It is difficult to remain both righteous and ignorant of sin at the same time. The nature of sin is that it is born in an atmosphere of cunning, deception, pride, and willfulness. To remain righteous in such an atmosphere is difficult if we do not see the sins that lurk behind the curtains of temptation.
Remember Lot, but focus on Abraham
With that said, I would like to spend some time looking at the example of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. We can look at Abraham’s example another time.
When Abraham and Lot’s families returned from Egypt they were a large group of many hundreds of people. Their families, and the righteous converts who followed Abraham (think in terms of Alma and his followers who were baptized in the waters of Mormon) were so great that the two families could no longer dwell together. There just wasn’t enough room for the two families to live in the same valley without stepping on each other’s toes.
Abraham took Lot aside and suggested that, in order to keep the peace, they separate. He showed Lot the surrounding lands from atop the mountain and gave Lot first choice in where he would like to pasture his animals.
Lot picked the best location for himself (Genesis 13:10-12). This location was in the plains that included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These weren’t the most populated cities in the world, but they were certainly the most worldly cities in the world. Abraham took far less prosperous circumstances for his much larger household, all in the name of being a keeper of the peace.
10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.
11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin wanted to talk to his people, so they all gathered and pitched their tents around the temple, with the doors of their tents facing towards the temple. This way they could stay in their tents and still listen to the words of their king. What do you think it means in verse twelve of Genesis 13 when it says that Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom”?
In modern parlance, or modern speak, what would it mean for us spiritually, if we chose to live in a location of the city that faced an amusement park that was open seven days a week? What might it mean to our spirituality if we lived in a place that fronted a casino or a strip joint? This is the influence we would see every time we came to and went from our homes, afterall, they are right across the street. You can’t NOT see what is just across the street from you. This is the price of choosing to live there.
I’m sure you understand the nature of advertising. Few who advertise expect someone to buy their goods on the first viewing of their tempting offer. They are counting on the effect of us repeatedly seeing their ads to get our business. Over time we begin to become numb to the ad. We no longer pass moral judgment on that which is before our face day after day, after day. We eventually accept it as normal. We no longer think of it in terms of right or wrong. It is just like we no longer think of a light switch as a miracle. It is just a part of our lives that is there to be used at will.
Is it any wonder then that after a while Lot moved his family from the plains into Sodom itself? His daughters had married men from the city, so perhaps it was justified that they wanted to be closer to family. In any event, they were now living among some of the most wicked people in the world.
The effect of not being wary
If you are wary you are vigilant, watchful, careful. You weigh everything that happens while you are looking out for signs of danger. Perhaps Lot and his family would have fared better in this story if he had been more wary of the sins in the place in which which he chose to locate his family. Perhaps if they had been more careful about their worship and study of the scriptures things would have turned out differently. Who knows?
Genesis says the Lord sent two angels to destroy the city. Joseph Smith, in his translation of the Bible says there were three angels. In any event, when the messengers the Lord sent to Sodom sought for the 10 righteous people Abraham bargained the Lord into agreeing to in order to spare the city from destruction, it seems all they could find were four. There was Lot, his wife, and his two single daughters.
The messengers told Lot to gather his family and get them out of the city so they wouldn’t be destroyed. In Genesis 19 we read of his disappointing attempt to save his sons, daughters, and sons-in-law.
12 ¶ And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place:
13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.
14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.
How difficult it must have been for Lot and his wife to have their children act like his dire warning of immediate destruction was just a mockery, and nothing to be taken seriously. What had happened to them spiritually? They had been partially absorbed into the morality of the city in which they lived. They no longer trusted in the word of the men of God.
It really was down to just these four people in the whole city. In the morning the messengers (the Hebrew word for angel is messenger) told them to get out of the city. They doddled and hesitated until the holy men literally grabbed their hands and physically led them out of the city and told them to flee for their lives (Genesis 19:15-17).
15 ¶ And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.
16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
17 ¶ And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
The effects of sin
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe that what happened to Lot and his family, though not directly caused by any sins committed by Lot’s family, happened because they were not careful and wary, not wise and spiritually vigilant.
They chose to live around sin without doing what was required to keep themselves spiritually safe from partaking in the sins around them. They adopted a live-and-let-live attitude and pretended it wouldn’t cause them any harm by doing so. As they became numb to the sins of the culture they lived in, they didn’t see that they were also becoming accepting of the sins of that culture.
When it came time for the judgment to be meted out by the Lord, Lot’s family got caught in the punishment. Lot narrowly escaped destruction, but his children left in the city were destroyed with everyone else. And Lot’s wife, just moments before they would be safe from harm, chose to turn back and face Sodom again, something they had been warned not to do. She was turned into a pillar of salt.
Sometimes we don’t have to directly engage in sin to be tainted by those same sins. Lot lost everything except his two youngest daughters that day. And spiritually he had already lost them as well. We don’t have any direct statement that says their wicked behavior right after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a direct result of having lived there, but I am guessing that the taint of the place where they had so indiscriminately lived had also affected their thinking.
The two girls decided that because all their apparent marital prospects had vanished because of their father’s choice to leave, that their only option for not living with the social stain of being childless was to have children by their father. They got him drunk and seduced him two nights in a row. He was so drunk he was not even aware that he was fathering children by his own children. What a tragedy.
We don’t know what caused them to think they had any right to do such a wicked thing, but having just come out from living in Sodom and Gomorrah, it probably is not an unreasonable stretch of the imagination that they got it from the placed in which they lived.
Can you imagine anything like these events happening to Abraham? Abraham was known as a seeker of truth and righteousness. He deliberately sought to obey the commandments and to please God. As a result we have the Abrahamic covenant that offers to seal us up to eternal life, to have eternal posterity, and an eternal companion, and to live in the presence of God forever.
We live in an increasingly wicked culture, no matter where we are on the planet. We have evil flashed in front of us in print, on the screen, over the Internet, and in conversation and behavior constantly. This is the reality of living in the last days.
This is our challenge. Are we going to be like Lot, who innocently decided to believe that the sins of others wouldn’t touch him and his family, or are we going to be like Abraham, and no matter where we live, and under what conditions we live, do all we can to keep close to the Spirit and seek to please the Lord by keeping our souls clean and spotless from the sins of those around us?
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Living Righteously in a Wicked World