Genesis tells you things that are not comfortable to hear. One is about the deceit of Abraham, who twice pretended Sarah was not his wife so that when entering unfriendly territory he would not be killed when the King wanted to take such a beautiful woman for a wife. On this occasion King Abimelech (whose town was near Philistia) brought her into his household.
God mercifully prevented Abimelech from the adultery he was about to commit with Sarah, and gave him the instruction with stark warning about sending Sarah back to her husband. Abraham, the very man whose deceit helped pave the way for Abimelech’s temptation would God promised then be praying for him.
But what would Abraham be praying for? Preservation of Abimelech’s life? Forgiveness for a crime he had not yet committed? He would have had on his heart the physical evils that Abimelech and his family was threatened with, asking God to preserve them from those punishments.
Was that it? It was God’s will that Abimelech be spared the consequences of his sin. Abraham would surely be praying that he would obediently turn to the one true God so that he would be saved.
Of course, God was no more giving Abraham the power to forgive sins than he was giving it to the disciples in Matthew 18:18. When God promises Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3) he was not performing an exercise in real-life ‘Bruce Almighty’, as per the Jim Carrey film. Rather he was affirming that his presence with Abraham would be uniquely strong among the people of that time, and that Abraham would pray in the Spirit and will of the Father.
All around us are the consequences of sin: our sins and the sins of others. But even sins past, sins present and sins future can be used for God’s glory. Paul tells us in Romans 9:22-23 that God uses his judgement on sin to show his mercy to his people, so we can be praying for people in that light.
When there are wars and rumours of wars, where there is sadness, ill-health and personal tragedy we should be full of real, active compassion for the immediate suffering. And the example of God’s instruction to Abraham may encourage us to pray that God would show people the original cause of suffering – sin. God wants to take away our sin and nail it to the cross of Christ, but we first need to be aware of its consequences.
And next time someone you love has in front of them an option to step into sin, pray for them that God would help them to see that sin for what it is: death.