Then the Lord said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’ -Genesis 18:20-21
Dear members and friends,
Sodom and Gomorrah are two very infamous cities in the Bible. I’m often asked about the destruction of these two cities, and if they could have been spared or saved. Archeologically, there is no evidence of such cities so far. With all due respect, it makes more sense to take the story of these cities and their destruction in an allegorical way than the literal way. One of characteristics of ancient wisdom stories is that names of places and figures have significant meaning. Sodom in Hebrew means “burning,” which is from an unused root meaning “to scorch.” And, Gomorrah means “submersion,” which is from a Hebrew word amar meaning “to bind sheaves or to manipulate.” Isn’t it remarkably interesting that twin cities are named in such a way that one means burning, while another meaning being submerged? And, together they somehow represent the worst of human communities. Therefore, they were visited and assessed by God, and then destroyed because of their evilness.
Swedenborg takes the story further to a deeply spiritual meaning. He explains that Sodom meaning burning is related to love, and Gomorrah meaning submersion is related to truth. This is based on the general allegorical understanding that fire often symbolizes love or what is of love, while water symbolizes truth or what is of truth. However, since Sodom and Gomorrah are on the negative side, Sodom symbolizes all evils from the selfish love, while Gomorrah symbolizes all falsities that justify all evils from selfish love. Sodom and Gomorrah are twin cities because every evil is accompanied by its own falsity. Together they become real, just as good united with truth becomes real. Therefore, there were no righteous people in these cities. Also, that is why both cities should have been completely destroyed in order for Abraham to move forward with his spiritual journey toward true union with the Lord.
For us, this means that before we can reach spiritual completion, the selfish love and the falsity that justifies the selfish love must be completely cleared out of our mind. Yet, the challenge is that our sensual aspects, which are symbolized by Lot, are deeply attached with selfish love. The sensual aspects themselves are not evil, but are innately more inclined to make a dwelling with selfish love than other higher loves, such as loving the neighbor or loving the Lord. A spiritual lesson from this story is that it is mandatory for us to look within and search and find how our inner priorities are set. Our first reaction could be that we might want to justify our current priorities and their close tie to selfish love as Abraham was trying to save the cities by petitioning to the Lord with the possibility of at the least 10 righteous people. However, the spiritual path that is suggested by the story is that we should rescue our sensual aspects from being submerged in selfish love, and transcends them completely in order to achieve the spiritual completion.
Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee