Longing for the Divine

The Forgotten Lesson from Sodom

Some Christians say what’s happening in our world today is worse than the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah. They warn that God will not stand idly by and that we will see judgment like we’ve never seen before. We all know why these cities were destroyed, right? Yes, I believe in the Bible, but the text of Genesis 18–19 gives little information about why God decided to torch the cities with fire and brimstone. God described their sin as great and extremely serious (Genesis 18:20). The sins of Sodom included pride, oppression of the poor (Ezekiel 16:49), neglect of the downtrodden and marginalized (Isaiah 1:17; 3:9), mistreatment of strangers and a propensity for mob violence (Genesis 19:4–5), and sexual deviancy (Jude 1:7–8).

Whatever the sins of Sodom, I think it’s clear that its moral crisis reached a critical point. “Sodom is portrayed as a community where there is flagrant violation of human rights, exploitation of the poor, and indifference to suffering” (Sigve Tonstad, God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, p. 127). God heard the outcry rising from the downtrodden and sent His angels to investigate (Genesis 18:20). The people’s selfishness, envy, and pride had become full blown. A crowd had banded together on the street against two angelic strangers who had entered the city, and within this mob, the inner vices of the people of Sodom turned to violence. Sodom was judged and slated for destruction—it had to be held accountable for its evil.

According to the story, the angels finally left, taking Lot and his wife and daughters. The angels turned away from Sodom, just as they will no longer protect the world from its impending destruction in the end (Revelation 7:4). Before letting the cities terminate in disaster, however, God informed Abraham of His plans to destroy Sodom. Abraham had been negotiating with God, interceding for Sodom as judgment hung in the balance. Would God spare the city for its few righteous people? Abraham never called for the destruction of the wicked; he instead prayed that the guilty be spared because of the righteous. Abraham was called God’s friend. Just as we choose friends worthy of our loyalty, so God did with Abraham.

I find it concerning that many Christians call for the destruction of the guilty. Many pray for fire to fall from heaven rather than stand up like Abraham, who prayed for God to spare the guilty on account of the righteous. Abraham’s prayer is the part of the Sodom story that counters the idea that the guilty must be punished and focuses the narrative on the incredible influence a few righteous people can have on society when they follow the ways of love and justice.

The story of Sodom seems to be a warning that exploiting and degrading people ruins society. Sodom couldn’t be saved. There weren’t enough righteous people to preserve the city from destruction. As the Bible describes righteousness, it includes hospitality, compassion, mercy, love, and justice. Are there enough righteous people today who follow the ways of love, justice, and compassion?

Lot and his wife and daughters were saved from Sodom not because of their righteousness but because of Abraham’s love, courage, and sacrifice. Like Abraham, we can expect that humanity will generally not embrace the ways of love and righteousness, but even if we remain a minority, we are better off following the ways of integrity and goodness. Just imagine the great influence we could have on society if we start following the example of Abraham’s justice.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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