Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] It’s an ancient catastrophe that still stirs our imaginations. Flaming green and yellow chunks of sulfur rain from the sky exploding houses and barns. Men, women and children run screaming through the streets. Soon everything is engulfed in flames. Only one family survives.
This is what is described in the biblical book of Genesis as God’s judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Although this event happened thousands of years ago, the story of Sodom still evokes wonder, fear, and controversy.
Many people read this biblical story and struggle with the question, “If God is loving and merciful, how can He kill an entire city of people—men, women, children, even the animals?”
Well today, we continue our series on The Hard Questions by dealing with “Why Does God Kill People?”
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[Gary] Was God being unfair and unloving when He snuffed out the lives of the people of Sodom?
You know, how you answer this question will in many ways determine how you relate to God.
I was looking at different websites where people discuss why God would destroy Sodom. Some Christians try to sort of sanitize the biblical story of Sodom as a fictional parable to teach people to do good. But you know, the Bible claims that the story is fact not fiction.
Now, some archeologists believe that Sodom was a real city destroyed by a natural disaster. One theory is that an asteroid hit Europe and the fallout destroyed cities in the Middle East hundreds of mile away. Now, for those who believe in a natural disaster, of course the idea that God destroyed Sodom is seen as a perception—the perception of an uneducated and unsophisticated ancient writer.
If we believe that explanation, you know to tell the truth—how can we examine if anything in the Bible is inspired by God or even true?
When we accept the Bible as true and accurate, there is only one conclusion. The Genesis account clearly states that God was responsible for the destruction of Sodom and the death of all of its inhabitants except for one family.
Today we’re going to look at the biblical story of Sodom and discover what this event reveals about God’s character of mercy and judgment.
Now to really comprehend God’s actions towards Sodom recorded in Genesis 19, we have to go back to an event recorded in Genesis 18. So if you have a Bible, let’s go to Genesis 18. God appeared to Abraham and told him that He was going to judge the people of Sodom.
Now let’s read Abraham’s response. “And Abraham came near and said, “Would You”— now remember, he is speaking to God—“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?”
Abraham believed that God is good and fair. Now he is struggling with how can a good God kill good people? But I want you to notice his next question, “Far be it from You”—he is talking to God still—“Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25).
Abraham, the father of the faithful, struggled with the same questions we wrestle with today. It is important to notice, God did not strike Abraham down. He didn’t punish him for asking the question. God simply answered, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:26).
Abraham still struggled with the idea of God killing the people of Sodom. He asked God what would He do if there were only 45 good people. He kept inquiring of God, whittling the number down, until God said that He would spare the entire city if there were only 10 righteous.
You see, the story of God’s judgment on Sodom begins with God’s desire to show mercy.
One of the arguments that comes up at this point from the skeptic is, “What right does God have to judge anybody?” Now this leads us to one of the major issues in the story of Sodom: As the Creator of humanity and the One who determines goodness, God reserves to Himself the right to judge between good and evil.
And I want to repeat this statement because this truth is at the core of the issue of God killing people: As the Creator of humanity and the One who determines goodness, God reserves to Himself the right to judge between good and evil.
Now remember, God’s judgment on Sodom began with what?—A revelation of His mercy. Think about it. He was even willing to spare all the evil people for the sake of some good people.
God’s punishment on Sodom wasn’t a thoughtless act. He sent two angels into the city and a man named Lot invited them into his house. Soon the house was surrounded by every man of Sodom who demanded that Lot send out the two visitors so that they could perpetrate upon them acts of just absolutely unspeakable violence.
Sodom was a city filled with violence and sexual immorality. They had totally rejected God and His definition of good.
Lot, a man who strove to obey God while living in this depraved society was actually affected by the evil around him more than he ever realized. I mean, think of his next actions, if you read the biblical account, it shows how much he had been influenced. When the mob demanded he release the two strangers so that they could publicly violate them, Lot—motivated—now think about his motivation. He is motivated by fear and absolute horror at what is happening here at his house. He offered the depraved mob his two young daughters. It was at this point that the two angels, directed by God intervened and struck blind all the men of Sodom and saved Lot and his family.
Now notice, this is still a story of God’s mercy. In spite of Lot’s weaknesses, God in His grace, in His favor, in His mercy saved Lot and his family. You know, and then He killed everything—every living thing. Every human, animal and plant in the city of Sodom.
I know. At this point, some of you are saying, “This can’t be true—a loving God couldn’t commit this horrible action of killing an entire town.”
To understand God’s actions here, there’s two simple attributes we must understand about Him that He reveals in the Scripture: First, His love for all human beings and His creation. But secondly, He hates evil. Evil is the opposite of His character.
To understand this, just listen to what Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “These six things the Lord hates”—very strong word, He hates. “Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
You know, “abomination” is a strong word. It means “repulsive.” Evil is repulsive to God and He reserves to Himself the right to punish evil.
In the New Testament, Peter and Jude wrote about the destruction of Sodom as an act of God. Jude wrote: “…Sodom and Gomorrah…are set forth”—this is very important—“…as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).
Now this leads us to another question: What is this eternal fire? I mean, is Sodom still burning today?
I mean, Peter wrote that the city was turned into “ashes” (2 Peter 2:6).
The biblical and archeological evidence put Sodom’s location in the region north of the Dead Sea. You know, there’s no constantly burning, smoldering ruins around the Dead Sea. The “eternal fire” that burned Sodom isn’t still burning. The elements, wood, stone and human beings were turned into smoke and ash by extreme heat. Now on the other hand, the fire did have eternal effects. Because of their sin, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah suffered God’s irrevocable physical destruction. They don’t exist today.
But you know, this brings us to a very important point in understanding what the Bible calls sin. This is an unpopular subject but we have to understand this if we are going to understand the story of Sodom.
Sin is anything that is against God’s goodness. The Bible defines sin. In fact, the Ten Commandments teach the basic concepts of good and evil. It’s a sin to murder. It’s a sin to steal or commit adultery.
Now all sin produces bad consequences—that really has nothing to do with punishment. It’s the natural consequences. All of us—you me, all of us—we suffer the negative physical, mental and emotional consequences of sin. And we do it all the time.
I mean, if I get drunk and drive my car into a telephone pole at a hundred miles an hour breaking half the bones in my body, I will suffer the negative consequences of my sin. In this, of course, hypothetical case, God isn’t punishing me. I made a bad decision and I suffer the consequences.
God can also declare temporary punishment on those who sin. There are many cases in the Bible where someone was punished by God, and the person repented of the sin and the punishment was lifted. In these cases we see that God’s punishment is a form of discipline to help the person, to help us, learn the difference between good and evil.
Of course, obviously, there are different degrees of punishment for different sins. Even in the secular society with no concept of God, it would be unjust to punish a person who stole an apple because he was hungry the same as someone who robbed a bank at gunpoint. We can all see the difference. God’s temporary punishment fits the crime and has the purpose of actually rehabilitating the criminal.
But there are also eternal consequences for sin. And here’s where many people misunderstand God’s judgment on Sodom. God passed temporary judgment on the people of Sodom, but their eternal judgment—it’s still in the future.
I know for many Christians that is a shocking statement, because you believe that the people of Sodom were eternally judged by God and are now suffering in some blast furnace called hell—where they can never die.
Well, Jesus talked about Sodom, and He makes this startling statement to the people of a town called Capernaum. Now the people there in Capernaum had just heard Jesus’ message but they refused to turn to God.
So listen to what Jesus says here, “Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” But listen to this next statement: “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24).
I mean notice what Jesus is actually saying here. It will be easier in the future Day of Judgment for the people of Sodom than the people of Capernaum who rejected Jesus’ message. You see, the people of Sodom suffered temporary judgment, but they are asleep in death, waiting a resurrection to eternal judgment. It hasn’t happened yet.
Okay. Let’s now break this subject down to how God deals with you and me. Cause that’s what we’re really interested in here, right?
God told the first human beings that the day they decided to determine for themselves what is good and evil and chose any evil, the consequences would be suffering and death. They choose evil. They suffered, they died. Since then, all human beings have become a mixture of good and evil. And you know what, every generation suffers the temporary tragic consequences of evil and eventually dies.
We can’t escape the natural consequences of sin—you can’t, I can’t. I mean it breaks us down. It breaks us down spiritually, mentally and physically. The deterioration caused by sin eventually causes all of us to die.
When we sin, according to the law of the Almighty God, we put in motion the natural consequences of sin. And then you and I find ourselves trapped in suffering and death, and that’s where we are now.
How does God then save us from our own self-destruction? Cause that’s what this is all about—it’s self-destruction. You know, He isn’t going to change His definition of good and evil and I tell you something else, He isn’t going to pretend that our breaking of His law is not a big deal. It is a big deal, because His law reveals His character.
God commanded the ancient Israelites to perform animal sacrifices to teach them that they were, what? Criminals! They broke His law, condemned by His law. The only way they could approach a righteous God was with a substitute, the life of a lamb. The sacrifice was an incredible object lesson. The lamb had value. It had life. Its death showed the horribleness of sin.
Now remember, these sacrifices were just a symbol of the real, amazing plan of God to show both His judgment on sin and how horrible sin is, but also His love for the sinner. The apostle John wrote, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
God’s perfect balance, God’s perfect justice and love are revealed in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the substitute for all who repent.
You know, repentance is more than simply accepting Jesus as your substitute. It is accepting the magnitude of the price God paid for us because of our sins. It is accepting the need to have Him change our lives, to live by His commandments, to give up determining for ourselves the definition of good and evil.
There is no cheap grace. Once we turn to God begging Him for mercy, we are to become “living sacrifices” dedicating every aspect of our lives to serving the Creator.
The apostle Paul inspires us with these words, “I beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice…” Now stop for a minute. A living sacrifice—that’s an oxymoron. What did they do with a sacrifice? They killed it. A living sacrifice? “…holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” he says.
Yes, a living sacrifice. We are living, dying beings. The old person that is in rebellion against God is dying and a new creation is happening in us because God is living in us. So he wants us to “not be conformed to this world, but…” as he continues, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is [the] good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
In a moment, we will discuss the future of the people of Sodom with Darris McNeely and Steve Myers, but first let’s recap here what we’ve talked about so far.
1. As the Creator of humanity and the One who determines goodness, God reserves to Himself the right to judge between good and evil.
2. Two important aspects of God’s nature: He loves all human beings as His creation and He hates evil. Evil is the opposite of His character.
3. Sin is anything that is against God’s goodness. The Bible defines sin. The Ten Commandments teach the basic concepts of good and evil.
4. All sin produces bad consequences.
5. God declares both temporary and eternal punishments for sin.
6. God sent Jesus Christ to pay the price as the substitute for our sins.
7. God requires us to repent of our sins. Now repentance is more than simply accepting Jesus as your substitute. It is accepting the magnitude of the price God paid for us because of our sins. It is accepting the need to have Him change our lives, to live by His commandments, to give up determining for ourselves the definitions of good and evil.
And number 8. God expects us to expend our lives as “living sacrifices.”
We’re joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
Why is it that people have such a hard time accepting that God was good and did good when He destroyed Sodom?
[Darris] Because it doesn’t strike with our modern sense of what’s fair. Without an understanding of the resurrection, then none of it does make sense and that God can take life, He can give life, He can take life, and there is the teaching from the Bible of a resurrection within God’s plan for even those in Sodom. And without that, you will not understand this story and others in Scripture.
[Gary] I want to come back to that resurrection in a second. You talked about killing—even “Thou shalt not kill,” which is one of the Ten Commandments is literally, “Thou shalt not murder.” There is the concept of lawful killing and since God is the Creator and God determines what’s good and evil, He takes the right to take someone’s life if they become evil. And, we have to accept that.
But you were talking about the resurrection. That’s very important because what is the future of the people of Sodom? I think most Christians believe they are in hell burning. But what does the Scripture tell us is the future of the people of Sodom?
[Steve] Well I think that’s the amazing part when you consider, okay, God is love. Yet, He took Sodom and destroyed it. So how could a God of love do that? Well that wasn’t the end of the story. Because the end of the story, God is love and He gives them an opportunity to accept Him, to understand Him—not in this sinful kind of a world that they live in that’s under the sway of Satan. But in the future, the book of Revelation describes the resurrection. And these individuals are going to be resurrected back to physical life and have an opportunity to choose God’s way.
[Darris] And there’s also a scripture in Matthew 10, verse 15 I believe, where Christ is speaking to an audience who does not believe His report and who He is. And He says, it’s going to be more bearable for the people of Sodom in a day of judgement, in the day of judgement (Matthew 10:11-16). And the obvious context is showing that those people in Sodom will be in a day of judgement that this period that Steve just talked about from the book of Revelation—when the dead, small and great will be brought back to life. They will have a chance to enter into a judgement that is not that type of judgement from the book of Genesis experience, but a judgment with an opportunity for eternal life. And, again, we get back to the concept of the resurrection and God giving them a chance to understand Him and His perfect plan.
[Steve] Yeah, in fact that section of Revelation 20 talks about them standing before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). And the interesting part is it says, “the books are open to them.” And the “books” there is the Greek word, biblia . The Bible is open to their understanding so that they can understand spiritual truth. And once you understand spiritual truth, now you can have an opportunity to choose what’s right and what a wonderful opportunity that will be. So the destruction of Sodom wasn’t the end of the story. So the God of love does prevail, will give them an opportunity and they will have that chance to choose what’s good.
[Gary] And I think you were talking about Revelation 20—I think what a lot of people think about as far as the resurrection is at the beginning of the chapter, Christ is coming back, the saints are resurrected (Revelation 20:1-6).
[Gary] But they don’t realize there’s a second resurrection at the end of that chapter called the Great White Throne Judgment, and where all humanity is resurrected. Of course you have that, “well, what about all the people who never knew Jesus?”
[Darris] It’s one of the great truths of the Scriptures that is little understood by people and it helps to understand again, why God did what He did with Sodom and Gomorrah and that story and other cultures. And frankly, it even helps to understand history and why man, what is the fate of men and women and peoples who have been a part of atrocities and wars and the horrors of life in an unjust world.
God is just. His plan is just and there will be a resurrection and these people will have a chance to know God for the first time and have a chance for salvation.
[Gary] We’re not saying universal salvation. There is a lake of fire, right?
[Steve] Oh, absolutely. Yeah there is judgment. If you choose against God’s way, certainly you will be thrown in the lake of fire. But the interesting thing is that everyone who ever lived will have that opportunity. So, God is a God of love. He isn’t a respecter of persons just because you were born in a certain place and heard the name of Jesus that you will be saved and everyone else is condemned to burn forever. That is not the case at all. Everyone will have that opportunity to choose life.
[Gary] Choose life or death, but everybody gets a chance to choose.
[Gary] This is one of the most amazing truths of the Bible and least understood truths of the Bible. Why did God judge the people of ancient Sodom? How is He going to judge all humanity including you and me in the future? Do the evil spend eternity in fiery torment?
Well I challenge you to find out what the Bible actually teaches about God’s judgment and hell by ordering your free copy of Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? Call toll free: 1-888-886-8632. 1-888-886-8632. Or go online to BeyondToday.tv and read or download it right now.
I mean have you ever wondered how a loving God can condemn little children to everlasting torment? Or, how can God eternally punish people who never heard of Jesus? Actually, He doesn’t. The truth is astounding and liberating. Find the answers you’ve been looking for by getting this free study aid, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?
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[Steve] Hi, I’m Steve Myers. We would love to have you come and visit and worship with us. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. We’re committed to growing in our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ as well as fellowshipping with each other. We’ve found God’s way is the best way to live. We’re looking forward to meeting you soon! Come and join us!
[Gary] God loves humanity. God loves you. Don’t be fooled by a secular argument that God is unfair or mean when He kills people like He did with the inhabitants of Sodom. God is good and He judges evil.
And don’t be fooled by a message of cheap grace either. God, in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, paid a tremendous price as a substitute for what you and I deserve. Our response to His mercy is to become a living sacrifice for Him.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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