Sodom and Gomorrah #21 (Genesis 19:16)
The fire of hell is about to hit the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. An entire land is to be wiped out. Whenever I read this part of the Bible, I cannot stop sadness from gnawing inside me. Sadness not only for the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are to be incinerated. For me deep sadness also raises its head when I realise how rare compassion is among those who read this passage together with me.
So many of the discussions about the passage are about things like the exact nature of the sin of the people of the Sodom; how little of it is thinking about Lot and how he must have felt when he had to evacuate and leave everything behind. Wasn’t he a man? A human?
If we, the Bible followers, fail to feel compassion when reading about a tragedy at the comfort of our own homes, will we fell compassion towards others when we ourselves are facing hardship? Can we even feel it at all? Moreover, is compassion a luxury when a mass tragedy takes place? Verse 16 comes to teach us that our compassion is never a luxury, it must always have place in our hearts.
So much commentary is written about Sodom and Gomorrah, about their sins, about their punishment. A great deal is also written about Lot, whether he was a righteous man who deserved saving. Yet so little I could find about Lot the human (btw, if you know of such commentary, please let me know).
I can’t stop myself from thinking what went through Lot’s mind when he had to flee his home.
The Bible does not tell us.
But it does tell us that Lot procrastinated. That should be enough for every sentient human to get a glimpse into Lot’s thinking, into his feelings, into his state of mind.
Lot is already aware that is home, his city, and everything he knows are about to disappear forever. Maybe he would have chosen to stay, to die with everyone he knew. But he has no choice. He is a family man. He has a wife and two young daughters to keep alive.
I can see him walking around the house, touching walls and furniture, lifting small items and putting them back, trying to grab onto memories. Maybe standing out and looking around, knowing that his entire world is about to end. He is to leave family there, married daughters, sons in laws. Does he have grandchildren? Does he have friends?
The Bible does not tell us
It mostly tells us the big picture. After all, the less we think about the other as human, the easier it is for us to accept hurting them, to normalise atrocities.
The ‘big picture’ is what leaders want their people to focus on, not on the humanity of those on the other side of the gun-sights. And this is what the Bible warns us from in this verse.
The angels, too, know that the time is short. They have a job to do, a city to destroy. Why should they care about a single person when they are about to kill thousands?
But do they lose their temper? Do they get angry when Lot does not follow their command? They are angels after all, and Lot knows it. Shouldn’t he rush to do as told?
But despite the destruction about to befall on the city, they understand Lot and his feelings. They need to hurry, and by the hand they take Lot, his wife, and his daughters. One hand to each.
Since we were born, we learned that nothing is more reassuring, nothing is more comforting, nothing is more intimate than holding someone’s hand, someone who cares for us. Imagine the comfort they would get by holding the hands of the angels, feeling חֶמְלַת יְהוָה, the mercy of God.
Even in the hardest of times, when death, pain, and suffering are around, compassion towards others is what keeps us from losing our humanity and turning into the beast. Lot’s story is one of the many places in the Bible made for us to practice compassion, to learn to feel it. But if we fail to feel it towards Lot’s and his family, are we lying to ourselves when we believe that compassion is what we believe in? Or is it one of the many things that we crave to receive, but never to give?