In verse 16 we saw Lot’s pain and his hesitation before he left his home forever. The angels could see it, too, and with compassion took Lot, his wife, and the two daughters by the hand and led them outside the city. In verse 17 the angels tell them the last instruction how to stay alive – don’t look back.
Looking back – two schools of thought
It is important that we get familiar with the two opposing schools of thought about the relationship between us, human, and the word of God. In our verse this question arise when the angel tells Lot and his family not to look back.
Why is it important?
Because each school of thought leads to a different explanation for the death of Lot’s wife. Each way of thinking also paints a different image of God.
The first school of thought believes that Lot’s wife felt compelled to look back because she could not let go of her past. She did not trust God enough to follow His words. According to this interpretation, God creates a path for us, and our duty is to follow this path, while our devotion is constantly being tested. Not to look back was another test for Lot and his family.
You may ask, why they are being tested? After all, didn’t Lot bring the angels in, despite the risk to himself and his family? Wasn’t he protecting them from the crowd outside? Weren’t these tests enough?
But we also have to remember that years of living in Sodom could have corrupted Lot and his family in many subtle ways. After all, living with other people changes our ways and biases our judgment. Suddenly, things that until not long ago used to be unacceptable, creep into our lives to become part of us. God needed to ensure that Lot and his family deserved saving. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looking back proved that she did not trust God enough, and therefore her punishment was rightly deserved.
When I read this text with this interpretation in mind, I can’t help but think of a completely different story. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Greek mythology. If you are not familiar with the story, here is a brief summary:
Like Lot, who was the only righteous person in Sodom, Orpheus had a special talent. He was the most gifted of all musicians. The Gods themselves could not have enough of his music. So when his beloved wife, Eurydice, died, using his music he convinced Hades, the God of the underworld, to let him take Eurydice back to the world of the living. But like in Lot’s case, there was a condition. Orpheus had to walk before Eurydice, without looking back at her, the wife he had been missing for so long, until they came out of the underworld.
The place was silent. Being the first human to ever walk up along this corridor, Orpheus could not hear Eurydice’s steps behind. He could not be sure she was there, and he started doubting Hades’ promise. He decided to have a quick look back to make sure that indeed she was stepping behind him.
She had been.
But to his and her great dismay as he looked back, demon appeared and started pulling her back toward the underworld. His lack of trust killed his wife for the second time.
The similarity between this interpretation of Lot’s story and the story of Orpheus cannot be ignored. In both cases a person with special talent was rewarded by God, under the condition of total obedience. In both cases the smallest of disobedience put the person back with the with the rest of humanity: Lot’s wife to die with the people of Sodom, and Orpheus with every other human, who cannot reunite in their lifetime with those they have lost.
While the above way of thinking is prevalent, it is not the only one. The second school of thought sees the events in exactly the opposite light. According to this way of thinking, God is not punishing people, but rather trying to save them. His words are warning, not threats. He warns us from risks along our path, the risks that we are facing and those we will be facing. But other than warnings, God does not interfere with our decisions. He makes sure we know, but He lets us make our own choices. And when we do not follow, we do not suffer punishment, but the natural consequences of our own doing.
I do not know what was in the fire that destroyed Sodom. But God knew that looking into it will result in death. Lot’s wife made her choice, and like all of us who ignore warnings, she suffered the consequence. She was not punished.
Which of the two interpretations do you believe is the right one for Lot’s story? Was God giving a command that had to be followed, or was it a warning by God, who other than forcing us, does all He can do to save us? Which is the God you believe in?
The story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 has always bothered me. It is not because Adam and Eve sinned; it is not because a snake could talk; it is not even because of the severe, out of proportion, punishment humanity has, allegedly, suffered as a result. It mostly disturbed me because the story I heard over and again, often from proud believers, diminished God and made him either cruel or incompetent – neither I could accept.