The next place we stop in our story of Prayer is on the plains of Mamre. It’s a fitting place to look at another angle on this sacred task. I suppose we could talk about the friendship that Elohim has with the man from Ur. We could talk about the kind of radical willingness to risk the future and step day after day after day into the Unknown. But our little theology of prayer hastens to an intriguing conversation between the Author of Life and a desert nomad.
Kingdom of God v. Sodom.
Genesis eighteen introduces us to prayer as a defensive argument in a courtroom. The case before the court is the charge of injustice, perpetual violence, and child endangerment in the Twin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The hearing is straightforward—God is the honorable presiding Judge, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah’s victims is the evidence, and Abraham inadvertently finds himself assigned the case as public defendant. Abraham’s prayer takes on the form of closing arguments as Abraham presents a case before the Celestial Court.
The story is a favorite in the Judeo-Christian traditions. God wants to invite Abram’s opinion into the matter of the injustice. Abram strikes a plea bargain with God negotiating a deal for Sodom to be spared if there are ten righteous people. This whole episode exposes us to the polity and decorum of prayer. This seems to be a radical shift from prayer as reflection and response.
Prayer: Court is in Session
Several words in the Sacred Text clue us into the forensic nature of this prayer. The first hint that prayer is taking on a courtroom aura is observed in the judicial language of the text where “righteousness” and “justice” are implored ten times. Then there is the posture that Abram takes, he “remained standing before the Lord.” Like a public defendant Abraham stands before the Justice and argues for leniency. Radically alarming, and almost lost in the proceedings is the fact that this is the first time in the Bible a human has questioned God. But Abraham does it so reverentially, respectfully, and honorably—at one point his face is flattened to the dust—we feel nothing but awe for his Honor the Judge. Finally, Abram addresses God as “the Judge.”
Everything from posture to presentation, form of address to gravity of outcome suggests in this case that prayer is a courtroom.
Decorum for Courtroom Prayers
This prayer doesn't gush with Hallmark slogans or Robert Frost poetry. But neither does this prayer get lost in the hither reaches theological academia. The time for philosophical hypothesis is past, this is a real case in point.
Consider Abraham’s demeanor:
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
“I who am but dust and ashes.”
“Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak.”
“Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.”
Humility. Lets take note of this; humility will come up again and again and again in the character sketch of prayer. Wherever effectual prayers are prayed, the demeanor is humility. The Sage tells us, “God gives grace to the humble.”
Now consider Abraham’s posture:
“Abraham remained standing before the Lord.” (Stands to give a defence).
“Then Abraham came near” (approached the bench)
“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous
“Far be that from you!”
Abraham negotiates a plea bargain with God to spare the city for 10 righteous people.
Boldness. Lets also take note of this; a cursory glance might leave us with the impression that Abraham’s boldness is arrogance. But arrogance implies a boldness in the self and this is not what Abraham is emboldened with. Abraham’s boldness is deeply rooted in the nature of God’s justice and mercy, and in the content of his plea bargain.
Prayer requires a unique and rare blend of humility and boldness. And plea bargaining prayers are effective when the petitioner has a vision of God as Judge and the petition as mission.
Return tomorrow for a look at how to petition God, in the Court Room sense, and effectively see change--when we reflect on the Forgotten Way God Answered Abram.
Reflect on a petition, that you imagine God has brought to your attention to prayer about. Write it down.
Script a prayer, in the form of a case. Addressing God as Judge, draft a petition that reflect both humility in who you are (in relationship to God) AND yet boldness in who He is.
Present the case, the plea to God, your Judge. Then listen to what you imagine he is saying to you. Write that down.