By Pastor Josh Bundy
There’s a story in the Bible that might not be about what you thought.
3,700 years ago, a meteor burst in the air over the Dead Sea region leveling 500 square miles of Bronze Age cities and settlements, vaporizing plant and animal life, and spreading sulfur and salt over the most fertile and well-watered land in the region, rendering it uninhabitable for nearly 700 years. This discovery was made by scientists in the last two decades with major reporting in 2018. (Google it.) The ancient Bronze Age site of the event? There are various opinions, but many believe it was the Biblical city of Sodom.
Sodom plays an important role in the Bible and in the character development of God’s chosen man, Abram (later Abraham). Abram and his nephew Lot had become wildly wealthy in the currency of the day – livestock. They were running out of room in the fields and into conflict as herds overlapped. Abram made a generous offer to his nephew: you pick a region to settle in, I’ll pick another, and that way we won’t be in each other’s way. You pick first.
Given the chance, Lot picks as many of us would. He takes the very best, richest, and most fertile area for his own – right next to Sodom. The Bible describes it as “like the garden of the Lord!” Wow! Abram keeps his word and lets Lot take the best region, then goes the other direction.
But in Genesis 18 there is trouble brewing. Abraham hears from God that Sodom is headed for disaster because there is great wickedness there. He prays a remarkable little prayer, “Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25)
Abraham asks God to spare the whole region if there were 50 righteous people, or 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally… 10. In the end, God agrees! He feels the same way as Abraham, willing to spare an entire region for the sake of only 10 God-loving people in it. (Those of us reading the story later get clues that God was merciful the entire time but wanted to see if Abraham had the heart for the lost that God had; see Gen. 18:17-19).
Regrettably, however, the righteous 10 people cannot be found! God sends two messengers to warn the righteous, but the people of Sodom treat them horribly and lose any chance of hearing the warning and fleeing in time. Only Lot, his wife, and two daughters eventually flee the disaster, and it is questionable whether even they were really found worthy. Lot’s wife returns for some reason that is unknown to us and the Bible remembers that she was “turned into a pillar of salt.” Remarkably, this is not because God was angry with her, but because she didn’t heed the deliverance God had sent and… if recent science has truly opened a window into this event from scripture, she was caught exposed in the airburst that transformed a landscape in mere seconds from heavenly to uninhabitable.
Sodom becomes a hard warning in scripture for the fate of those who reject God’s salvation, but it is not a story that gives believers permission to ignore the situation of the lost or to enjoy their downfall. Far from it! It is a story about God developing a man to feel about the lost as God feels about them.
Do we pray for those who are lost like Abraham did? Do we care about God’s reputation enough to intercede for them? Are we participating in God’s plan to avert disaster in their lives? This is the test of the story: not who is right and who is wrong but who cares enough to do something about it.
At Covenant our values of being missional and relational especially stand out to me when I consider this story. Are we going beyond merely praying for the lost? Are we engaging them? Are we breaking up our huddles that only contain Christians to make time, space, and conversation available to the lost?
Are our (non-work) text messages largely only to other believers? Are there any lost people in our contact lists? Do we engage in community events, rub shoulders, have meals, or throw parties for our neighbors?
Abraham was far from a perfect man. He made many mistakes, and they are told in scripture. He also was a man who was learning from the character of God to care about justice, deliverance, and mercy. I pray that our summer barbeques, pool parties, vacations, and whatever else we enjoy would represent the intentionality of Abraham to get in conversation with God on behalf of lost people around us.