July 24, 2016 - Reclaiming Sodom

In those days, the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out."

While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom,
the LORD remained standing before Abraham.
Then Abraham drew nearer and said:
"Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city;
would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
Far be it from you to do such a thing,
to make the innocent die with the guilty
so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!
Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"
The LORD replied,
"If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom,
I will spare the whole place for their sake."
Abraham spoke up again:
"See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes!
What if there are five less than fifty innocent people?
Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?"
He answered, "I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there."
But Abraham persisted, saying "What if only forty are found there?"
He replied, "I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty."
Then Abraham said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.
What if only thirty are found there?"
He replied, "I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there."
Still Abraham went on,
"Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord,
what if there are no more than twenty?"
The LORD answered, "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty."
But he still persisted:
"Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?"
He replied, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

Genesis 18:20-32

Sadly, this extraordinary story is often interpreted as a prohibition against homosexuality and is therefore ignored.   

There are a multitude of reasons not to believe the story is intended to condemn human sexuality.  Among them is that Lot, whom God rescues from the city before its destruction because he alone is “just”, offers his virginal daughters to satisfy the lust of the mob clamoring to sexually assault his house guests.  There’s no chance even the earliest readers of Scripture would have seen that as a reasonable, moral choice.  Abraham, who will eventually be the father of all three of the major religions, became wealthy by passing his wife off as his sister to trick local kings into having sex with her and then extracting payoffs from them to avoid divine wrath.  Scripture is not about standards of sexual propriety.

The real point is in Abraham’s lengthy speech.  As usual, Scripture is not the imposition of a moral code to be followed by us.  Rather, it is a description of the moral code God chooses to follow.  In this case, it reveals that God is not a utilitarian.  He is happy to let a whole city of gang rapists escape justice to avoid unjustly punishing an innocent individual.  Said another way, He isn’t interested in maximizing the good at the expense of the individual.  This is an oft-repeated theme in Scripture:  God notices every sparrow that falls (Matt 10:29).  God will leave the flock to rescue the single lost sheep, and He will sweep the house all day to find a single lost coin (Luke 15:3-10).

We are not each the recipients of some small portion of God's general love of humanity.  We are each the beloved of God for whom He will make any sacrifice.   Far from being a story to inspire judgment and division, this story affirms that each of us is priceless.