Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another take on Sodom and Gomorrah

Homosexuality and Sodom and Gomorrah go together like peanut butter and jelly, like fall and football, like Facebook and status updates. You can't talk about one without talking about the other--right?

After all, Sodom and Gomorrah are inexorably intertwined with homosexual behavior. Sodom is, of course, the root of the word sodomy, which Wikipedia defines as "an act of 'unnatural sex.'"

Ask anyone in our culture why the Bible says Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed, and practically everyone (whether they believe the Bible or not) will say it was destroyed because of homosexuality. The homosexual ties to Sodom and Gomorrah are part of our national conscience--regardless of one's spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. Late night comics, activists, politicians pushing various agendas, pastors, and even rock 'n roll bands, discuss, joke, ridicule, and invoke the homosexual sins of these two cities.

At forty-one years old, someone pointed out to me (in a book I was reading, not in church) that there is more to the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah than the simplistic storyline that "God rained down fire and sulphur to destroy the perverted and wicked homosexuals."

Note: I am NOT dismissing the realities of sexual sin or saying such sin does not matter to God. However, I believe most Christians have seized upon this aspect of the Sodom and Gomorrah story while ignoring a crucial element.

The prophet Ezekiel was tirelessly warning Israel about coming judgment and the fall of Jerusalem. He explains the evil and degradation of Sodom and Gomorrah in this way in Ezekiel 16:49: "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." What!!!! The residents of Sodom sound a lot like most people in 21st century America, and honestly, like most people sitting in our church pews, myself included.

If I am brutally honest (and this is painful to admit), I have to confess that I want the world to revolve around Me! I want to control my own life and the lives of everyone around Me, so that I can be happy, comfortable, and satisfied at all times. Everyone needs to be focused on my goals, my dreams, my desires, and my longings. I do NOT want to be upset, irritated, hurt, bothered, or offended by others. Instead I DO want others to esteem Me, praise Me, cater to Me, love Me, and support Me. I spend as much time each day as I can making sure that all of the above is firmly in place. I'm in love with Me!

When I stake out a position loving myself above anybody else, I am being arrogant.

I only have to step on the scale to see that I am literally overfed; it is easy for me to down half a pan (at least) of Ghirardelli double-chocolate brownies by myself. However, I believe the word "overfed" in this verse entails more than just calorie count. I think it is about over consumption in general--gorging myself on not just food for the stomach, but clothes at the mall (my closet is already full), dust-collecting knick knacks for my home, and the latest toys for my children, with an ever-increasing desire for more.

I am overfed, in more ways than one.

Whether I say it or not, most of the time my attitude is, "I expend a lot of effort making sure I'm happy and my family is happy, so I really don't have the time, brain cycles, energy, or interest to worry about what suffering might be going on elsewhere in the world. I don't really even want to know about brain damage due to malnutrition, the mass rape of women in the Congo, or children with rotting teeth in Appalachia, because that might put a damper on all the fun I'm having. Please don't disturb my peaceful cozy existence with other's problems, because 48 Hours mystery is getting ready to come on, and I need to get myself some Blue Bell ice cream and relax in my recliner."

This reflects a heart attitude of being unconcerned.

What about helping the poor and needy? As my awareness of the needs around me and throughout the world have grown, our family has made a slight uptick in our giving to charities and serving others. But is my heart where God wants it to be? Am I really sacrificing things that I would like to have so that others can live?

If not, then it is hard to say I care about the poor and needy.

As a married heterosexual woman, I thought the lessons of Sodom and Gomorrah were largely irrelevant to me. But then I realized, how can I, and other Christians, embrace the lessons on sexual purity found in the Bible, yet ignore the (many) lessons about caring for the poor and needy? Could it be, as David Platt suggests, that "The difference is that one involves a social taboo in the church and the other involves a social norm in the church."? Have we become so accustomed to consumerism, greed, materialism, and self-fulfillment (in our own lives and/or the lives of other Christians) that we no longer really consider them a sin?

The expression "there's nothing new under the sun" is true. The heart attitudes of the people living in the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah reflect many of my heart attitudes as well. I hope I can learn from Ezekiel's words by repenting of my constant focus on myself. Instead, I want to learn to see, care for, and love others the way God does.