The Old Testament story of Sodom is not necessarily the most obvious choice of a text to reflect on for a Christian pacifist: God destroying an entire city because of their misbehaviour can hardly be described as helpful in speaking of a God of Peace.
And yet, when part of this text cropped up in our prayer this week, I felt it spoke into the heart of at least one of my reasons for objecting to military action in Syria.
Before the destruction of Sodom, we read an interaction between God and Abraham.
Abraham speaks to God saying “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” Genesis 19:23-24. For righteous, a word that perhaps doesn’t have the same power today, we might read innocent lives.
And God replies that for the sake of fifty he will not destroy it.
The dialogue continues, with the number of innocents gradually reducing until God answers “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” Genesis 19: 32
And this is where, suddenly, the Sodom story is not so inaccessible to those of us who want to speak for peace.
Will ten innocents die?
Because if so, God’s answer is clear: even in the midst of one of the most violent biblical stories; even in the very earliest days of this people’s walk towards understanding the true nature of the God who loves them; even here, for the sake of ten innocents, disaster is stayed.
Why, oh why, do we still have so much to learn?