Trying to Save Sodom

Ancient Sodom was a cesspool of immorality. Its people were so wicked that God was ready to destroy it (Genesis 18). But the patriarch Abraham, knowing that Sodom was home to his nephew Lot, interceded on behalf of the city. Suppose there were fifty righteous people there, he said — would God not spare Sodom for their sake? The Lord answered that if that many godly inhabitants were found there, He would not destroy the city.  

But Abraham knew that Sodom would not yield even fifty righteous people. So he continued pleading for God’s mercy even if the number should be fewer. Finally he stopped at ten. And God promised, “I will not destroy it on account of ten.”

Of course, Sodom was destroyed, along with its wicked neighbor, Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Lot and his two daughters were the only ones who escaped, having heeded the warning of angelic messengers. The rest of Sodom’s people, including Lot’s own wife and sons-in-law, perished. The city had contained a few godly souls, but not enough for the Lord to spare it.

I like Tony Evans’ observation on this story. Sodom, he writes, “wasn’t destroyed just because the sinners were sinning, but because God couldn’t find ten righteous people. He couldn’t find a remnant that made the culture worth saving.”

What about America? There’s no denying that some elements of our culture would make the ancients of Sodom and Gomorrah feel right at home. Could the nation be on the verge of divine judgment because of it? God has given no prophetic verdict (the confident pronouncements of some religious folks notwithstanding), so we have no way to know. But I suspect that if the Lord continues to bless and preserve this country, it will be for the sake of those within it who continue to seek Him. Christians, then, need to be pursuing holy lives, not only with a view toward our own eternal redemption, but also with a view toward making the culture in which we live one that’s worth saving.

However, in God’s perfect judgment, it is possible for a society to pass the point of no return. When Ezekiel began prophesying among the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Jerusalem was still standing, and the people held out a vain hope for its deliverance. But God said it was too late: “Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves” (Ezekiel 14:14). Back home in Jerusalem itself, Jeremiah was preaching a similar message: “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me,” said the Lord, “My heart would not be with this people” (Jeremiah 15:1). After enduring generations of disobedience, God’s patience was at an end. He had determined to bring judgment on Jerusalem; and even if there could have been found within her all those great heroes of faith together, it still would not be enough to save her.

A society can go so far down the path of wickedness — or down the path of squandering its blessings, privileges, and opportunities — that the Lord simply has had enough, and its destruction becomes inevitable. That was the status of Judah and Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Could it be true of our own nation? Could our culture already be so far gone that God has decreed its end? Again, in the absence of genuine prophetic revelation, we simply cannot know.

But notice again the words of those prophets to Judah: though even such godly men as Noah, Daniel, Job, Moses, and Samuel could not have rescued their nation, they still would have delivered themselves. Societally, Judah was set for destruction. But individually, God still recognized those who belonged to Him.

For Christians, two important things follow. First, while our faithfulness may indeed make us, in Evans’ words, “a remnant that makes the culture worth saving,” we do not put God under any obligation to save it. Second, regardless of what happens in the culture around us, however rotten it becomes, and whatever judgments may befall it, our individual responsibility to God remains unchanged — as does our eternal hope in Christ. “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness’” (2 Timothy 2:19).