Genesis 13:12-13 And Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.
In Genesis chapter 19, the Bible describes God’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his family, were almost destroyed along with everybody else, because Lot had moved into that wicked city.
But what if things had happened differently, the other way around? What if there had been a church in Sodom, that Lot attended every week? And what if that church had actually been there before the city, and Sodom and Gomorrah had grown up around it?
That may seem a bit preposterous, that such a wicked city could grow out of a Christian village. Were such a thing to happen, we’d say that that church definitely must have had some problems.
Well, just such a church exists.
In what city, you ask? It’s called America.
America was never perfect, of course, but there is no question that it was once a “Christian nation”, and that today it is fast moving away from those roots. Homosexuality has even been declared a “right” by our highest court. And that is just one way in which America reflects Sodom.
Sodom’s Sin #
When asked what Sodom’s sin was, most of us would probably reply, “Sodomy.” And the Bible does indeed condemn Sodom for its sexual perversion:
Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
But in the Old Testament God tells us that the root cause of Sodom’s sin was actually more complex, and not nearly so sinister:
Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Sodom’s most basic vices were just pride and abundance of idleness. In their haughtiness they committed abomination, and in their fullness they failed to help the poor. The people of Sodom worked just enough to have plenty for themselves, and then used the rest of their time to play. Instead of continuing to be productive so that they could share of their abundance with those in need, after their own desires were filled, they spent their time in idleness.
This is the very mentality that we often see in America today. Once upon a time, hard work and self-sufficiency were the core values of our nation. Today however, many people do not want to work diligently, and yet in their pride still believe that they somehow deserve to be rich. They seek fullness of bread and abundance of idleness. And in their haughtiness, they commit abomination, just as Sodom did.
But we are not as Lot, who knowingly moved into a wicked city. We are instead as the church that grew into Sodom. Which ought to tell us something: there are surely some problems with the church in America.
God’s Solution #
So what problems might contribute to this situation, and what is the ultimate solution? The answer isn’t provided in Ezekiel 16, from which we quoted above; Israel is only told that God will bring judgement on them because they have become worse than Sodom. But the Bible does tell us the answer elsewhere. Because these are the same problems that we find facing Israel in the Psalms. In Psalm 10, David talks about the pride of the people, and how the poor were being oppressed. In Psalm 12 he describes how the oppressed were also becoming proud just like their oppressors, and were seeking material prosperity. They wanted fullness of bread and abundance of idleness, with or without God’s blessing. And in Psalm 14 God would call their actions an abomination.
The ultimate cause of all of this, David found, was that the people’s hearts were not prepared to trust and hope in God wholly. They were not pure, godly, upright, and faithful. And it is that impurity of heart before God that caused the degeneration of their culture.
And so we find that the ultimate cause of Sodom’s wickedness is really the same thing that underlies all of our sin: our hearts are not pure before God. But in Psalms we find that God revealed to David the furnace that could try and purify the hearts of men. The faithful seemed to be failing, but David understood God’s promise:
The words of the LORD are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.—Psalm 12:6-7
The word of God is pure, and it is that which can purify the hearts of men, and make them faithful.
Isn’t that Obvious? #
“But isn’t that obvious?” you ask. “And doesn’t the church already do this?”
To which we must reply, “yes”, and “no”. It is obvious, but what is also obvious is that the American church has failed somewhere. We are, after all, like a church in Sodom. Something isn’t working, to say the least. And clearly, it isn’t that God’s promise has failed and his pure words no longer transform hearts. Rather, we must be failing to proclaim the faithful word properly.
Of course, the church will never be perfect, and there will always be those who will choose to be complacent. But each of us has to examine ourselves, as individuals, and ask whether we are a part of the problem, and whether we’re willing to accept and carry out God’s provided solution.
So many of us want revival in this nation, but if we are seeking it through the church as it has been, we will be doomed to disappointment. Because ultimately, the degenerating culture is not the root problem, it is merely a symptom of a dysfunctional church. So while reviving the nation and culture as a whole is certainly a worthy aim, we have to seriously ask ourselves whether it can be accomplished by a church that did not stop the drift into depravity in the first place. How will it be possible to transform the culture without first transforming ourselves?
It will not. And so it is the church itself that must first be revived, if we are to revive our culture and our nation. This is not to say that we have to go out and transform the church as an institution, but rather as a reviving of individuals within the body of Christ. The power of the word of God, after all, is in transforming people’s hearts.
So let us each seek to be a part of the revived church, a revived organ within the body of Christ as a whole. And as we seek to remind our brothers and sisters of the transforming power of God’s word, let us not merely seek to transform failing earthly institutions, but to fulfill the great commission given to us by Christ, and revive the culture in which that church is embedded, by saving the eternal souls of men.