As we reach the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, we will most likely find ourselves questioning the morality of God. We have already had a flood, and now we have two cities that will be destroyed by sulfur raining from the sky. So let’s take a moment to highlight some important elements of the Sodom and Gomorrah story.
First, we have a report from God Himself that a great number of people are crying out about the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are not given a detailed description of what the claims are, merely that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are extremely sinful. I think there is something in particular that we should take note of here. God is stating that the outcry against these people is great, or many. This indicates that a number of people, a number which God Himself considers to be great, are crying out about Sodom and Gomorrah. One can only imagine the size of a number which God might consider to be great, but one has to assume that God does not use such words lightly.
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great. Because their sin is so grievousGenesis 18:20
Next, we see that Abraham barters with the Lord to ensure that if He finds even ten righteous people in all of Sodom he will spare the entire place. Abraham does not try to ensure that only the righteous are saved, but that if there are even ten righteous people in all of Sodom, then the entire city should be saved. It is important to note here that God agrees. At this point we can be assured that there were not even ten righteous people in all of Sodom.
Finally, Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak once more. Suppose ten are found there?” And He answered, “On account of the ten [righteous people], I will not destroy it.”Genesis 18:32
Lastly, we have the citizens of Sodom themselves. They attempt to force out and rape two guests of their town without provocation. The citizens of Sodom gathered together into a mob to force two strangers out of Lot’s home without even knowing who they were or why they were there. Many people summarize the sin of the Sodomites as mere homosexuality, but that is incredibly far from the case. The Sodomites were unreasonably violent and appeared to have no respect for the lives of guests to their town at all. With that in mind, we can only imagine what it must have been like as a Sodomite in day to day life.
Excluding Lot, his wife, and his daughters, God did not have to look closely to know that He would not find anymore righteous people from among the Sodomites. They had literally gathered outside of Lot’s home as an angry mob and threatened him and his guests. Of course, while the narrative portrays God as a limited, corporeal being, we know that this is not the case due to both previous and latter verses of the Bible. God is portraying Himself in this way in order to communicate, test, and interact with humanity.
This raises an obvious question about the children however. Wouldn’t they be considered righteous in God’s eyes? This has been an obvious moral hurdle the narrative for quite some time. One common response is that there were not any children present. While I could talk about the number of citizens and average birth rate, and factor in additional ideas, like child sacrifice, as a means to make that a valid position, I believe that it is not a fair position. Whether we avoid addressing the issue of child death here or not, we will inevitably have to address it at later points in the Bible, so we may as well tackle it now. In order to understand the morality of the decision to end the lives of all of the Sodomites, including the children, it may be important to lay out a brief moral and theological framework that we can utilize to better understand these stories. We will need to discuss the moral implications of denying free will as well as God’s sovereignty over life and death.
If we assume that humanity has free will, which would be necessary in order to rebel against God, then we must also understand that our free will is a gift granted to us by God. If God is sovereign over all things, that would include our ability to make decisions. Given this, the only way that we could have free will would be for God to grant it to us.
Now that we have established that free will is both possible and plausible, we can ask the following question. Would it be moral, or good, to forcefully influence the decisions of a creature that is self aware and believes that they are acting of their own free will? Let’s look at that question a different way. If you suddenly discovered that you had a microchip implanted in your brain which had been controlling your actions without your knowledge, would you think that it was acceptable? Would you continue on through life with the implant and with no control over your thoughts or actions? I think we could agree that controlling the actions of someone without their knowledge would be immoral. If we can agree on this statement, then it follows that it would be immoral for God to simply “make the Sodomites good”.
At this point, you might be thinking that just because God can’t morally control people’s minds, that doesn’t mean He needed to kill them. Frankly, you may be correct. There may have been some middle ground in which those people could have been turned down a different path. I believe that in order to know the appropriate response to such a claim, we would need to know a great deal more about the Sodomites. We would need to know things that only God could know, like the depth of their unwillingness to change and their genetic predisposition toward anger or other negative emotions. Things like this would determine the methods by which the Sodomites could have been helped. It would seem though, based on the reaction of the Sodomites towards Lot’s guests, that there would have been no way to send a messenger to teach, or even to develop a teacher from within. The Sodomites would need to be willing to listen to others for the former to be effective, and they would need to be able to listen to themselves for the latter to be effective. While there may have been a method to accomplish this, it would not seem that way from the text. Remember that not only did the Sodomites attempt to rape and potentially kill Lot’s guests, but Lot also warned his brothers-in-law about the coming destruction and they refused to listen. This is very much like the way that Noah warned the people around him of the coming destruction and not only did they refuse to change, but they also refused to even prepare. To put it most plainly, if solely talking to and teaching people were an effective means by which we could dramatically impact our fellow human beings’ behavior, we might have ended violence quite some time ago.
So now we reach the subject of death. It seems strange to me that we might take issue with God taking the lives of the Sodomites, but no issue with the death of an old man who has lived a full life. Is God not sovereign over life and death? Does He not give life and allow death? How does the scenario change when talking about the Sodomites, or the people of the flood, or the Canaanites, or anyone else? As Christians we see life given and taken away daily and we trust that God will do what is just with those that pass. How does this change when a child dies? Why would God suddenly do something unjust after life?
But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”Matthew 19:14
We know that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the innocent children. We can trust that God dealt with each individual destroyed in Sodom according to their own works and faith, even if their destruction came at the hand of God’s judgement. This is the case with everyone, everywhere, and it could not be any other way with Sodom, the flood, or any other biblical event.