None of us can afford to call good bad, or bad good. The prophet Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (Isa 5:20-21).
This is a lament that needs to bring a tear to all of our eyes.
Consider, for example, one of the most dramatic and fearsome events of the Bible. In the early pages of the book of Genesis we read about a catastrophic event that changed forever the legacy of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses tells us that fire from heaven fell on these two ancient communities on the rim of the Dead Sea in spite of the intervention and pleadings of the Patriarch Abraham.
Prior to fire from the sky, the book of Genesis tells us that the plain of the Jordan river was “Well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (Gen 13:10). Moses adds, however, that the people of this area were unusually wicked and sinned greatly against the Lord (13:13). Later the book of Genesis describes a kind of out of control sexual violence that preceded the judgment that fell on the cities (Gen 19:1-10).
But, do we have a right view of Sodom’s wrongs? If we had a conversation with God, how would God answer the question, “What were you seeing in Sodom that caused you to destroy them?”
Listen to how the prophet Ezekiel answers this question for us. In the 16th chapter of his prophecy, he tells us what God says as he looks back on the judgment of Sodom. In sober words of warning to the citizens of Jerusalem, the prophet writes in behalf of God, “As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit” (Ezek 16:49-50).
No, we can’t afford to minimize any wrong in this list– and certainly not the terrible out-of-control sexual violence that we read about in the 19th chapter of Genesis. But, in the process, let’s not fall into the error of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. Some of them were more interested in judging others than letting their own wrongs open their eyes to Christ. To avoid their mistake, let’s take a moment to reflect on God’s own description of the sin of Sodom. Let’s not forget his point that the sins of Jerusalem ended up making Sodom and Samaria look good by comparison (Ezek 16:46-62).
I know that, for many reasons, this is a tough subject to talk about. But I hope we can have a conversation filled with truth, grace, and a sense of history, rather than the kind of talk that drives people away from Christ rather than to him. Since Jesus never called good bad, or bad good, but still said that he came to rescue rather than condemn, can we help one another do the same?