The Story of Sodom: Morality is it Absolute or Relative?

Sodom and Gomorrah #18 (Genesis 19:13)

I have now returned from the Italian Alps. So, this time the photo for this post is from there โ€“ for your enjoyment โ€“ and not, as normal, related to the story of the chapter. I hope you are ready to go back to the Bible and discuss morality in our story, the story of Sodom.

We will continue with verse 13 in chapter 19.  As we have seen in verse 12, the angels are warning Lot and asking him to leave the city. We know that they did not have to give Lot any explanation. After all, Lot already knows they are Godโ€™s angels, and he will obey them with or without a reason. Still, they explain. They know that if a person understands the reason for an order, they will obey faster and better. This is a simple secret that many in command nowadays have forgotten. Godโ€™s angels remembered.

The angels explain to Lot why they are destroying Sodom. Translation and transliteration of Genesis 19:13. We learn that morality is absolute, not relative.

Is Morality absolute or relative?

During my years of travels, I have met different people from various cultures. Each culture has its own morals, habits, and customs.  Some habits and customs acceptable in one culture can be unacceptable or even considered abomination by another. For example, while in some cultures telling lies is an acceptable behaviour (and when you are caught you simply shrug your shoulders and laugh) in other cultures it is a big shame to be caught lying. In some cultures, killing for the honour of the family is not only acceptable, but demanded; other places will consider it like any other murder.

Every time I encounter such a discrepancy, or when I see behaviours that deeply bother me โ€“ like the way women are treated by some cultures โ€“ I cannot help but ask myself if I am sure I am right, and whether morality should be judged relative to the culture, or whether it absolute and universal.  The story of Sodom clearly gives us an answer. At least some morals are absolute.

The people of Sodom will be punished, even though they are not familiar with the laws of the Bible, maybe not even with the morals and behaviour code of the desert. Ignorance of morality will not save them.

The angels do not ask if the people of Sodom abide by the laws of their country or the laws of their city โ€“ the city of Sodom. It does not matter. The cry coming from the city is sufficient justification for the severe punishment they are going to face โ€“ the destruction of their city. In the words of the angels:

Because their cry has grown in the face of God, they will be punished, and Sodom will be destroyed. 

Translation of Genesis 19:13

According to this verse, a sufficient criteria of moral judgement is that many people suffer in the hands of others, that many people cry and beg for Godโ€™s help because no human is going to help them. The prophets kept warning that it is how we treat others that God cares the most about and judges us by. To quote Isaiah (1:17). Justice and compassion is what God is asking of us:

Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Is this the morals our society is built upon? Is that how WE see our duty to God?

Lot’s Predicament: Abandoning his Family in Sodom

Sodom and Gomorrah #17 (Genesis 19:12)

Hi everyone. It has been a few weeks since my last โ€˜regularโ€™ post that explored the story of Sodom and Lot.  From my other posts you could have guessed that I had been travelling in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem and the desert, including the area around the Dead Sea and Sodom. Luckily my car had a great aircondition, as it was so hot, over 40C (100F) that I could barely survive 20 minutes away from it. The time around Sodom was when the story of Lot became vivid in my mind. I could clearly see why hospitality was a matter of life and death in such conditions. I could imagine how Lot and his wife must have physically felt as they ran away up the mountain in this heat. And I could feel great compassion towards them and their suffering. They were real people suffering a horrendous tragedy.

So now I am ready to go back to the Bible and our story of Lot. We will continue from verse 12 in chapter 19.

Godโ€™s angels instruct Lot to save his extended family, the family in Sodom that does not live with him. He must take the horrific decision to abandon them.

Lot and His Family

Lotโ€™s guests have just blinded the people of Sodom with immense light. Their act not only saved Lotโ€™s life, but also ensured he knew they were angels and not just ordinary guests. If until now he treated them because they were guests, now he will follow their instructions.

What is the first thing they do once their identity is revealed? They ask Lot a question: โ€œWho else do you have in this city who does not live with you? Sons in law? Sons? Daughters?โ€

Why do they ask? Donโ€™t they know already? Of course they do. They are angels, after all. So their question must have another meaning. Actually, three I can think of.

The first is the obvious. Lot must still be in shock after his experience outdoors. Giving instructions to a person in shock, a person still confused, there is no guarantee he would follow properly. The angels first need to ease his mind, make him think and tell them about his family, so when he goes out to save them, he will not forget anyone out of confusion.

The second reason is to emphasise, once more, that a single righteous person can make all the difference. Lets count: Lot and his wife and the two daughters living with them – 4, two married daughters (at least) and their husbands – 4, and at least two son make at minimum ten people. But we already know that there were no ten righteous people in Sodom. So at least one of the people to be saved is not righteous. They are to be saved thanks to Lotโ€™s righteousness. Righteousness always benefits and saves others.

The third point is to make us, the readers aware, that Lot and his wife will be leaving a first-degree family behind when they escape the incineration of Sodom. This understanding alone may give us some sympathy with the mental burden he and his wife must be carrying during the escape. Hopefully it will make us think about them as people in unbearable pain, and not just Biblical characters with no feelings or emotions that appear in the story for our quick judgement and condemnation.

The Bible gives us many opportunities to learn that compassion, not judgement, is, the mindset of the righteous. Does the fact that they left family behind change anything in the way you see Lot and his wife? Can you feel any compassion towards them?  

The Mortal Sin of Sodom โ€“ What Was It?

Sodom and Gomorrah recap (Genesis 19:1-11)

So far, chapter 19 has been telling us the story of Lot and the Angels in Sodom. It introduces to us the people of Sodom and their customs.  Verse 11, which we covered in our last post, is the end of the first part of Lot’s story. It is a natural place for us to stop and ask ourselves what do we know about the mortal sin of the people of Sodom, a sin so grave that condemned all the citizens to a horrible death and to a complete destruction of their city.

Those who have been following this blog already know that I believe that everything in the Bible has numerous meanings, and that the โ€˜on-the-surfaceโ€™ interpretation is only one out of many. In the story of Sodom, the common interpretation is that their sin was sodomy and rape.

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The Disoriented People of Sodom: Why Temporary Blindness?

Sodom and Gomorrah #16 (Genesis 19:10-11)

Lot, who is negotiating with the people of Sodom outside his home, is in great danger. His guests save his life. Now for the first time, they are revealed to us and to Lot as angels. What can we learn from the way they saved Lot?

Genesis 19:10  translation and transliteration. The angels save Lot from the Sodom crowd

Discussion

Whenever I read these two verses, I canโ€™t help but asking myself why the angles only hit the people of Sodom with temporary blindness (ืกึทึผื ึฐื•ึตืจึดื™ื) . After all, in a few short hours the entire city of Sodom is going to be destroyed by fire, and all these people will die. Why donโ€™t the angels simply kill them now? What difference could a few hours make?

This meditation always raises two insights in my mind. First, it reminds me the easy hand on the trigger of our security forces. No, I am not talking about self-defence or protecting other people. What comes to my mind is the killing of law breakers at times when they do not impose a threat.   

Stop! Says the Bible.

This is not how morality and the law should work. Even if a person deserves to die, it is not for the messenger, nor the police to punish them. Their lives should be in the hand of the judge, and only the judge should have the right to punish.

It was not the role of the angles to kill the people of Sodom, and even as they had a good reason, they chose to disable the people without harming them. Punishment will take place in the morning.

The second question that always crosses my mind is who am I to decide that a few extra hours of life do not matter? 

A lot can happen in a few hours: a famous mathematician, Galois, formed an entire theory the night before he was shot in a duel. The novelist Ryoki Inoue, finished three books in a day, and many ordinary people found their peace, repented, or found God, in a flash. A whole lifetime can take place in a few hours, and a few hours of grace is what the angels gave the people of Sodom. After all, it is possible that being struck with temporary blindness could have helped some of the people see the light.

Every moment of life is of utmost value. So letโ€™s not dismiss a few hours when othersโ€™ life are on the line. Letโ€™s not waste them when our own lives are concerned.  

Journey to Israel – The Divine Desert

The desert: hot, barely any vegetation, water means life. It is the place where I feel closest to God. It is not a coincidence that much of the Bible takes place there. It is the place where people have put themselves in solitude for years to feel the spirit speaking to them directly, with no distractions, with nothing in between them and the entire universe.

This is particularly true with the first light of the morning. The air is cold, nearly frozen. First light appears, and from the darkness the vastness of nothingness starting to shape into a scenery that soon becomes too hot to bare. It is the first hour of light, that tells you the meaning of life and your place in the universe.

This is where I am now on my journey to Israel, and I feel blessed to be able to share these photos of first light in the desert with you.

The Divine Desert - first light in the morning. Journey to Israel
First light in the Morning: The Divine Desert

First Light in the Morning

Negev
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The Angry People of Sodom Demand – evil – Justice

Sodom and Gomorrah #15 (Genesis 19:9)

The people of Sodom refuse to accept Lotโ€™s daughters instead of the angels. Why? Because justice (by the rule of Sodom) is what they are after, and Lot is breaking the law. They want the angels and will do anything to get them.

Genesis 19:9  Translation and transliteration. The people of Sodom refuse to get lot's daughters, and want to punish Lot. Justice according to their law and rules is what they are after. What does it have to

The people of Sodom demanding justice

The people of Sodom demand justice. They are not a simple mob motivated by their lust. They could have taken the girls if that was their objective (and then continue to the others). They are angry because their rules have been broken. They are angry with Lot, a newcomer to the city ( ื”ึธืึถื—ึธื“ ื‘ึธึผื-ืœึธื’ื•ึผืจ ), who despite his newcomer status, does not follow their way of life (ื•ึทื™ึดึผืฉึฐืืคึนึผื˜ ืฉึธืืคื•ึนื˜).

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Lot: A Distressed Fatherโ€™s Impossible Choice

Sodom and Gomorrah #14 (Genesis 19:8)

Lot is willing to sacrifice his two daughters to the crowd to save his angel guests. Unthinkable? A sin? An evil deed? Yet, God still saves him from the destruction of Sodom. Did he deserve being saved?

Bible Genesis: 19:8 translation and transliteration. Sodom: Lot is sacrificing his daughters to the crowd to save the angels

Discussion

Can we even start to comprehend Lot’s predicament? Shouldnโ€™t it change completely our perception of him? Not a righteous person anymore, but an unloving, cruel father who did not care about his daughters. 

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Journey to Israel – Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday and Passover

Today, Good Friday fell on the Day of the Passover. So first I went to visit and take photos of the Garden Tomb and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a major pilgrimage centre for Christians all around the world. It is said to be the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the next posts I will continue sharing with you my photos of my Journey to Israel, here from the preparation for the Passover.

A visit of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Israel, on Good Friday. It has long been a major pilgrimage centre for Christians all around the world. It is said to be the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

A major pilgrimage centre for Christians all around the world.

Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel.
Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
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Journey to Israel – The magic Monastery of The Cross, Jerusalem

Monastery of The Cross, Valley of The Cross, Jerusalem. One how the historical places of my travel to biblical spots in Israel.

Day 4

Monastery of The Cross, Valley of The Cross, Jerusalem

Hi everyone,

I wanted to share with you that I am now travelling through Israel. Today I’m in Jerusalem , and this is a photo of one of the most amazing historical places. This is the Monastery of the Cross in the Valley of the Cross.

Around the monastery there are dozens of olive trees, some are young, but a few are many hundreds of years old.  (not far there is the oldest tree which is believed to be over 3000 years old).

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