Thursday, January 13, 2011

You Can Take a Boy out of the Country . . .

Genesis 18-19 records the account of God's visitation of Sodom and Gomorrah to investigate their wickedness and, if found guilty, to destroy them for it. "Then the LORD said, 'Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know'" (18:20-21; see also 19:13).

Who made this "outcry" to the Lord against Sodom's people? We can infer that there are not even ten righteous persons among the two cities (18:22-33). My guess is that it was Lot, Abraham's nephew. Peter records that "righteous Lot" was "greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked" in Sodom and was tormented within by their daily corruption (2 Pet. 2:6-8).

But that's not the picture that emerges from Genesis 19. Though on account of Abraham and his prayers, Lot is rescued by the angels along with his wife and daughters (19:29). For starters, while he kept up the customary Near Eastern hospitality toward strangers by trying to protect his guests from being gang-raped, he offered instead his two virgin daughters! Then we learn that Lot had allowed unrighteous men to marry his daughters (v. 14). And when the angels urged Lot to flee from Sodom, lest he be swept away, "he lingered" (v.15) and even had to be forcibly dragged out of Sodom. Lot's heart seemed to be with Sodom and its pleasures. Even when he does flee, he argues with the angels to not return to open country but to join a new city instead (cities being associated with the corruption of man in Genesis) (vv. 17-22).

Under such headship, what then did the rest of his family look like? His wife didn't heed the angels' admonition to not look back longingly at Sodom--and she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters got their own father drunk and slept with him to become pregnant (with no apparent opposition on their father's behalf).

Apparently it is easier to get the family out of Sodom than it is to get the Sodom out of the family.*

I don't know what Lot's ultimate fate was before the Lord. From this account, everything looks grim. But I think 2 Peter 2:6-8 is the ray of hope. The final word on his life is that he is called "righteous Lot," and he goes down on the record as a man who was vexed within over living among evil people. Lot was simul justus et peccator -- at the same time righteous and yet a sinner--because the only true righteousness anyone can possess is that of Jesus Christ himself. Lot may have been a sinner, and his heart could still have been drawn to the pleasures of Sodom, but new desires had sprung up within that caused him to love the Lord and his law and to hate the wickedness of men around him. He was torn within, just like Paul in Romans 7, because he had been justified and was righteous, and Godward desires had been planted within his heart. "Unbelievers don't have such a struggle," notes Jerry Bridges.

For the most part, they enjoy their sin or rationalize their sinful attitudes. They feel justified in their self-righteousness, their criticial and unforgiving spirits, and their pursuits of pleasure and materialism [note Gen. 19:9]. Occasionally, they regret the
consequences of their attitudes and actions, but they do not see them as sin. . . . They may or may not have conflicts with other people, but there is little conflict within themselves. ("The Discomfort of the Justified Life," Modern Reformation, July/August 2006)

I think the key to figuring this all out is given within Paul's account in Romans 7 of his own struggle to live a new, holy life in Christ. "For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out" (v. 18). Paul goes on to explain that it is not truly him but residual sin, the "old Adam" within, that hasn't been fully put to death yet (cf. 8:13). What counts is not so much the degree of our progress in holiness--that is, love for God and for our neighbors--but the desire that we progress. Jesus teaches that when there is "good treasure" within our hearts--God-honoring, pure, loving desires--such desires will overflow into our deeds and will prove that we are at our core "good trees" (Luke 6:43-45).

In the meantime, in what do we then hope? Paul gives us two solid anchors: (1) We can be confident that the day will come when, at our death, we will be freed entirely from the realm of sin into a new home where righteousness dwells (Rom. 7:24-25; 2 Pet. 3:13). (2) When we are "wed to Christ" by faith, we can know that we have "died to the law through the body of Christ" (Rom. 7:4). Our old self under the curse and condemnation of the law has died, and now there is no longer any condemnation awaiting us because Jesus has already fully taken our punishment upon himself in his death (8:1-4).
*I wish I were this witty, but I must give credit where credit's due: This statement is from Leland and Philip Graham Ryken's preface to Genesis 19 in The Literary Study Bible.

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