“But he hesitated” (Genesis 19:16). When Lot was told to flee Sodom with his family, there was something holding him back, causing a temporary immobilization. It was such a simple command, but he complicated it because of all the factors that he inserted into the equation. Was he hesitating because he had made friends in Sodom? Was he going to miss his house and his possessions? Was his faith wavering? Perhaps Lot just needed a few moments to process what was about to happen, and decide if he was going to take God’s threat of destruction seriously. I would suggest that we have all faced similar moments of indecision!
Truths that are clear and simple to God become tangled messes when our culture adds its two cents on the subject. In the Bible there are two genders (Genesis 1:27), but the world suggests that gender is on a spectrum. God has stated that He “hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16), but we invent all kinds of excuses for breaking the marriage bond. Scripture says that judgment awaits us after we die (Hebrews 9:27), but speculation about the afterlife fills the imagination. Sadly, many of history’s most despicable crimes are rationalized because of a refusal to judge. F. Lagard Smith, an author and professor of Law, noted that many of his law students refuse to accept the concept of absolute truth. One example, in particular, that struck him was when his students were unwilling to acknowledge that the Holocaust was inherently evil, even when pressed. One Jewish student noted, “Oh, sure, I’m personally offended by the thought of any wholesale slaughter of the Jews, and I sure wouldn’t want it happening to me or my family, but [hang on, here comes the all-important punch line] I simply can’t impose my morality on anyone else” (The Cultural Church, Smith, p. 75-76) The author goes on to conclude that “for our generation, tolerance has become the highest virtue.” In response to a similar cultural mindset, Elijah the prophet asked his contemporaries a question that still resonates:
“How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21)
In contrast to this attitude, the Bible gives us definite lines on many subjects, and helps us see that there is a distinct difference between right and wrong, good and evil. There are not many compromises in the time of decision. For example, one was either on the Ark with Noah or not. There was no middle ground between being saved and drowned (2 Peter 2:5). Notice Psalm 1:
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not whither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
“The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
There are only two categories, two conditions. One is either righteous or wicked. It is quite popular in our culture to promote flawed heroes in our literature or media. We love the good guy with a bad side, or the rebel. The darker a hero’s past is, the better. It makes it easy to blur the lines of morality if a hero fights for a good cause, but is a philanderer or womanizer, a drunkard, or is rude, crass, and dirty. But God is not deceived by these subtleties, since He has the power to judge with righteous judgment, down to the narrowest degree (Hebrews 4:12-13). Jesus taught the difference between light and darkness (John 3:19-21). He made no excuses for those who refused to believe His words (John 8:23-24). In judgment, there will be sheep and goats (Matthew 25:34ff).
So Are We Just Being Pharisees?
Are we Pharisees for asserting that there are “black and white” answers for many of our problems, or that there is absolute truth? The accusation is, first of all, invalid because there is nowhere that Jesus condemns the Pharisees for such an attitude. To the contrary, Jesus’ main problem with the religious elites of His day was their failure to respect God’s authority in dictating truth. Rather than “following the scriptures too literally”, as some would suggest we do, the Pharisees were experts in circumventing them. “You are experts in setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9). It was Jesus who promoted absolute truth. “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).