Monday, December 31, 2012

The sins of Sodom

Every so often a preacher will stand up and say that God is punishing us or is about to punish us in the same way he punished Sodom. And when they talk about ‘Sodom’ in this way, they don’t even need to say what they think God might punish us for – everyone knows it’s for homosexual practices. The funny thing is God never said he punished Sodom for homosexual practices at all.  

Yes, that’s right. We all presume it’s in there, right. I mean everyone knows that Sodom was punished because the people in there were homosexuals. But it’s not actually in the bible. What is in the bible is that men came to Lot’s house in Sodom and asked to have sex with the male visitors (who were angels) that had there. (This was after God had said he would destroy Sodom, by the way.) But it doesn’t actually say God destroyed Sodom for this reason.

And so if we want to rant and rave about Sodom and get people all scared that God is going to show his wrath in the same way again, we better be very clear about what the sins of Sodom actually were. I mean if we want to prevent it – which apparently many preachers and Christians do – then we want to make sure we’re avoiding the very things that Sodom did. Right?

I can imagine people thinking, well if God didn’t actually specify what the sins of Sodom were, it was implicit in the actions committed before it was destroyed. And so it’s obvious that homosexuality was the cause of God’s wrath. The problem is there is something better to go on. (And no, I’m not talking about some kind of sociological study or personal feeling or liberal attitude.) How do we know what the sins of Sodom were? We go to the bible. Because the bible actually states quite clearly what they were.

Now the only thing mentioned in Genesis is the story about men wanting to have sex with the angels and the fact that there was a huge outcry against Sodom. Also in Jude 1:7 it says that Sodom and Gomorrah practices sexual perversion and immorality. So I do believe that sexual immorality (though not specifically homosexuality) was part of Sodom’s sins. I say only part, because Ezekiel 16:49 gives quite a different account of what Sodom’s sins were. It says ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’

Whoa! Maybe we should be scared. Arrogant, overfed, unconcerned (some translations say idle or lazy) and not helpful to the poor and needy. Sounds like most of the people I know. Matter of fact, it kind of sounds like me too. Probably sounds like most of the people in the western world – and I’m including Christians.

I mean if we’re really serious about avoiding the same fate as Sodom – which it appears many people are – then we need to take steps to get rid of these things. No more over eating. Let’s legislate against that. Boycott McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks. Let’s fine people for being idle or lazy. And let’s put rules in place to ensure every single person cares about the poor and the needy. Making laws against pride is going to be hard, but I’m sure we can think of something. Of course, it may mean that practically everyone ends up on the wrong side of the law.

And the next time we feel tempted to blame a natural disaster on God’s wrath at homosexuals, perhaps we should take a good long look at our own life. Sodom was a case where God showed his anger. I agree with the preachers on that point. I also believe that he may show his anger in the same way again. But I don’t think it will be because of homosexual practices. I think God’s anger is far more likely to be against the very sins He says Sodom committed: gluttony, pride, unconcern and laziness. Let’s take a look at our own lives and see if there’s any way we might be incurring the wrath of God, rather than pointing our fingers at other people.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wanting things and hurting others

The more we want things, the more likely we are to hurt people to get them. That’s pretty scary for a generation of people that have basically been programmed to want things from the time they were born. Not only do we have a whole advertising industry that spends billions of dollars in figuring out exactly how to make us want things, but our very culture seems designed to promote the view that there are things we want and we should do everything we can to get them.

Even our churches seem to share this view. We are told that we have desires and that God wants to give us those desires. It’s suggested that we shouldn’t limit our dreams, but should make them as big as we can – because God wants to answer our wildest prayers. I’ve heard it preached that if you’re praying for a mate, don’t just pray for a mate, but write down a whole heap of attributes you want that mate to have and watch God give you every single one of them.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting things. It’s a normal and natural part of being a human. But I do think we take this business of wanting things way too seriously. The world and the church promotes very heavily this idea that everybody wants something and everybody can get it. You are almost looked down upon if you say there’s nothing that you really want. Or even worse, you’re told that not wanting things is a sign that you don’t really trust God.

You hardly ever hear the bad points about wanting things – and believe me, there are bad points. I go back to my first sentence. The more we want things, the more likely we are to hurt people to get them. People who wouldn’t think about hurting people in any normal course of events will think nothing about hurting people if it helps them get something they really want.

One of the funniest examples of this is a wedding. Women who would never usually dream of pushing or hurting other women will push and shove just to get that bouquet – because they really, really want to get married. Love itself is a good example of how people hurt others to get what they want. Friends will betray friends. Spouses will betray spouses. And even just the regular dating ritual of trying people out, without taking a minute to think about their feelings, is a form of hurting people in order to get the relationship you want.

People who really want to be successful in their career will hurt people on their way to the top. People who want to be rich will hurt others to achieve the bank balance they want. Teenagers who want to be popular will hurt the friends who have been there for them.

Now this isn’t always the case. People can want something very badly and yet refuse to hurt people in order to get it. In fact, a good test of how much moral integrity a person really has is to place them in a situation where they can get what they want, but only if they do something wrong or hurt another person. The time when many of us are most tempting to do the wrong thing is when we want something. Whether we’re the kind of person who hurts others or not, it’s worthwhile being very, very careful when it comes to the things we really want. Wanting something badly can be a great test of our true moral character.

There’s something else I’d like to add. As mentioned, the church often tells people they have desires and that God wants to give them those desires. However, God doesn’t want you to hurt others. If you’re praying for God to give you something, then don’t hurt someone in order to try and get it. Firstly, I don’t believe God will answer your prayer in a way that involves you hurting others. Secondly, I also don’t believe that God wants to bless the very thing that is making you hurt others.

So wanting things is quite okay – although perhaps not as much as the world will have us believe. But hurting others to get it is not.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass shootings: Addressing the 'why' and not just the 'how'

As most people I'm sure are aware by now, on Friday, 28 people were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, including 20 children. This is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims and their families. It shouldn't have happened. And it could have been prevented.

As is to be expected, this latest shooting has revived the gun-control debate. Many people believe that it's further evidence that the US needs tougher gun laws. I agree. If this man did not have a gun, this shooting would not have happened. And mass shootings like this occur way too frequently in the US. They need to do something to stop them. And having stricter gun-control laws is a first step.

But I think it's important that it is treated only as a first step. If people have no access to guns, I believe it will prevent tragedies like the one we've just seen. But if people still would like to go around killing other people, but just don't have the means to do so, then this is still a tragedy.

Gun-control addresses the 'how' of mass shootings. And we need to get that sorted out. But we also need to ask questions about 'why'.

If a child is hitting another person over the head with a hammer, the first thing you do is take away the hammer. But the second thing you do is ask questions about why a child would want to hit someone over the head with a hammer in the first place.

Twenty-eight people being killed in a mass shooting is undeniably a tragedy. But so is the many people who commit suicide. In Australia, it is estimated that approximately 259 people aged between 15 and 24 commit suicide every year ( That's a tragedy too. Australia has tougher gun laws - which were enforced after a mass shooting. But although we may have prevented (quite rightly) the tragedy of mass shootings, the tragedy of people who want to take life (even if only their own) remains. In the US, 4,212 young people committed suicide in 2005 (

And even with suicide, I believe we often address the 'why' and not the 'how'. People are told to be on the lookout for suicidal signs, to ask people if they are okay and to get help for anyone that seems suicidal. All of this is good and must be done. But we also need to address the 'why'. We need to ask why so many people feel suicidal in the first place.

In relation to mass shootings, talking about gun control is definitely a 'how' question. It treats the symptoms, but not the disease. And those symptoms need to be treated - because they cause unbearable pain. But let's not forget to treat the disease itself. Let's not think that as long as we put in place tougher gun laws and see no more mass shootings, that the disease has been 'cured'. It hasn't. Let ask some serious questions about 'why' mass shootings happen in the first place.

Commenting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Governor Dannel Malloy said, 'Evil visited this community today.'

Really? How did it come? Did it come through a person? Or through a gun? It's so easy to say things like this because it makes it sound like something that just happened. We can absolve ourselves of all responsibility. It doesn't ask the 'why' questions.

I don't agree with Governor Malloy. I don't think evil came to that community. I think that society itself is sick. And in this one place at this one time, that sickness manifested itself in a terrible way.

Jesus told us to have compassion for others. And it is very easy, as a Christian, to feel compassion for the 28 people that were killed, for the parents of those 20 children. I have two children. I find it hard even to imagine how those parents might be feeling because it hurts too much.

However, our compassion should not just be for those who are hurt. It should be for those who do the hurting. It should be for the gunman as well as the people he shot.

And true compassion does not just say 'I feel for you.' It enters into people's pain and tries to prevent it. When Jesus healed people with illnesses and diseases, he was not telling us we should try to perform miracles. He was showing us that not only does he care about people's pain, but he tries to heal it. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we should still do the same.

And so our compassion for the gunman should not just lead us to say 'let's take away access to guns'. Tougher gun laws would have prevented the pain of the people who were shot and their families, but it would not have prevented the pain of the gunman himself. If we truly have compassion for everyone, then his pain is important too. And so is the pain of people all over America (and Australia and many other countries) who feel that same type of pain but don't make it onto the news.

The high suicide rates in both Australia and the US is also a symptom of the disease. I don't know what the cure is. I'm not a sociologist or a psychologist. But I do know that we need to look for one. And we need to start looking for ways to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting and giving

Today’s world is very focused on getting. Our media is full of advertisements trying to persuade us to get things. Many of us want to be rich because of all the things we would then be able to get. We judge lives by how much stuff people have gotten. When people say someone has done well for themselves, it’s usually because they have got a high-paying job, a good house and good investments.

But things don’t need to have a dollar symbol attached, to be part of our culture of getting. A look at anyone’s to-do list will reveal a wide range of gets. We want to get fit, get married, get pregnant, get a boyfriend, get more friends, get famous, get a university degree, get a trophy.

And when we are feeling miserable about our lives, what are we usually upset about? What we haven’t got. We haven’t received the love, the friendship, the opportunities, the beauty, the money, the accomplishments, the treatment we deserve. We wanted to have gotten more and we’re annoyed that we didn’t. 

Some churches have also jumped on the getting bandwagon. They tell Christians about all the things they can get if they pray. They tell them that God wants them to get that job, get more money, get healed. We pay a lot of attention to “For everyone who asks receives”.  Not so much to Act 20, where Paul tells us that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Whatever happened to that? Was is just something that worked well in Jesus’ day, but isn’t really applicable in today’s consumer culture? I don’t know so. I’m pretty sure the idea seemed just as strange then as it does now. But it’s often the things that seem the strangest that have the most to teach us.

It’s a completely different way of measuring things than the one we are used to. We are taught to believe that how much stuff a person has and how much we get is what’s important. To place more value on giving completely turns things around.

It’s kind of hard to get our heads around. We may say it. We may even believe it. But do we live like this? When we go to bed at night, are we thinking of all the ways we gave? Or are we thinking about all the things we failed to get, all the things we did get and all the things we want to get tomorrow? When we write out our goals, are they all about giving? Or do most of them revolve around getting? When we think about accomplishments, do we think of the things we gave or do we think of the ways we got?

So it’s not quite gospel truth – but Acts is pretty close and Paul did say that Jesus said it. So taking it as gospel truth, how does that change the way we think about our lives? Do we think differently about what ourselves and others have achieved? Does it change our goals and priorities at all? Does it make us see that what we thought was important really isn’t that important after all?

And it works. This isn’t just something that looks good in the bible, but fails to work out in real life. It really works. A parent receives much joy from their relationship with their children – even though it is a relationship that involves lots of giving and not much getting. When I feel down, I have found the best way to cheer me up is to go out and help someone – and I’m sure I’m not alone. The happiest people are often those that are in jobs that involve lots of giving. The unhappiest people are generally the most selfish ones.

So why not try it? Cross out a few gets on your goals list and replace them with some gives. Think about your accomplishments only in terms of what you gave. Try to give more love than you receive. And if you’re feeling down, forget about cheering yourself up with a spending spree. Try a giving spree instead.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Committed to the cause

If I were a king and wanted to get a whole heap of warriors to fight for me, there are three ways I could do this. I could scare them into fighting. Threaten to kill them or torture them or make their life a living hell if they didn’t fight. That would work – until they started thinking I wasn’t that scary anyway. Until they began to wonder whether I really had the power or the resources to carry through on my threats.

Or I could bribe them into fighting for me. Promise them rewards – good pay, gold, land, whatever. That would work too. Unless they didn’t get those rewards when they expected them. Or unless those rewards weren’t as good as what they thought they would be. Or until someone else promised them better rewards.

Or I could get them committed to the cause. And once they were committed to the cause, I wouldn’t need to persuade them to fight. They would want to. And they would fight longer and harder than any of the other two groups of warriors. In a battle between the three, I’d be backing the ones that are committed to the cause. I’d rather have ten warriors committed to the cause than 50 warriors who are there for the rewards or 100 warriors who are there because of fear.

So too are there different ways of getting people to follow Jesus. For a long time, the church relied mainly on fear. There was the fear of hell. But also there was the fear of the Inquisition or ex-communication if a person failed to believe or failed to do the right things. It worked. Fear does work. But then people started to read the bible for themselves. They started to wonder whether the church was really that scary. They started to doubt if it really had the power to do the things it had threatened.

Fear is not such a big thing nowadays, but we still use it. Become a Christian or you will go to hell, we tell people. And sometimes it works. But it’s kind of lost its power. Many people nowadays don’t even believe in hell. They are not going to be scared of going there. Personally, I think hell is a real place and it’s not somewhere I ever want to go. But it’s a pretty poor reason for getting people to follow Jesus.

The other way churches get new Christian recruits is by promising rewards. If you follow God, he will bless you and make your life better. You’ll get that job, have more money, be healed, live longer, be happier. That works too. But what happens if those “rewards” don’t come when the person expected them to. If a person is in it mainly for the rewards, how long are they going to stick around if they fail to materialise?

By far the best way of getting people to follow Jesus is to get them committed to the cause. Now, in my opinion, the cause of Christ is the greatest cause in the world. I don’t see why everybody doesn’t want to fight for him. But I have to be realistic and recognise that not everybody sees that. I think part of the problem is that they look at the cause of some Christians, and believe that’s the cause of all Christians or of Jesus. One example of this is issues of morality. For many people, the issue of morality is not one worth fighting for.

But the cause of Jesus is so much greater than this, and I believe there is something in it that every single person in the world can care passionately about. Instead of telling new Christians what they should be caring about, we should be helping them find what it is about Jesus that speaks deeply to them. Do they care about letting people know of God’s love and acceptance? Are they passionate about social justice? Is the idea of living a better life with God’s help one that appeals? Is caring for the poor something that speaks deeply to them? Are they amazed by this idea that we don’t need to do good works to get into heaven?

This is not to say that only one issue is important and people can just focus on one issue and forget about all the rest of what Jesus had to say. But when people become committed to those aspects that appeal most strongly to them, they will also see that the rest of what Jesus had to say is also a worthy cause. Commitment to one issue can soon turn into a very strong commitment to Jesus Christ. And I would rather have a church full of ten people that are committed to the cause, than a church of 10,000 people who are not.


Bookmark and Share

Blog Patrol