Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mapping the Swamp: Sodom and Contagion

Rembrandt, Lot & His Daughters
In this series on Sodom we have been open about our interest in applying the lessons of this doomed city to our own time; hence the notion of Sodom as "chart" of interrelated sins, the notion of Sodom as a symptom of rebellion, the connection between Sodom and immigration, and the problem of Sodom's extreme justice--all the posts in the series have proceeded with confidence that Sodom holds wisdom that we must interpret for the benefit of our needs today. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mapping the Swamp: Why was Sodom's punishment so extreme?


A young Hebrew Bible scholar responded generously with his time when I asked if I could consult him on the Sodom question. He agreed with me about the uniqueness of Sodom. Sodom is not like Jericho or Ai. God saw fit to wipe out the city with His own actions, as if He could not trust any human–even someone as faithful as Abraham–to spill Sodomite blood on himself in the process of blotting it out.

Sodom is not like Nineveh, for Nineveh repented. Sodom is not like Babylon. Even the wicked Babylon appears in scripture as a realm with some people worth saving. Consider this line from 1 Peter 5:13: “The church in Babylon, also chosen, sends you greetings, as does Mark, my son. Greet one another with a kiss.”

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mapping the Swamp: Sodom and Immigration

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by John Hamilton Mortimer, via Wikigallery.org

In my continuing examination of Sodom's meaning to us in the 21st century, we must now turn to the very difficult convergence of immigration and sexuality as two cases both thoroughly involved with the Sodom history.

 Anyone who has been involved in Biblical debates about homosexuality is likely aware of a common rebuttal to concerns about Sodom and homosexuality, relating to some lines in the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. Consider that Ezekiel wrote long after Sodom's obliteration. During the last days of Judah's embattled monarchy, he had this to say:

Mapping the Swamp: What Significance in Sodom's Rebellion in Genesis 13 and 14?

via Encyclopedia Britannica
I am going to devote several posts to Sodom, because the story of Sodom is so crucial to understanding today's Swamp. I wrote a general explanation for the key importance of Sodom yesterday. I explained that an enduring challenge with the Sodom story is that it is scattered and dispersed across scripture, even though everywhere the city's name shows up, it is clear that Sodom holds a particularly powerful importance. It is easy to oversimplify Sodom, as so many people have. On the one hand there are those who view Sodom as a purely sexual portent with no larger political meaning. On the other hand many homosexualists try to remove Sodom from its sexualized context and cast the city merely as a social-justice problem, often citing Ezekiel 16 in irresponsible ways. Many people do not draw a connection, which I believe must be drawn, between the two nations that descend from the incest following Sodom. Lot and his daughters conceive Moab and Ammon in the moments after Sodom has been destroyed and their mother has turned into a pillar of salt. Ruth is a Moabitess and a direct ancestor of King David, so I would argue that these Sodom-related genealogies matter a great deal.

The Uniqueness of Sodom

As I mentioned in yesterday's essay, both Nineveh and Babylon also portend important meanings, especially Babylon since it is the looming archetype in Revelation. Yet Sodom stands alone because of the number of times it is mentioned. It is mentioned at times by itself, whereas Gomorrah and the other "cities of the plains" seem not to be mentioned as stand-alone bywords the way Sodom is. Sodom is the only conspicuous case of one people being set apart from other peoples for complete and total annihilation, through an act of God. In many cases, for instance in the Book of Joshua, whole cities are destroyed but God uses human armies to carry out such deeds. In the case of the antediluvian reprobates, God destroys the whole world in a flood and only sets apart Noah's family for survival. 

While I would not classify my hermeneutics rigidly, I would emphasize the importance of inerrancy and sufficiency. Everything in scripture is placed there, in its structure, for an important reason. If some phenomenon is unique, then the truth it reveals to us includes the meaning behind its singularity and/or superlative role in the narrative. 

Why would Sodom occupy such a unique place in scripture? The uniqueness of Sodom has puzzled me for years, but I have a few theories. The message behind it would seem to answer a few questions that are extremely pertinent today. One question is the perplexing role of homosexuality, which seemed to explode as an issue out of nowhere in the late 1980s and now occupies an alarming percentage of political news. There is no denying that homosexuality is closely linked to Sodom, another "event" filled with uniqueness and tragic mystery. I explained in the last post some of my thoughts as to why homosexuality tends to corrupt comprehensively; it is a phenomenon that can only be perpetuated through social maneuvers that become totalitarian and encompassing. This would explain why the city most associated with rampant homosexuality is also the only city wholly obliterated by the hand of God, apart from other peoples who are spared. One could raise the caveat that Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain are also destroyed by God's hand, but the story centralizes Sodom. The particular outrages committed around Lot's house precipitate the mass destruction by fire and sulfur.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Mapping the Swamp: Charting Sodom in 2018

Veronese, Lot & Daughters Fleeing Sodom
The dawn of 2018 marks twenty years since a life-changing event that changed me from obnoxiously pro-gay to staunchly pro-chastity. To draw from an overused allegory, I would like to say I fled Sodom twenty years ago. You see, on January 2, 1998, I was rushed into surgery in a Bronx hospital, about a mile from the apartment I lived in. I had a cancerous tumor that was severely malignant. Rushed into emergency operative care, I experienced a level of pain greater than anything I had ever felt prior. The vicious nurses, whose faces I will never forget, hounded me until I agreed to be discharged. They threatened to prevent my father from seeing me if I did not leave the ambulatory recovery hall and go home. I do not know why they were so determined not to admit me to the hospital for recovery, but I left. It was exceedingly cold that night and my apartment was a fifth-floor walk-up I barely reached.

I was twenty-seven years old. Up until that time in my life, I had never had any strong inkling that homosexuality was wrong. I called myself homosexual though I had known since the beginning that I felt strong attractions toward women. Membership in the gay community, even back then, brought with it certain advantages: shortcuts to jobs, fabulous if not glamorous social events, easy sex, endless wit and diversion. By 1998 I had made peace with the physical act between two men, which I never came to like very much. I used poppers and got myself extremely drunk to get through it, trying wherever possible to avoid the most unpleasant act of them all.