Monday, February 05, 2007

turn your back and run

Sodom and Gomorrah. In the likeness of “forbidden fruit” and “Bathsheba”, mention of these two cities immediately brings to mind one thing: sin. Sodom and Gomorrah make us think of outright, nasty offense and indiscretion, along with all of their worst consequences. To the believer, Sodom and Gomorrah represent the idea of sin city in a way that Vegas could never come close to.

For Abraham’s nephew, Lot, however, Sodom was home. His house was there, as was his family—a wife, two daughters and their husbands-to-be. He walked the same streets each day. He saw familiar faces around the city. If we strip back our deeply ingrained images of Sodom for a second, we might see that it was home to him as Colorado Springs is home to me.

But we ask, how in the world did he feel at home there? How did he come to be comfortable with it all? Perhaps it happened slowly--the gradual, almost imperceptible desensitizing that represents the way most of us find ourselves living in a place that reeks of indiscretion and ungodliness.

When Abraham and Lot parted ways in Genesis 13, Lot chose the “whole plain of the Jordan, [which] was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar.” He looked out at good land, and decided to settle there. Then, the Bible tells us, he “lived among the cities of the plains and pitched his tent near Sodom,” where men were sinning greatly. Perhaps he moved is tent closer over time, and began to chat with the citizens. In the end, whatever the final straw was, he pulled up his tent stakes and moved into Sodom. I wonder how long the process was. I wonder how long it took for a man to go from being disgusted by the sin of Sodom to feeling at home in the midst of it.

Lot would have died right there in that cozy home if it weren’t for the prayers of his faithful uncle. But before God brought down his wrath on the city whose sin repulsed him, he sent two angels, whom Lot welcomed into his home as guests for the night. When men tried to beat down Lot’s door to have sex with his visitors, the angels had seen all they needed of the city’s sin, and they said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here--sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

Lot rushed to his sons-in-law in the night, but they didn’t believe him. How he must have pleaded! When dawn approached and the angels warned him all the more urgently to flee, even then he hesitated. He was torn. God could have given up on him right there; the angels could turned their backs at his flimsy faith and his attachment to such a home of sin. But the Bible tells us something far more beautiful: “When he hesitated, the [angels] took his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them” (Genesis 19:16). Yes, God could have turned away; instead, he took Lot by the hand.

Outside the city walls, more urgent instructions: “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere on the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” Lot asked to flee to a town instead, the Lord consented, and off he ran toward Zoar, his wife and daughters with him. He had to hasten, for the Lord had told him, “But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.”

The words echo:“Do not look back, and do not stop anywhere on the plain!”

How amazingly hard those instructions must have been, and how seriously God took them (as we know, Lot’s wife did stop to look back, and she ended up as a shapely stick of sodium). Yes, Lot knew he was being spared, and he knew that he was running away from destruction. But really, wouldn’t you want to look back? Wouldn’t you want one last look before your home went up in blazes? He must have wondered if his sons-in-law were trying to escape, or if anyone had made it outside the gates. He must have wondered what the flames looked like as they licked the city walls. But for Lot, merciful rescue from pit of sin meant never, ever looking back. Not if he heard his name cried out, not if he wanted to remember what the city looked like in the morning light, not if he realized he had forgotten a goodbye. Just turning his back and running toward a town he may have never seen before.

Lot was lovingly, mercifully spared, but being delivered from Sodom was not all smiles and warm feelings. He left behind family, lost everything he owned, and had to run into the unknown without so much as a glance back toward the place he called home.

This story flabbergasts me, because it is so familiar. How well I know the slow desensitization of sin. I know what it means to head out looking for good land, only to find myself scooting my tent closer and closer to sin, until before I know it, I’m living in the middle of it. As Beth Moore puts it, until I'm hanging up pictures on the walls of my pit.

I know of the prayers of faithful friends, and of the merciful ways the Lord chooses to lead me out even when I hesitate. And I know what it feels like to want to look back. How it feels to be sucking wind and running toward the unknown. How it feels to know it was sin, but want to remember what it looked like in the morning light. What if I forgot a goodbye?

In all of it, I am brought back to a verse from Hebrews I wrote about months ago: “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.”

May I learn more and more to take hold of the merciful hand that leads me out, and to trust him when he tells me to never, ever look back.


Carrie said...

In this case, turning your back and running is an act of courage.
To quote The Fray, "sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same." I commend you for doing what's right, no matter the cost. Although, the cost of disobedience always ends up higher, doesn't it? And props for wrestling with and writing about this difficult lesson learned so the rest of us can benefit too.

Olin said...

I didn't have the time or courage to really read this post until now. I saw "sin" and Sodom and Gomorrah and my insides just got heavy. I guess it proved timely in an interesting way. When I was looking through the strongholds for prayer booklet you sent me I was thinking, jeez I should be praying about these strongholds in my own life - I have become accustomed to some norms and ideals and perhaps built my life around those things that aren't necessarily God centered.

Olin said...

Again... trying to do the 'read through the Bible thing' and there it is again in Luke 17. Jesus was driving home the point. It really made me think about the rapture. It sounds like there will be a choice even at the last. Even though they know Jesus some people will love the world too much to leave it.