The right question

Recently, the title of a Forbes.com article arrested my attention. Written by Eric Mack, and published under the science category on the Forbes website, the article was titled “New Science Suggests Biblical City of Sodom Was Smote By An Exploding Meteor.” The article begins,

New research finds that a powerful airburst from a meteor colliding with the atmosphere may have wiped out a Bronze Age civilization along the north side of the Dead Sea some 3,700 years ago. While the findings come from the excavation of the Tall el-Hammam archaeological site in Jordan, many believe that the same place was once known as Sodom.

Lest your ears prick up in the hope that Forbes has published an article affirming the historicity of a biblical account, the next paragraph speaks of “Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible … the cities supposedlydestroyed with brimstone and fire.”

The article then takes a slight detour from the scepticism with which it views the biblical account and details the scientific findings. Research suggests that “an extremely hot, explosive event” levelled a two hundred square mile area in the region, “not only wiping out 100 percent of the Middle Bronze Age cities and towns, but also stripping agricultural soils from once-fertile fields.” Shockwaves from the blast also covered the area with “super-heated brine of Dead Sea anhydride salts.” It took some six hundred years before the area recovered and civilisation could return there.

If readers of the Bible are tempted to think that science has affirmed the telling of a biblical account, the author quickly returns to his scepticism:

Archaeologists may be able to answer some of the big questions behind the story of Sodom, including whether it really existed, where it was and what actually destroyed it, but even if it turns out that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom and it was destroyed by a cosmic airburst, the biggest question remains: Did someone, perhaps a deity, order an asteroid hit on Sodom?

Do you sense the almost mocking tone behind “the biggest question” in this story? Satan once questioned God’s word when he said, “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). The author of this analysis is asking much the same question: Did God really do this? Can we really ascribe a meteor strike to the God of the Bible? In our age of science and advanced knowledge, are we really naïve enough to believe that a deity could control a meteor to the point that it struck exactly where he wanted it to as an act of judgement against those whose sin offended him?

But is that really “the biggest question” that remains, assuming that the science supporting this observation is accurate? Or is there a more pressing question to be asked? I would suggest that there are, indeed, more pressing questions to be asked, including: Why did God order a meteor strike? Should we expect a repeat of such judgement? If so, how can we—like Lot and his daughters—escape the judgement that the Lord will bring against sinners?

The biblical account of Sodom is plain: “The LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:24–25). Could this be an ancient description of a devastating meteor strike? Possibly. If so, the biblical narrative is clear that “the LORD rained” this destruction on the cities in question.

But important questions remain to be answered.

Why did God rain this judgement on Sodom? The Bible is clear about Sodom’s offences before God:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

(Ezekiel 16:49–50)

Jude adds that the inhabitants of Sodom “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 7). It is because of unrepentant sin that God brought judgement upon Sodom.

But the judgement was not a one-time, never-to-be-repeated historical event. According to Jude 7, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” The “eternal fire” that fell upon Sodom was “an example” of final judgement. In the same way that the Lord utterly destroyed Sodom, so he will one day utterly destroy those who persist in unrepentant sin.

Is there hope of escape from this final judgement? Lot and his daughters escaped by obedience to the Lord; Lot’s wife was killed with the inhabitants of Sodom when she disobeyed God and looked back at the destroyed cities.

The Bible likewise speaks a great deal of the need for obedience to the gospel (see Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; 6:17; 15:18; 16:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Galatians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:22). On the other hand, it speaks of “those who do not obey the gospel” suffering divine “vengeance” by means of “flaming fire.” Specifically, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10).

According to the Bible, then, obedience to the gospel leads to eternal life, while disobedience to the gospel produces eternal destruction. But what does it mean to obey the gospel?

The gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ. The gospel teaches us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a human being. Jesus grew to live a completely God-honouring life and went on to die on a Roman cross for those he came to save. He rose from the dead three days later, proving that his sacrifice was accepted. Because of who Jesus is and what he did, “God now commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Obedience to the gospel involves repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Did God rain destruction upon Sodom? Yes, he did. Did it involve a devastating meteor strike? Possibly. But even if it turns out that Sodom was destroyed by a cosmic airburst, the biggest question remains: Will you escape the same fate? What will you do with God’s command to believe and repent?

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