Question of the week: Why did God kill every man, woman, and child living in Sodom and Gomorrah?
My answer: This question is not only frequently asked but also commonly used as a basis for atheists and agnostics 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 good and what normal human beings consider as good acts are evil. Such human beings are continually intent on evil and they 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 is reprobate. Societal reprobation has always been rare. In fact, from the Days of Pentecost (described in Acts 2, 8, and 10) onward it has been nonexistent.
Why Not Now?
On the Days of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit permanently indwelt first the Jewish followers of Jesus Christ, then the Samaritan followers of Christ, and finally the gentile followers of Christ. 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 described in 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 the angels 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 of 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 sexual violation.
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. 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 God that if fifty people in Sodom are found to be righteous would God not save all the inhabitants of Sodom on behalf of those fifty. God said he would. Abraham bargains God all the way down to just ten righteous 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 God does 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 since these reprobates would be judged according to all the evil they had committed on Earth (Revelation 20:12). God prevented them from piling up more evil.
Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2017), 177–84, https://shop.reasons.org/category/format/books/beyond-the-cosmos-3rd-edition.