The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre and said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’ (Genesis 18:20-21)And so one of the more violent episodes in the Old Testament kicks off. By the time the narrative is over, four cities are destroyed, and Lot's had children with his daughters, having had his wife turned to salt.
"How very grave their sin!" says God. And of course we all know what the sin of Sodom was. The Bible is very clear about it. In fact, it's Ezekiel who tells the people of Jerusalem exactly what Sodom's sins were:
'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Eze 16:49-50)Bit of a shocker that. The Genesis text itself doesn't say the towns were destroyed because of gay people. It does say that the men of Sodom wanted to rape the angels that Lot had in his house. But that's not because they were gay. It's because they wanted to humiliate and violate a bunch of foreigners.
But if the sin of the Cities of the Plain was being arrogant and overfed - not helping the poor and needy - that needs to give us pause for thought. In the USA we have a presidential candidate who wants to build a massive wall to keep Mexicans out. In Europe we use subsidies and trade tariffs - you know, the ones we're worried about in the UK at the moment - but we use them to keep African agriculture poor and dependent upon us - to bias markets in the way we want.
Which is all a heck of a way to make it feel like we have no chance of making individual impacts but of course we can. We may well be overfed in the West, but individually we can make it our jobs not to be arrogant or unconcerned. We can get ourselves educated in where there is need in the world - and we can ensure we get involved with or support the agencies that can make a difference.
Let's jump on and consider the nature of the Lord in this passage. This isn't God as some sweet granddad. This is a God who gets really angry about injustice. God is going to judge the people of Sodom and the other cities. God is going to do something about it.
This is the God we worship - one who expects us to be concerned for the poor, To be open to their need. God wants justice, and therefore we should work for justice. Doesn't mean we have to be political. Does mean we need to be generous.
But there's another side of God's nature here - the mercy.
Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten [righteous people] are found there.’ The Lord answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ (Gen 18:32)Abraham bargains the Lord all the way down in terms of how many people it would take to save the city. Down from fifty to ten. He never pushes it once more - never asks the question we would want him to ask - what about if there's just one just person in the city? Then would you save it?
Well, in the event the place is worse than ten righteous people. The only righteous people escape from the destruction. But an aspect of God's nature has been revealed that will be more explored as the Bible's tales weave across the centuries, from myth to history. The promise of a "remnant" - that a faithful few will be preserved. That even in the middle of terror a thread of hope will remain. Until it culminates in a story where God takes all the injustice upon the shoulders of Jesus. And where, through just one righteous man, the whole world can be saved.