February 21, 2015

Are You a Plain Thinker?

Editor's note: News commentaries are intended to express the richness and variety of informed and responsible Adventist opinion on current issues. They do not necessarily convey the viewpoint of the Adventist Review editorial team or the General Conference.

, operations manager, Adventist Review

Many of us could easily hit the highpoints of Lot’s story.

Lot parted ways with Abraham after their families became too big. Lot chose the direction toward Sodom. The Lord and two angels visited Abraham and revealed plans to destroy Sodom. Abraham bartered the Lord down to save the city if 10 righteous people could be found. Sodom was destroyed with the exception of Lot, his wife, and two daughters. But Lot’s wife looked back and turned to salt.

The ending is not happy, but neither are those of many other Bible stories.

As I have contemplated the story of Lot in my personal devotions, I believe that it contains a present-day warning for you and me as Seventh-day Adventists.

The story starts when Lot decides to pitch his tent toward Sodom. Imagine him sitting outside his tent on a beautiful grassy plain with the city lights flickering nearby. Perhaps he entertains a traveler or two passing by with news of the day. That’s where Lot is in Genesis 13—“near Sodom.”

By chapter 14, Lot is “living in Sodom.” It’s not completely clear why he has moved. Perhaps he has tired of tent life. Maybe he has seen the benefits of closer neighbors, or he seeks the ease of creating a thriving business.

By chapter 19, Lot is found “sitting in the gateway of the city.” Now this may seem like a trivial detail, but it isn’t. In Bible times, the gateway of a city served as an important meeting place. This was where significant business was transacted, court was convened, public announcements were made, and leaders could be found.

If Lot was at the gate, he was a leader. He was engaged in the business of the day, and he possibly held a civic position. So Lot was not only in the city; he helped run it.

Noting Lot’s physical movements from where he was—with Abraham—to where he ended up—involved in the leadership of a city in the plains that God was about to destroy—may not be new to you. It wasn’t to me either. But I only noticed recently that Lot’s movements weren’t merely physical. They reflected his thought processes as well. Lot had become a “plain thinker.”

It Was Not Only About Hospitality

Two angels entered the city one day, and Lot insisted that they stay with them. Why? Because he knew the city, and he knew it well.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long after Lot and his guests had passed the unleavened bread for supper that a mob came to the door with evil intentions. Lot urges them to leave and then did the unthinkable—he offered two of his daughters to take the place of his guests.

Who would consider seeking to resolve the threatened rape of strangers by proposing the rape of family members? You could try to excuse Lot by saying, “It was the culture” or “It was all about hospitality” or “Women didn’t count back then.” But what was it really? It was plain thinking. Lot had lived in this city for so long that he wasn’t just physically there, but thinking like them as well.

Was Lot a good man? Yes. A leader? Sounds like it. A person with whom angels shared company? Apparently. But he also was a plain thinker. His views were compromised enough to concede that although Sodom’s everyday life might be wrong at some level, it was acceptable at another.

The angels told Lot to leave the city with his family. But he drags his heels. He unsuccessfully tries to convince his married daughters and their husbands to join him. He moves so slowly that the angels finally grab his hands and drag him, his wife, and their two unmarried daughters out of the city.

You probably wouldn’t hesitate if angels warned that your city faced destruction. You might grab the dog or the photo albums, but you’d hurry.

Lot’s family, however, lingers. We can be sure they felt immense grief about leaving behind their children, livelihood, home, possessions, and community standing. But they had also lost sight of the fact that the Lord specifically preserved the family. He came to save them personally.

Lot had lived there long enough that the warning, even when spoken by angels, didn’t dispel all doubt. He remained attracted to a city where wicked behavior was simply part of the daily news cycle.

The story does not end there. After leading Lot and his family from the city, one of the visitors—Jesus Himself—urged them to flee to the mountain immediately. The response? More plain thinking.

“Oh, not so, my Lord,” Lot said in Gen. 19:18 (KJV).

He essentially said: “I cannot do this great thing you ask of me. Let me go to this small town instead.”

The Lord of the Universe urged Lot to go to the mountaintop for safety and protection. But Lot is blinded, doubtful, and uncertain. Instead of fleeing toward the mountain with God, he settled, stuck and satisfied with a lesser place.

The story ends on an even worse note—if that were possible. Lot holed up in a cave with his two daughters, reduced to a hermit-like existence that causes the daughters to fear they won’t find husbands to give them children. Their solution: drunkenness and incest. How could two young women devise such a plan and consider it reasonable? Plain thinking.

Plain Thinking Among Adventists

So how does this relate to us today?

I’d like for us to consider that we—you and I as Adventists and as a church—might be influenced by similar thinking. In the Bible story, Lot started in a pleasant place and incrementally moved into a wicked city. He began with Abraham and ended up a leader of Sodom. He wasn’t disturbed enough by his surroundings to want to leave or to understand why God would destroy it.

Is it possible that we as a people—either individually or corporately—have gradually moved from a pleasant place to a place of secular satisfaction? Lot never abandoned God. He was actually saved, not because he was Abraham’s nephew, but because he was considered the most “righteous” in a wicked city. Is it possible that we, in the things that we do, read, watch, and tolerate, have actually moved to a place that isn’t terribly righteous and don’t recognize it?

The choices made by some Adventists today have shifted significantly from what they were five, 10, or even 20 years ago. Adventists were once known for keeping the Sabbath joyfully, quietly, and often in worship. We embraced simple lifestyles, diets, entertainment, and dress.

Now we might not want to define these distinctions too closely at risk of becoming legalistic, critical, or intolerant. But few would disagree that for some Sabbath choices have become bolder and less distinguishable from what may be done other days of the week. Meals may include food or beverages best left off the menu. Dress and jewelry reflect secular society. Entertainment choices can include violent video games and movies.

Indeed, Adventists can increasingly be found in the roles of patrons and producers at movie theaters sometimes demonstrating in their choices a lack of discernment in what is being offered. Even pastors and corporate levels of the church have promoted, advertised, and encouraged church members to attend the recent release of “Old Fashioned” in movie theaters. The movie, while tamer than some media choices, is still rated for mature themes and contains elements that don’t necessarily reflect Adventist beliefs.

I include myself when I ask the question: Is it possible we have become victims of plain thinking?

Perhaps we have become so immune to secular thinking and content that we no longer feel uncomfortable in their company. Perhaps we rationalize our choices as “more righteous” than other people’s without acknowledging that our measuring stick of moral and spiritual behavior is defined by secular society rather than scripture. We see ourselves as not “as bad as they are,” therefore justifying our choices. The danger lurks that what we eat, drink, wear, and watch has become so much a part of our everyday lives that we, like Lot, may not realize how far we’ve drifted toward the plain.

Join me in pondering and praying about where we have pitched our tents. A brief examination of Lot’s life would seem to caution us—both me and you—to become more circumspect about our choices.

Jesus can and does save people who succumb to plain thinking. He stands beside us urging us toward a mountaintop experience with Him.