There is more than a good bit of scandal in the Bible. For those who think of it as ‘the Good Book’–by which they generally mean “it teaches you how to be goody-goody/nice moral person”–this comes as a bit of shock. But the Bible holds nothing back. It is a searingly honest look at the darkness of the human heart.
I read a daily set of passages
, and today’s Old Testament reading was from Genesis 19 where Lot’s daughters, ahem, “go into” their Father.
This is a troubling passage.
- Is the Bible condoning this kind of Jerry Springer freak-show behavior? Just a few verses earlier, Lot is described as someone who found favor in the sight of angels, so what gives?
- Or maybe this is a moral fable of sorts? “Lot” represents gullible humanity. “Lot’s daughters” represent deceitful humanity. Moral Lesson: Don’t be gullible or deceitful.
- Or perhaps this just didn’t happen at all and is a nice story inserted to spice up an otherwise bland narrative. Fire from the sky! Wives turning into pillars of salt! Daughters seducing Fathers! Bearded Lady! World’s Biggest Ball of Twine! Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
Or maybe we need to dig a bit to get at it.
Hopefully you are aware the Bible was written in a different culture. As such, understanding the cultural setting is always a help to better understanding the message of the text. Often, what people are actually put off by is the cultural context, but mistakenly think they can’t believe the Bible.
In Western Culture, a woman having a baby is a nice thing, sweet even. It’s an occasion to go on Pinterest, shop at Pottery Barn Kids, paint a nursery and dream about reading stories at night to a sweet little ball of baby-cuteness. My wife and I have now done that with three little balls of baby-cuteness. It really is a great thing. Indescribable actually. But, generally a woman in our culture isn’t shunned or looked down on or treated with contempt or mocked if she can’t have a baby. We feel compassion for that woman, not contempt. The cultural message reinforced over and over is something like: “Having a baby is great and a chance to express love. Good for you.”
In the cultural setting of Genesis 19, there was far more weight attached to a woman having a baby. It was her key to status, meaning and worth to the community. Being essentially a man’s property, she didn’t have much else. The cultural message reinforced over and over was something like: “I have to have a baby or I’m a failure as a woman and useless to my community and family.”
In every culture, people take what the culture says is valuable and build their life around it, worship it even. Their happiness, sense of meaning and purpose come or go on the basis of how they are doing at the task of attaining what they feel is valuable and important. It becomes a cultural supposed to. The Bible has a category for this process: idolatry. It is the thing we put in the unguarded store window of our heart to longingly pass by, forgetting that things in unguarded store windows are easily stolen, fade and tossed in the dumpster out back in favor of the next display.
In our culture, a woman can feel incomplete if she doesn’t fit the image of ‘loving mother.’ It can become an idol. She can end up worshiping the ideal of perfect motherhood. She beats herself up, wrestles with endless guilt and feels like she just doesn’t measure up. She suffers. Often deeply. After all, she is supposed to be the perfect mother.
In the case of Lot’s daughters, they felt like failures. “…there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth.” In other words, “if we don’t have children–like we are supposed to—we’ll be failures and we’ll be hated and despised.” The fine point on it that often seals the emotion we feel is this: “Everyone else has this (thing) and I don’t. Something is wrong with me.”
In any instance of a cultural supposed to it is good and important and healthy to ask: “Now who said that I am supposed to again?” If it’s God, well then okay. Listen, trust and obey. More often than not, however, it’s someone or something else’s voice (often, by this point in the process, our own). And what typically happens is that we run right over the diagnostic question in our rush to find any means at our disposal to get/do/be what we feel we are supposed to. The Bible has a category for this frantic activity on our part: sin. To paraphrase Mary Shelley’s brilliant insight on the human condition: Humanity doesn’t do evil for evil’s sake, they do it because they mistake it for the good they seek. We build a monster thinking we are creating life.
So the insight of the text is that far from being Jerry Springer, it is us. We feel bound to do ____________, be the kind of person who ______________ or has _______________. And in what seems like the absence of options, we do whatever we have to to get it. Often–as was the case with Lot’s daughters–with devastating consequences that go on for generations.
Your thoughts on the text? How does the Gospel shape our response to this?