Gen. 19:01 – 29 – Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
The comments from last week, October 28, which were submitted by Tim, Ken, and Dan, I thought, had a real lesson for all of us to learn. It seems obvious that we all don’t think alike; some of our differences are merely perspectival while others are opposed. But what became clear to me as we reviewed the back and forth of the comments, the more we talk in personal terms the more likely it is that we will agree and the more we talk in social and historical terms the more likely our real and opposed differences will come to light.
Our discussion on the comments highlighted both of these observations. It was Tim’s sharing his own personal observations that served as an example of the personal bringing us together. Tim wrote, “In regards to the question of is humanity moving forward … Each of us has good and bad hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. I personally struggle with my faith all the time.” On a different topic altogether, Dan shared in moving terms his faith story within which he expressed his firm conviction of the errors of modern science and the secular teachings that for him contradict and undermine faith in Christ Jesus. While Ken’s comment pointed out in different terms that there is a fundamental conflict between the values of Christ and the values of this world. We are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect; a call that cannot and should not be watered down by the values of our world.
As I read Dan’s second comment, I realized that at one and the same time there are aspects of our conversation we can more easily agree on and that was made quite clear in Dan’s response to Tim’s and my comments. Dan wrote simply, “Brothers, Actually, I agree with most of what you say , knowing that we are to strive for holiness every day, yet struggling and failing.” We share with one another the struggle to live our personal life in fidelity to our faith. As I have remarked elsewhere, quoting Fr. Lonergan, Christianity is more aspiration than achievement. And we are very aware of the gap, chasm between our aspirations and our achievements.
Nonetheless, the question on a large scale remains, Is the universe created by God to be understood in evolutionary terms or not? I think that it is nearly impossible for either side of the answer to that question to be totally right or totally wrong. The real challenge is to be able to distinguish and affirm the truth on both sides and correct the errors on both sides. That is the challenge. On this very point I read an article written by Pat Byrne [former Chair of the Philosophy Department at Boston College] entitled, Lonergan, Science, and Intelligent Design. I believe Pat’s article is an excellent example of attempting to meet the challenge. The Intelligent Design persons are, in my opinion, mistaken in their science but correct in their aspiration. While Neo – Evolutionary theorists are correct in their science but error in their extra scientific positions.
I’m not inlcined at this point to go into the details that are necessary to substantiate my opinion. But if anyone is interested in reading Pat’s article [27 pages and challenging], let me know and I will forward a copy to you. Having a dialogue on that article, difficult as it might be, is for me the basis of finding the truth and error in this seemingly endless debate between science and religion.
We also spent time discussing further the passage that dealt with Abraham’s Intercession but I must leave those details to entice others to join us in our lively exchanges.
The notes on USCCB website prove helpful in enriching the context within which we can read and understand the story of the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. http://www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/19.
It is critical, however, that we come to grips with the very nature of the biblical writing; namely, that the book is written by people of faith, to people of faith, for the sake of their faith. It is not a history book but it cannot escape being historical. I know that many in the study group have heard this account many more than a few times. But hearing and understanding are quite different events in our consciousness.
A first step will be to offer a minimal account of some of the probable history implied in the story. It is believed [we don’t know for sure] that Sodom was located in a region south of the Dead Sea. Geologically, this region is part of rift, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rift, that has deposits of sulphur and bitumen and petrochemical springs. This area was not always desolate as it is now. Thus we have the makings of a terrifying event, an earthquake, explosions, fire, destruction. Now we don’t know that such an event actually occurred but the story lends itself to that assumption. What is evident is that we wonder why bad things happen, especially to good people. And for we who are believers, what is God’s role in all this?
The story though is about the breakdown of human society as measured in the light of the God’s law of doing justice and righteousness exemplified by Abraham’s extraordinary act of hospitality, the somewhat parallel act of hospitality by Lot, and the utter lack of it by the townsfolk. Lot’s role also exemplifies his own fall from grace in his awful act of offering his daughters for the townsfolk “to do as they please,” as though heterosexual violence can somehow be a response to homosexual violence. What is at stake is the summons to live a life of doing justice and righteousness; the struggle to understand the social interrelationship of the wicked and the righteous; and the fact that destruction occurs. I personally think that the “homosexual incident” is our problem today in a way that was quite different for the people in the time of the story.
For the sake of completeness I will include in our blog the basic questions that guide us in hearing the passages we study each week.
- First who are the characters and what role does each play? To the extent that we can identify
- what the characters say and do, or
- don’t say and do but we would expect them to do so, and
- finally when they enter into the passage and leave it
We can more easily and more accurately know what their role is from the point of view of the author and / or the editor of the passage.
- The “when” question is quite complicated and again for the sake of completeness; there is
- The “when” within the story / passage itself,
- The “when” of the editor, and most importantly,
- The “when” of our life at the time we are actually reading / studying the passage.
- What is the plot, the point of the passage?
- Finally, because each passage is at one and the same time the word of human being and the Word of God, there is revealed the values that are part and parcel of the human beings in their time and place and there is the values revealed by God for the believer. Our final question is to discern which values in the passage are attractive to us, we are drawn to and which are we repulsed by, inclined to reject? The more difficult task, if we do identify these two responses in us of the values revealed, which are of God and we are being challenged to embrace and which are not of God and we are being challenged to develop.
Before we read though, let’s quiet ourselves, remember whatever we can from the background, our questions and, most importantly, pay attention to what happens inside of us as we read.
Reading of the passage http://www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/19.
Discussion Gen. 19:01 – 29 – Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
We began with an effort to identify the characters but the passage has its own power to prevail. Of all that we discussed, I have chosen the remarks of Faryl near the end of our discussion period to share with a larger audience. She observed in the light of her grasp of literary criticism that the characterization of the townsfolk lacked credibility. All were totally evil despite the fact that the young could hardly have been involved in such acts. She offered further that such incredibility in the story gives the modern reader sufficient reason to think that the bible itself is rather incredible. This is my take on what Faryl had to say.
I believe that Faryl’s remarks deserve attention and some in the community, but not all, need to be able to respond to her observations. I intend to do that at our next gathering but thought that her thoughts might serve as a focus of some discussion on this site. If her remarks strike you as significant and have added urgency coming as it does from the next generation of believers, what are we to say?
Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed. See “comment” link below.