I was young, tender and impressionable in those days, when I would often leave church services with traces of tears on my cheeks, convicted and moved and wide-eyed in my pursuit of Christ. I remember one morning, sitting enthralled as the pastor read the story of Lot and his wife and daughters fleeing Sodom. He came to the moment when Lot’s wife made her fatal mistake: she looked back at the city as everyone she knew in it was reduced to ashes by fire falling from the sky. I imagined all of the things that Lot’s wife may have been thinking in that moment. Maybe she was looking back with fondness at the sinful city. Maybe she was heartbroken for the friends she had there–even her own sons-in-law stayed behind and were now facing the wrath of God. In her disobedience after God told her to go and never look back, maybe she was proving that she didn’t want to let go of her old life and her old self. Jesus Himself told us to remember Lot’s wife, so her looking back had to be significant. It had to matter. I knew it was an important lesson for all of us, and, pen poised, I waited to hear from the pastor what that great lesson was.
Lot’s wife turned and looked back, he said with fanfare. I guess she left a full shopping cart behind.
And that was it. That one-liner was the extent of his dealing with Lot’s wife. Not only had he glossed over the reasons that Jesus warned us not to be like her, he reduced her to a stereotype–just an uncomplicated figure that had deeper feelings for her shopping cart than for the flesh and blood people she was leaving behind. The spiritual significance of her disobedience was completely lost, and I, a potential leader of a young generation, was left with nothing more than a rather sexist caricature of an important woman in the Bible.
That pastor wasn’t trying to miss an opportunity. But, he did. His focus was obviously elsewhere in the passage, and although he did seem to ignore the significance of Lot’s wife in his sermon, that’s not the reason that I remember what he said about her all these years later. I remember it because I knew what he said wasn’t true. He had reduced Lot’s wife to a cartoon or a cardboard cutout, and while he got a laugh, he missed the chance to reveal a deep truth to a young woman who was ripe to hear it.
He probably felt like he needed some laughs worked into his sermon. He probably searched high and low for funny stories to use to fill in between scripture passages. He probably worried that people would lose interest if he taught deep truths in favor of one-liners. After all, for many years we set up our churches as a hubs of comfort and entertainment. We built churches that were filled with complacent members who didn’t expect or particularly want a challenge. I for one want our churches to be places where pastors can be funny when they choose to be and when it suits their personalities. But, more importantly, I pray that our churches will also be filled with people who are so hungry for God’s word that we want deep and difficult truth over caricatures. I pray that our churches will be environments where pastors can step into the pulpit and tell God’s absolute truth as presented in the scripture, where they can look into the faces of the up-and-coming leaders and give them the meat that they need in order to grow.