The way I typically hear this question is, why did God kill every man, woman, and child living in Sodom and Gomorrah? This question is frequently asked by Christians and non-Christians alike, and it’s commonly used as a basis for people to reject the existence of the God of the Bible. Such individuals presume that an all-loving God would never do such a thing.
The full description given in Genesis of the behavior and morality of the people living in Sodom and Gomorrah makes it indisputably clear that Sodom and Gomorrah are examples of societal reprobation. Reprobation is a term used in the Bible to describe an individual who is irretrievably evil. It describes an individual whose every thought and action is evil all the time. Such individuals believe that what normal human beings consider as evil acts are actually good, and what normal human beings consider as good acts are actually evil. Such human beings not only are continually intent on evil, but also work tirelessly to morally corrupt others; to persuade, and if possible force, others to join them in their evil thinking and behavior.
Societal reprobation describes a town, city, set of cities, or a nation where every man, woman, and child in that town, city, set of cities, or nation is reprobate. Societal reprobation has always been rare. In fact, since the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, when Jewish Christians for the first time were permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit, the equivalent of the day of Pentecost for Samaritan Christians described in Acts 8, and the equivalent of the day of Pentecost for gentile Christians described in Acts 10, it has been nonexistent. That permanent indwelling made the followers of Jesus Christ “the salt of the earth.” Such spiritual salt acts as a preservative that prevents the outbreak of societal reprobation.
The possibility of societal reprobation during Old Testament times and its impossibility since the days of Pentecost explains why many skeptics conclude that the God of the Old Testament contradicts the God of the New Testament. Such skeptics err—God has not changed. It is people who have changed.
Evidence of Societal Reprobation in Sodom and Gomorrah
Three different Bible texts affirm that Sodom and Gomorrah indeed are examples of societal reprobation. One text, Genesis 19:1–9, describes a test performed by two of God’s righteous angels. These angels visited Sodom to determine if its inhabitants were as evil as the reports they had heard. They decided to spend the night in the city square so as to observe the behavior of the Sodomites for themselves. Lot, the only man in the city who had not yet succumbed to reprobation, insisted that they not spend the night in the city square. Evidently, he knew how dangerous that would be for them. He implored them to stay under the protection of his house. Shortly thereafter, Lot’s house became surrounded by every man, young and old, from every part of the city Sodom. The phrase “young and old” implies that the men surrounding Lot’s house included young boys and elderly men. The men demanded that Lot send his two guests outside so that they could all subject his two guests to homosexual rape.
There was no stopping the assembled mob. Desperate to protect his two guests, Lot even offered to send his two virgin daughters out to the mob to do with them as they wished, if only they would leave his guests alone. The mob turned down the offer, moved forward to break down the door to Lot’s house, and threatened to do to Lot much worse than what they were intent on doing to his two guests.
Lot’s offer testifies to the degree of reprobation in Sodom. This offer shows that the reprobation was so persuasive that even Lot, a righteous man, was in grave danger of succumbing to the spiritual cancer that surrounded him. 2 Peter 2:7–8 describes how the Sodomites distressed and tormented Lot.
The second Bible text, Genesis 18:16–33, describes a conversation between God and Abraham where Abraham, on behalf of his nephew Lot, begs God to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. Abraham first asks if fifty people in Sodom are found to be righteous, would not God save all the inhabitants of Sodom on behalf of those fifty? God says he would. Abraham then bargains God all the way down to just ten righteous people in the city. Every time, God says “yes.” At that point, Abraham realizes that the only righteous people left in Sodom are Lot and his family. Knowing that God has promised to rescue Lot and his family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham stops his begging. He now recognizes that all the inhabitants of the Sodomite plain are reprobate except for Lot and his family.
The third Bible text affirming societal reprobation in Sodom and Gomorrah is Genesis 15:12–16. In this text God says to Abraham that while the Amorites living in the hills with him are evil, their evil “has not yet reached its full measure.” God explained to Abraham that it would take another four hundred years for the Amorites to degrade into societal reprobation. Only at that time would God act to remove the Amorites from the land of Canaan.
Why Not Isolation?
A remaining question is, why does God not simply isolate reprobate societies and let them die natural deaths? The answer is to protect the future generations of those societies and to protect the inhabitants of their neighboring societies.
Once all the inhabitants of a city become completely reprobate, there is no hope for the children born in that city. As Paul points out in Romans 1:32, reprobation is malignant. Children born in a city where all the inhabitants are reprobates will be surrounded by the malignant spiritual cancer of reprobation. For them, there is no escape. As with metastasized stage 4 cancer, they will be infected and completely overcome. To prevent that from happening, God surgically removes a reprobate society as soon as its reprobation becomes pervasive.
Another reason God surgically intervenes is to prevent the spiritual cancer from spreading to communities adjoining the reprobate society. Societies do not and cannot operate in isolation. Cities must be maintained by trade with adjoining communities. If God had not acted in the manner that he did, the spiritual malignancy in Sodom and Gomorrah inevitably would have spread.
God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a profound act of mercy and love. As I explain in my book Beyond the Cosmos, from the perspective of eternity it was even a profound act of mercy and love to the reprobates themselves.1