The Bible holds two accounts of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 13, Ezekiel 16).
Most commentators choose one and ignore the other, but I think I see a revealing link between the two.
As the Genesis account (Genesis 19:4) tells us, as dusk falls, a spirit of violence and self-destructiveness seems to descend over the city. All restrictions and cultural norms are cast aside including the core Middle Eastern tradition of welcoming strangers with hospitality (demonstrated by Abraham just a few verses earlier (Genesis 18:1-7).
Rape is the ultimate logical extension of bullying and dehumanizing violation. And the crowd scene we see in Genesis is the predictable product of an oppressed, predatory mob in search of easy victims and a scapegoat.
Mobs act as no individual within them would, with no interest in established societal norms or the dictates of individual consciences.
Rape, whether homosexual or heterosexual is brutal and violent – the ultimate intimate humiliation and intimidation, and those who study the dynamics of rape tell us that it has little to do with sex – it is an acting out of frustrated powerlessness; it is an act of rage against the weaker – precisely the opposite of the Gospel we are called to live out (Matthew 25:40-45).
Rape is brutish impotence in action.
We see this dynamic in adolescents and in social settings of extreme injustice and oppression; people blindly (like the curse in Genesis?) strike out against each other – especially outsiders. We see this in large prisons, ghettos and dysfunctional schools and families.
Unruly crowds are the precursors to chaos.
William Butler Yeats wrote of this many years ago:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Does this mean Sodom (and Gomorrah) were more wicked than any other neighboring cities?
And does this mean that any cities of our era who suffer through catastrophes are more evil then any others?
It is easy, and lazy as well as deceptive, to judge cites who suffer destruction at the hands of man or nature.
Many did this a few years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
The judgment (and its corollary, self-righteousness) continued even though the heaviest hit areas were not the renowned French Quarter, but were the surrounding low-lying districts.
Would anyone argue that the predominantly low income neighborhoods were more evil than any others?
In 2007, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was 95% destroyed by a tornado. Would anyone make the argument that Greensburg was the most evil town in Kansas?
The idea is preposterous. And apparently irresistible.
Besides being selfish and illogical, this is also bad theology. Jesus (Luke 13:4) when asked about several people who died when the tower of Siloam collapsed, responded ‘Do you think they were worse sinners than anyone else?”
And yes, many of us do think those who suffer catastrophe are – or even must be – worse sinners than the rest of us. And this is yet another barometer of how far we are from the heart of Jesus.
When disaster, human or natural does strike, the theology vultures circle, searching for and scrap of accusation to justify God’s wrath – and their own self-righteousness.
Their protests and pronouncements ring as hollow as their belief system.
In Matthew 5:45 Jesus tells us we should be as unrestrictedly generous as God himself who sends sun and rain on the just and unjust. In other words, in God’s economy, good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. If it’s good, we call it Common Grace, if it’s bad we just say ‘stuff happens’.
Disasters come and go as they will, just as Jesus described the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). In fact the term ‘holy spirit’ is where we get the words pnuema, wind and breath.
Some Biblical scholars have investigated the geo-physical causes of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Much of the Middle-East is rich in oil. Both cities were in a valley within this region.
Much of the oil (then and now) seeps into low-lying areas and is (and was) noticeable by its smell – and fumes. We all know now, and presumably they knew then, how explosive fumes can be. It would take little to ignite this bitumen rich atmosphere.
Perhaps they, like us, sought to explain and understand natural phenomenon with a spiritual lesson or character portrayal.
Many cities around the world live in the way of nature’s vagaries. Many cities lie below sea level, several cities are built on major earthquake fault lines. I live in a city directly in the path of a long-overdue volcano.
Will we judge those cities, or will we be judged, on moral grounds for nature’s destructive forces?
Could it be that the ‘outcry’ was God’s fuse, His rationale, for letting loose the forces of nature?
Or could it be that urban destruction is more a result of poor planning than any moral condition?
Most cities in the Middle-East are built on the ruins of previous cities – but not Sodom and Gomorrah.
City planners are more deliberate now, but the reality is that we all live in the shadow, or on the edge of nature’s fury.
Genesis tells us Lot and his family were rescued from Sodom, but not from Sin. In fact they fell, almost immediately, into much greater sin (Genesis 19:30-36).
God can ‘rescue’ us from human or natural circumstances, but the real threat rarely lies there.
Our mortality and determined self-destructiveness seem to define humanity.
As much as this seems to be the pattern of human history for millennia, it doesn’t need to be.
We could tilt the social scales toward justice and equal opportunity and access. We could have communities – and even cultures where every individual – and family – live in peace, safety and prosperity (Zechariah 3:10).
This isn’t socialism, it sanity.
The Bible calls us to it, our cities ‘cry out’ for it, and we could easily do it. It’s far cheaper than the alternative.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.