God’s ways are a mystery to us. On the one hand, when we read the lectionary sections for today, we might come to the conclusion that God is angry, vengeful, and bent on destruction. On the other hand, all of these readings speak of God’s compassion and mercy, if only we know how to look for it!
Recently, I had to evacuate my home due to a wildfire that swept through our neighborhood. We live in a rural area of southern Arizona, and our neighborhood borders a federal conservation area that backs the US border with Mexico. To say that we live on the edge of nowhere is fairly accurate. Our area has been suffering through an extended drought, and everything has become fairly “crispy.”
On a windy day in June, when the temperature reached 105 degrees, a bolt of lightning struck quite close to our home. As a result, I had less than 10 minutes to gather my dogs, grab my computer and cell phone, and flee. I watched the neighborhood burn from a rise two miles away. It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had, because as I watched the flames spreading in all directions, a rainbow appeared directly over the fire.
I imagine that my swirling emotions may have reflected what Lot and his daughters felt as they ran from the devastation that befell the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels guided Lot’s family out of Sodom, and allowed them to reach the safety of Zoar, before the cities on the plain were engulfed in flames and destruction. It’s a strange feeling knowing that your home may no longer be there, and not being able to do anything about that; especially when you consider that you only lived through it because of God’s protection and mercy. I keep reminding myself that God sent a rainbow, as bizarre as that seemed.
If we only focus on why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (it’s not what you’ve been taught!) and not focus on God’s protection and mercy in saving one small family, we lose the whole point of the story. According to God (as recorded by the prophet Ezekiel), “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. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). You might notice that there is no mention of gang-rape, or any of the homosexual sins that have come to be associated with the destruction of Sodom. The main reasons for the downfall of the city were greed, pride, apathy, and gluttony! And yet, God saved Lot and his family—just a few nomadic cousins of Abraham. That is the reason this story has been retold for thousands of years—God knows who the believers are, overflows with compassion and love for them, and saves them from catastrophe.
When I returned to my neighborhood the day after the fire, I was unsure what, if anything, I was going back to. As I drove up to my driveway, I saw nothing but 16 acres of charred, smoking land, dotted with a few blackened, skeletal trees. I held my breath as I turned the corner, and was immensely relieved to find my house still standing, untouched by the flames. Even our livestock (four goats and seven chickens) survived by God’s grace! We did lose an outbuilding full of precious mementos, furniture, and Christmas decorations, but we were alive and had a home to return to!
I choose to view this entire incident under the rainbow’s indication that God was protecting us. Five houses were lost in the Encino fire, but two of those were vacant, and everyone else was evacuated in time. 1300 acres burned in less than 24 hours, yet no one was killed, only one firefighter was injured (a sprained ankle), and most of the neighbors’ livestock were saved as well. When I consider all of this, I attribute this miracle to the compassion and care of God, and I focus on that part of the story.