessing our faith in Him, and being baptized into His church (cf. Rom. 3:23; John 8:24; Acts 2:38). Then, we must live faithfully until death (cf. Rev. 2:10)!
The way of truth has always been narrow (cf. Matt. 7:13,14). God certainly has the right to expect us to seek truth and obey it in all matters. The Judge of all the Earth does right!
Isaiah 55:8,9 - "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.'" God is infinitely above us in every way. We must never let this truth escape us. Indeed, our righteousness is like "filthy rags" before Him (Isa. 64:6).
Friends, let us never forget who is the Creator and who is the creation! It's not wrong to wonder about divine justice (if our attitude is humble and reverent). But, we must never doubt what God has declared (and we won't know what He has declared without studying the Scriptures). His way is right. God always does what is right--period! Whether we agree or understand is irrelevant. We must walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7)! God's word must be our guide, no matter where it takes us.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.