“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave…” ~ Genesis 18:20
With the gay marriage question before the Supreme Court, the media (social, news, or otherwise) outlets of our culture have seen an explosion of activity and strong opinion in both directions. At the core of this issue is the notion of homosexuality itself, and such always seems to draw minds to the story of God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. God determined to rain his judgment and wrath upon the culture of those cities because of the greatness of their sin. A hint of this sin is seen in Genesis 19 when two angels in the appearance of men go into Sodom and Lot welcomes them into his house, only to have men from the city surround the house and demand to forcibly have sexual relations with them (or in other words…to rape them).
The term sodomy itself shows the history of our religious culture’s connection of the events in Genesis with homosexual activity. Yet a simple reading of the Genesis account shows that this wasn’t merely an issue of prevailing homosexuality itself. Rather the perverseness of the men’s actions goes to something much deeper—an active abuse of others for the sake of self pleasure. Furthermore, Ezekiel 16:46-50 shows how the greatness of their sin came in the totality of their unrighteousness and not because of a single issue—they were also prideful and prosperous yet neglected the poor and needy. God says, “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”
We have all probably heard fellow Christians say (if we have not said it ourselves) that we are a nation heading towards judgment because of a growing acceptance of things we believe are sinful. Some fear that God will unleash his wrath if we do not repent, and some have even pointed to various disasters as evidence of this.
Yet, when we consider Sodom and Gomorrah, the great problem of their culture wasn’t the presence of any one particular sin but rather the complete lack of righteousness. At the end of Genesis 18, Abraham intercedes for the cities, almost seeming to try to bargain with God. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” God says he will spare it for fifty. What about forty-five or forty? What about ten? “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
Not even ten righteous could be found.
The only ones rescued from the cities were Lot, his wife, and two daughters. His wife, however, disobeyed, looked back, and was herself destroyed. Peter calls Lot, “Righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7), yet even Lot’s righteousness had to be solely by grace through faith. After all, in the same moment where he sought to protect the angelic visitors, he offered his virgin daughters over to the crowd of men for their sexual pleasure (Gen 19:8). These same daughters later, fearing they would go without husbands or children, got their father drunk and slept with him in order to have children. If these are the actions of the “righteous,” then no wonder why the cities were destroyed.
When we think of our own culture and where we are heading, I don’t think we have to fear the outcome of Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead our hearts should tremble at Romans 1.
Beginning in verse 18, Paul speaks about the wrath of God revealed against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” These are people who traded in the worship of God for the worship of other things. They rejected who God is, so God sent his judgment. “Therefore,” Paul says, “God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity” (1:24). They exchanged a truth for a lie, and “for this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.”
Out of rejection of God, God issued his judgment for such people to follow the natural course of their sinful hearts. What Paul goes onto describe includes homosexuality and a whole list of others sins (1:28-32).
Our culture then is not walking a path towards the judgment of God, but walking a path of the judgment of God. And it is all because we have turned from him to follow the “truths” of our own making.
When we look at our culture in light of Romans 1, there are a couple of things we need to understand. First, even though homosexuality is the big issue of the moment, it is no more a worse sin than many we tolerate in our own lives and churches. Paul’s list includes strife. How many relationships among Christians and even within a church reflect an ungodly discord? How many churches have split simply because we don’t have the care to get along for the sake of Christ? He mentions gossip. How often do we yearn to hear the juicy morsel of what Tom or Betty did? How often do we take such knowledge and pass it on to others in some measure of self-righteousness? He mentions disobedience to parents. How often do we just write it off, “That’s what kids do”?
If we love our gossip and if we tolerate strife, we are no better and no more righteous than those who practice and condone homosexuality. We are like Lot, saying, “Take our daughters.”
Peter warns, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). When it comes to our culture, I don’t think we’re where we are at because sinners are acting like sinners. Instead, I believe it is because we who claim the name of Christ are acting like the sinners.
But I worship! I pray! I read my Bible! I vote Republican!
True enough. And when the younger son in the parable of Luke 15 was out wasting his life in reckless living and the squalor of pigpens, the older son was at home serving his father and obeying all that he said. The older son thought he was righteous, but he had no love for either his father or his younger brother. How many of us think we are righteous when we have no love for our Father or our brothers and sisters in the squalor of sin?
And that brings us to the second thing we need to understand about Romans 1. Paul’s proclamation about God’s judgment and mankind’s sin is flanked by a statement of righteousness “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:22), and Paul’s personal exclamation, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16-17).
What does it mean to not be ashamed of the gospel? It means we live every day completely sold out for Jesus around everyone we meet (Luke 9:23-26). It means we do everything we can to make the love and grace of Christ known to our world, calling them to faith and repentance (Luke 24:44-49).
A recent LifeWay survey found that 61% of Protestant church goers in the USA have not shared Christ with anyone in the past six months. We talk about our families, we talk about football and baseball, we get carried away in March Madness, we talk about what little Mikey Jr. achieved in Scouts, we get wrapped up in our TV shows and our facebook statuses and our jobs and our vacations.
We talk about everything and we do everything but the One person and the one things that matters eternally.
After interceding for Sodom, the Bible says, “Abraham returned to his place” (Gen 18:33). Here was the man who God promised, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Here was the man who when Lot was captured, he went to war with several kings and came back victorious (14:1-17). Yet when it came to a people facing God’s judgment upon their sin, Abraham prayed and went home.
No, the Bible does not make any judgment upon Abraham’s motives and actions, but all things considered it seems like quite an anti-climatic move for the one meant to bring God’s blessing to all people.
The greatest blessing and greatest fulfillment of that promise is the person and work of Jesus. God tasks us to take that blessing to the peoples. As we look at our culture under judgment, will we pronounce our displeasure, maybe pray, and go sit at home; or will we go out with the gospel and without shame to see people forever changed?