“as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard”
– 2Peter 2:8
Dare to be a Daniel. Like young David, slay your Goliaths. Endure hardship with the patience of Job. Imitate Paul, as he imitates Jesus. These are but a smattering of biblical role models from which we can learn much, as we seek to emulate their triumphs against evils within and without. There are the negative role models too: Saul, the poster child of a promising beginning, coming to a tragic end by means of impatience, jealousy, and a mere partial obedience to God. Broken-necked Eli: the father who didn’t love his sons enough to “restrain them.” Solomon, whose multiplied wives caused his heart to wander. Samson, a man of brute strength which knew no limits, yet utterly incapable of muscling his own brute passions into any sort of submission.
Then there’s Lot. He’s the picture of compromise. He’s the one who selfishly chose the better land for himself, despite (because of?) the close proximity to Sodom. Then he pitched his tent facing the city. Next he moved into town. Finally, he sat at the gates, quite at home in this figuratively (but soon to be literally!) “hell-hole.”
Judgment is coming to Sodom. Due, no doubt, to Abraham’s ardent intercession upon the good graces of the almighty and compassionate God, a pair of angels arrive at Lot’s house to drag him out of town, when they are accosted by a most indecent mob of men looking to “know” these strangers. In an unthinkably cold moment of parenting, Lot offers to send out his own daughters to the sex-crazed rabble to violate as they see fit. Sick. His mantle will never be burdened by the weight of the “Father of the Year” trophy.
The angels ultimately had to drag him out of that den of iniquity, for he lingered there almost too long to escape the fiery judgment from on High.
Lot escaped Sodom’s destruction, but what a messy exit. The mocking laughter of his daughters’ betrothed suddenly turned to screams of sheer terror when heavenly fire rained down on them, then they fell silent, save for their eerie echoes down the halls of history. His wife all but made her escape when, turning to cast a longing glance at her home going up in smoke, God transformed her into a pillar of salt. The remaining survivors, Lot with his daughters, we soon find in a dark, dank cave.
The tragedy isn’t yet complete. On consecutive nights, his own daughters got him blacked-out drunk, slept with him, and subsequently bore him his own sons/grandsons. This is how the Old Testament closes the curtain on Lot – drunk in a cave, sleeping with his daughters, siring in the most grotesque fashion the nations of Moab and Ammon, two infamous peoples that would be such a scourge to his cousin Isaac’s elect descendants.
So reads the decline and demise of Lot. One step at a time. Compromise a little here, a little there. Slip, slide, fall. Lot is a living parable of the dangers of drift – moral, theological, and spiritual. Look on this wretch with pity and beware!
We almost lose the memory of Lot by the time we open the book of 2 Peter, where we find the blustery apostle reflecting on divine judgment, and writing this:
“…If [God] rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…”
“Righteous Lot.” Curious. We might be tempted to write it off as a careless cliche. When he follows that up with “that righteous man,” it gets curiouser. Perhaps he’s just trying to be gracious. But when, for the third time, fearlessly marching across the lines of redundancy, Peter refers to “his righteous soul,” it gets curiouser and curiouser. It’s inescapably clear that we are to understand that righteous Lot was indeed a righteous man with a righteous soul.
Because we wouldn’t instinctively think of Lot as a “righteous man,” Peter belabors the point in order to overcome our natural reaction of disbelief to this most undeserved title. Our second instinct is better: we insist that Lot’s righteousness wasn’t his own, because it wasn’t. Like his uncle Abraham, Lot was counted righteous because of faith. Lot’s righteousness, Brother Martin would doubtless insist, was an alien righteousness.
Nevertheless, Abraham’s “faith apart from the works of the Law” was completed by his works in the James 2:22 sense. Faith without works is dead, or to say it another way, a works-free faith is a nonviable faith. If Abraham withholds Isaac, his is a dead faith, and as I understand it, a non-saving faith. If that’s true for faithful Abraham’s righteousness, it must be true for Lot’s righteousness as well.
Furthermore, it appears that Abraham also viewed his nephew as a “righteous” man. You recall that when he bargained with the Lord to avert the judgment of Sodom, it was on the very grounds of not destroying the righteous with the wicked. Lot may have been an ineffective missionary with no converts to report, but almost certainly Abraham believed Lot to be “righteous” or he wouldn’t have petitioned as he did.
But the question is, what sort of works completed Lot’s faith? It’s not easy to see them. The things it couldn’t have been are pretty obvious though: It couldn’t have included offering his daughters to be raped mercilessly by the blind, deranged, sex-hungry mob desperately searching for the latch to his door. And it couldn’t have included fathering his daughters’ sons.
Indeed, you almost need a microscope to find it, and probably wouldn’t think to look if Peter hadn’t said something about it. However, there is one phrase in Genesis that gives us a hint to the fruit of Lot’s righteousness by faith, which Peter leverages with the inspiration and insight of the Spirit to make his case. When Lot plead with the predators of Sodom to leave his visitors alone, he said “Please my brothers, do not act wickedly.”
Their reply was, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge.”
Interesting, and vaguely familiar, yes? Lot said, “do not act wickedly,” and immediately faced hostility for “acting like a judge.”
This must be the evidence Peter is working from when he says that as a righteous man, Lot “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds.”
What does it mean that his righteous soul was in torment? The word “torment” here is the word uttered by a demon to the Lord Jesus, “I implore You by God, do not torment me!” (Mark 5:27) It’s a severe word. I think what Peter is getting at is this: it’s the agonizing feeling of having one’s soul ripped asunder on the rack. Pulling one direction are those holy feelings of indignation in the presence of wickedness, but pulling the opposite direction is the grief that one’s friends and loved ones are involved in this wickedness, and they will fall under condemnation that is both just and terrifying.
Here then is Lot’s completed faith, or his justifying works, in the James 2 sense: lawless deeds tormented his soul, and that “day after day.” Lot never embraced the wickedness of Sodom; rather, he was “oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men.” He lived among them; he was even accepted by them at some level. Yet he lived with a tormented, oppressed, and therefore demonstrably righteous soul. So says Peter, speaking under the inspiration of the only One who perfectly knew Lot’s heart.
The conclusion then is this: in the face of wickedness, righteous souls are tormented souls. On the other hand, a soul that remains placid in the face of wickedness is an unrighteous soul.
For admitted unbelievers, their soul remains calm in the face of wickedness, because, like in the case of Sodom, they have no shame in expressing their wickedness, which was hardly called wickedness. It was just normal behavior. You can’t say normal is wicked, can you? So there’s no torment there – why would they be tormented because they were simply following their passions? Having no vision of the holiness of God, and no morality save their own, their own wickedness hardly seems wicked.
But what about professing believers? One who claims righteousness by faith might also have an untormented soul in the face of wickedness. He may feel the hot indignation against wickedness without feeling the opposing pull of grief over those condemned to wrath because of it. There exists a kind of Christianity that is more hostile to the world than the world is to it. Some loathe the wickedness they see everywhere around them, despising not only “the garments polluted by the flesh,” but also the ones who wear them. They have an agitated, angry, arrogant soul, but it is hardly a tormented soul.
On the other hand, there are those who, in the name of love and compassion for those in wickedness, they turn a blind eye to the wickedness itself. Their souls are moved by the desire to be heard, the passion to be understood, but even moreso by the fear of being rejected, the fear of being called judgmental.
After all, when society at large calls a vice a virtue, it is the little voice saying “the Emperor has no clothes” that is most quickly shamed into irrelevance and shunned into silence. When wickedness is not only embraced, but celebrated, the soul driven to cry out “this is evil!” only garners the same response it did for Lot in the streets of Sodom so many millennia ago: “already you are acting like a judge!”
But a soul that cries out “Peace, peace!” whether there is actual peace or not, is hardly tormented. When the blazing light of the righteousness of God is covered over with wet blankets of unqualified compassion, everything looks more wholesome and less disturbing in the ensuing darkness. The rack of the soul is rendered entirely impotent when the hands are bound by the fetters of love, but the feet are not shackled by the holiness of God.
When I cast a glance across the sea of Christianity, I see both kinds of souls, lying as easy on the rack of the soul as they might lie on their own bed. I see the fire-breathing John-the-Baptist types somewhat disappointed that judgment hasn’t fallen like it should have. Who would have believed we’d survive the Obama years without even a drizzle of fire being rained down, or so much as a whiff of brimstone? I have no doubt that in their quiet moments they too look up into heaven and ask along with their mentor, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” Judgment should have hit, and it’s kind of disappointing that the bodies aren’t piling up while wickedness seems to continue on unabated. Ah well, it is no matter. It is enough to curse the darkness, and since they hate the darkness so much anyway, at the end of the day, it’s a rather enjoyable experience. No torment of soul here!
But I also see others that are most willing to stuff the morality of the world into the righteousness of God, or perhaps it’s vice versa. They agree wickedness exists, but it is wickedness as the world defines it. They agree righteousness exists, but the world must define it too. Hence in our day, listed in the catalog of nigh unforgivable sins one finds intolerance, non-diversity, bigotry, homophobia, and xenophobia ranked very high. At the same time, sexual sins of any kind may be justified by meeting the twin conditions “consensual” (the world’s sole condition) and “monogamous” (the only additional “Christian” condition, which keeps us happily and comfortably one step above moral, but not such a big step that it’s intimidating or off-putting). Hence these dear untormented souls carry on, more or less in lockstep with the world, oblivious to the wickedness that oppresses only righteous souls.
It is a curious thing, and feels rather awkward too, saying “Live like Lot,” but say it I will. Live like the righteous Lot. May your righteous soul be oppressed as you gaze upon the wickedness of the world, beholding on the one hand with approving eyes the brimstone that justly swallowed up that ancient city, but on the other hand with tear-dimmed eyes the blood that poured out of the Lord Jesus, in order that wickedness might be, not redefined, not overlooked, but entirely and gloriously forgiven.
May it be said by the One who searches out the secrets within us that despite our faults, flaws, and failures, like Lot our righteous souls are tormented, and that day after day. May it be clearly seen, by those who decry us as a judge, and those who decry us as just a bit too cozy with the damned, that our souls are daily stretched and pulled on the rack, until such day as God, in whatever method He so desires, sends his angels to yank us out of here. May it be soon.
painting by Jacob Jordaens