29 July 2010

Left Behind—by the Grace of God!

THE STORY OF LOT isn’t particularly nice. It is, in fact, one of the more gross stories in the Old Testament. A recalcitrant man of faith, a self-centered wife, two incestuous daughters, obstinate daughters and sons-in-law, and a city full of violence and perversion—great characters all—for a tragedy. Yet it is not without hope. For despite his depressing mistakes, Lot was a righteous man whose faithful soul was tormented over the lawless deeds of the Sodomites (2 Peter 2:7–8). God, ever utterly faithful to his covenant, did not abandon Lot (for Abraham’s sake, Gen. 19:29); rather, he repeatedly delivered him, providing ample opportunities for him to return to the covenant community. Our continual prayer ought to be that God would do the same for us when judgment strikes, lest we be caught vacillating like Lot’s wife.

The comment in the narrative about his wife in turning into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26) serves one major purpose: to show what becomes of those who identify themselves with the objects of God’s wrath. In looking back, Lot’s wife directly violates the command in verse 17 (“Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley.”). She therefore shows her solidarity with the evil city and forfeits her salvation (see Matt. 6:24; 13:22). Before we stand on our own self-constructed pedestals, however, consider some of the reasons why Lot’s wife would have looked back: her husband was a judge in that city (Gen. 19:1), and she undoubtedly enjoyed riches and respect; her home and all her possessions collected over a lifetime were destroyed; and, not least, her other two daughters, who stayed behind with their husbands, were suffering a horrific, burning death. Would you not linger?

So great is the temptation to become identified with the luxuries given by God’s grace that Jesus Himself warned his disciples to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Lot’s wife, not surprisingly, had become something of an omen in the stories of Israel. She represented the one who, faced with the reality that life and luxury were slipping away, clung tightly to what this world offered, thereby rejecting the salvation of Israel’s covenant Lord. The context in which this warning appears should provide further light on its application for us today.

Readers familiar with Luke 17 know that it’s not easy to understand. As the Pharisees grill Jesus about the coming of God’s kingdom (they in no way consider Jesus’ ministry to be a sign that the kingdom has come), he responds that it is within their grasp—if they weren’t blind to the fact that standing before them was God’s Anointed One. He further remarks that despite the present reality of God’s kingdom in and through his life’s work, judgment is coming. And it will be swift.

Just as in the days of Noah and Lot (vv. 27–29), so too will devastating judgment fall upon those who fail to heed the divine warning. Jesus did not want his disciples falling prey to this destruction, for this destruction would not be preceded by any supernatural signs of imminent danger (vv. 20–21). Therefore, they must be alert. They must not be swayed by false messiahs (see Luke 21:8–9), for the “days of the Son of Man” will be clear to all, like lightning flashing in the sky (17:22–24). When that happens, Jesus warned, flee: “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back” (v. 31).

Well, on what day would this occur? Presumably, “wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (v. 37, NKJV). This answer, to us now probably cryptic, may not have been so to His hearers. It is a point of fact that when Rome marched, their imperial standard bore the eagle. Possibly this whole discourse, then, is about the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the once-great city that rejected her Messiah and Lord.

It is in this context that our Savior exhorted his disciples to remember Lot’s wife. When the judgment of God through the legions of Rome began, they were not to look back. Nostalgia is not worth facing God’s wrath. As the Roman army swept through the city, the chaotic and seemingly random sword of death took one and left another—whether in bed or in the field (vv. 34–35). Ironically, in this situation, being “left behind” is a good thing, for it is those who are left, who are saved from being taken in judgment, that are rescued by God (with apologies to Tim and Jerry).

If we too are to be left behind, receiving the justice of God reserved for his elect (18:7–8), then we must pay heed to the divine warning. And that warning is the gospel itself. The Messiah has come, vanquishing sin and death through suffering and rejection (17:25; see John 5:24–25 and Rom. 8:3). God’s wrath has been turned from his people (1 Thess. 1:10), and their sins have received atonement (1 John 1:7). To ignore God’s way of peace, to exalt oneself, is to lose the very life so tenaciously grasped (Luke 17:33). Has our generation given itself up to worldly, godless living, just like in the days of Noah and Lot? Will we, too, be taken up by surprise in divine judgment and destruction? With which city do we identify?

True, life and luxury are slipping away, but the word of our God stands forever (Isa. 40:8). And that Word, now come in the flesh, whose Spirit fills every believer, enables us to endure patiently, whatever the cost in self-sacrifice, and to be instantly ready for the return of our King. Remember Lot’s wife!

{This originally appeared in Tabletalk 11.6 (Nov. 2006): 23–24}

2 comments:

Chris E W Green said...

Chris,

Have you read Scott Cairns' poem, 'The Turning of Lot's Wife'? If not, you should.

Chris Donato said...

I'm not familiar with that one, Chris. But I think I found it online here. Can you confirm that this is the piece in its entirety?

At any rate, it totally deconstructs my anecdotal use of Lot's wife in this post. I wonder if Cairns' poem reflects Orthodox thinking in general on this subject (the idea that Lot's wife was, typologically, the holy one, looking back upon the damned, a feminine image of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem)?

 
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