The history of Abraham and his nephew Lot seems very old, yet it is also modern and real: it is a warning about attachment to material goods and comforts. Blessed John Henry Newman writes it is a lesson “ …that nothing but a clear apprehension of things unseen, a simple trust in God’s promises, and the greatness of mind thence arising, can make us act above the world—indifferent, or almost so, to its comforts, enjoyments, and friendships; or in other words, that its goods corrupt the common run even of religious men who possess them.”
Abraham and Lot left their country “by faith in God’s commands.” They had become wealthy in the land of Canaan but were forced to separate to provide land for their herds and herdsmen. Lot chose the rich land of the plains where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located. He was drawn by the riches of immoral people – “ To look toward Sodom was to go the way of the world, and to make wealth the measure of all things, and the end of life.” Abraham was left without an earthly portion but was promised an inheritance greater than the grains of sand on the earth.
In a revolt by Sodom and neighboring cities from the king of Elam, Lot was captured and his property seized. Abraham gathered his men and rescued him. Whereas he could have excused himself from rescuing Lot, it was a characteristic of Abraham’s faith to care for others. Nor did he take for himself any spoils, trusting that God would reward him.
Although Lot was thus warned about living with sinners he returned to Sodom. But God spoke to Abraham through Melchizedek, a figure of Christ. “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, and he was the priest of the most High God; and he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram of the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth and blessed be the most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.”
Soon after, God decided to punish Sodom and Gomorrah, but he let Abraham know of his intention, which allowed him to intercede for the righteous in those cities. But ten good men could not be found. When God sent his angels to destroy these cities he remembered Abraham’s petition and saved Lot who had now been warned and spared a second time.
Referring to Lot, Newman draws the following conclusion: “(W)ithout forming harsh judgments concerning one whom Scripture thus honours, we may at least draw from his history a useful lesson for ourselves. Miserable will be the fate of the doubleminded, of those who love this world so well that they will not give it up, though they believe and acknowledge that God bids them do so. Not that they confess to themselves that their hearts are set upon it; they contrive to hide the fact from themselves by specious excuses, and consider themselves religious men.”
Newman then invites his listeners to examine themselves:
“Now, as to the temper of this country, consider fairly, is there any place, any persons, any work, which our countrymen will not connect themselves with, in the way of trade or business? For the sake of gain, do we not put aside all considerations of principle as unseasonable and almost absurd? … Is there any speculation in commerce which religion is allowed to interfere with? … Do we care what side of a quarrel, civil, political, or international, we take, so that we gain by it?”
Newman asks if religion would be overthrown for political or civic considerations and securing peace between all parties in a nation. We can easily place these and other considerations before God and religion. Despite his failings, Lot was called “a just man” by St. Peter and referred to as “hospitable” by St. Paul. Newman comments that he was a confessor of truth among the wretched inhabitants of the cities in which he dwelt:
“Still, after all, who would willingly take on himself Lot’s sins, plain though it be that God had not deserted him? Surely, if we are to be saved, it is not by keeping ourselves just above the line of reprobation, and living without any anxiety and struggle to serve God with a perfect heart.”
The Christian must learn to detach himself from the world’s pleasures, comforts and honors. “No one, surely, can really be a Christian, who makes his worldly interests his chief end of action… He may have many faults and defects but his reasoning and ruling faculty must be turned heavenward if he is to be a Christian.”
Enticed in daily life by possible investments, stock options, travel and endless comforts, we must take a serious look at ourselves to see if we find that our hearts are set on earthly treasures. We must look with hope to Christ and ask for his forgiveness.