We are God's messengers and the culture is in trouble! Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining shook from foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed . . .
- from God's Grandeur
Hear the counsel of God for the last days of Gomorrah:
Fear not I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name and you are mine.
- Isaiah 43:1
Several years ago Robert Bork suggested that we were Slouching Toward Gomorrah. For reasons of political correctness Bork could not call his book — even in metaphor — Slouching Toward Sodom where the Sodomites lived. I too, to be as politically correct in examining the message of Genesis 18, want to focus on Gomorrah, and leave Sodom to people who want to brave the storm. They were twin cities, however. So, I'd like to ask how Gomorrahites or the Gomorraheans would have felt about Bork's title? My suspicions are that they would resent the title, preferring the title Slouching Toward Chicago, or, God forbid, Slouching Toward Wheaton.
I don't meant to be crass, but Gomorrah is probably us. I used to think that there was a big sign outside Gomorrah that read, "The Most Wicked City in the World! Depraved is US!" But having observed the human tendency toward self-congratulation, I now believe that the Gomorrahese — as they saw themselves — were very normal and pretty moral.
I have known only a few truly wicked people and some who really believed they were wicked. Most wicked people see themselves as moral, live-and-let-live people. In Gomorrah, business was booming — the economy was strong. The Gomorrah stock exchange had the Hittites moaning that their own market was in a slump. Plays were rated to keep them safe for the children. The homeless were an urban focus. Spear-control was a constant concern. All minorities — even sexual preference minorities — as Sodom could attest, were protected and cherished. There was no glass ceiling, in commerce or industry. All pride organizations were proud.
It was on a particular Thursday morning Abraham had just laid down his morning newspaper, when the angels showed up and surprised Abraham by saying that God was going to rain down burning sulfur and brimstone on the urban showplaces.
"Whatever for?" asked Abraham. "Gomorrah is 39 percent born again, and 64 percent of the Gomorrahese attend the church or synagogue of their choice at least once a month."
"Yes," said the Lord, "but the culture is wicked."
"Wicked?" asked Abraham, "these model cities? Wicked? You mean like the Wicked Witch of the East in the Land of Oz?"
"Yes," said the Lord, "Except that Gomorrah is not in Kansas, Toto. Hence, brimstone!"
"But what if there are fifty righteous, will you spare the city?"
After the Lord doubled up in laughter, Abraham knew it was a bad question. Still, to be fair, the Lord agreed that if there were fifty righteous in Gomorrah, He would indeed spare the city.
Then God and Abraham played the famous numbers game of Genesis 18. It was a game that Abraham was prepared to lose, but it called to his mind that he had a nephew living in the other twin city — the one not Gomorrah — and his nephew really liked city living. In fact, his nephew had told him many times that he would rather live there then out in the country with his uncle Abraham, who just didn't understand the advantages of city living.
Gomorrah and its sister city at the end of this tale go up in burning sulfur in a single day. But I believe that sometimes brimstone is gradual. Which of Toynbee's twenty-eight civilizations, as rotted from within, woke up and said, "Whoa! Look at us! We're postmodern!" None. Neither did Gomorrah. With civilizations, it is always the case of the amphibian in the stewpot. The only way you can cook one is gradually. So when the brimstone fell on Gomorrah, Abraham and God were bargaining over values. God's narrow view of things surprised everyone on Nightline.
Everyone in Gomorrah was surprised to find out that he or she was rotten. In fact, you could have knocked Abraham over with a marijuana leaf.
The odd thing is that the people in Gomorrah seemed not to have been aware that God was bargaining with Abraham over the death of their culture. But we who follow Christ should be ever aware that God has a requirement of those who haggle over just how many are righteous in the city. His requirement is that we, like Abraham, are responsible for Christ's rescue operation. Imagine this: God loves Sodom and Gomorrah! The moment that we forget that, it is not just Gomorrah that is dead. We, too, are dead. God holds no glee over the death of cultures. He grieves over all urban wickedness and longs to call sinners back to their lost Eden of relationship.
It's no easy job being God! To stand for holiness, and yet love the unholy is almighty stress - if not for God, for us. To live in Gomorrah and love it is our calling. But to live like Gomorrah and accept it is the gradual beginning of brimstone.
Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.