Lesson 8: Living Righteously in a Wicked World #BCCSundaySchool2018



Guido Reni’s “Lot and His Daughters” (1615)


Genesis 13–19 (but mostly chapters 18 & 19)
Ezekiel 16:49–50

Learning Outcomes

Students will more capably and confidently live their lives with integrity, peace, and hope, even when their world around them is harsh, upsetting, and seemingly without love.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

In Genesis 13, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, decide they should separate and give each other and their families some space. Lot heads over to the plain of Jordan, where there was water and beautiful gardens (he even compares it to the Garden of Eden) and also the city Sodom, known for its crime and sin.

Lot is taken captive in war and Abraham has to rescue him.

Genesis 18:16-33 is a bargaining scene between God and Abraham. God is hesitant to tell Abraham about his plans for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. When he does reveal his plan to extinguish scene by sending a rain of fire and destruction on the cities, Abraham (with a considerable amount of guts) challenges God with, “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

What if everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah are evil and wicked except for 50 people? Would you destroy it then? (God says He wouldn’t destroy the cities in that case.)

What if there were 45 righteous people? (God says He would save the cities for 45 people.)

40? (No.)

30? 20? 10? (All three times: No, God would save the cities for the sake of 10 people.)

In the end, the bargaining scene doesn’t seem to make a difference: Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed in the next chapter (perhaps there were not 10 righteous people to be found after all).

**Important note about Sodom’s destruction: Ezekiel 16:49–50 specifies that Sodom was destroyed because of their “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness” and because they did not “strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Nowhere is it suggested that Sodom was destroyed specifically because of homosexuality. Rather, the Sodomites were punished, according to the scriptures, because of their greed and their refusal to assist the poor by sharing their wealth.**

In chapter 19, two divine angels in disguise visit Lot in Sodom. He offers them hospitality, but the men of Sodom come after Lot and demand his visitors so that they can rape or “know” them. In response, Lot offers his virgin daughters: “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (The Joseph Smith Translation gives a different account of this story in which Lot says, “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes.”)

Dissatisfied with Lot’s offer of his daughters, the men of Sodom threaten to destroy Lot’s home, property, and family. Lot urged his sons-in-law and other family members to escape, but they thought Lot was joking. The angel visitors tell Lot to take his wife and daughters away, but again, Lot lingers. Finally, the angels grab Lot, his wife, and his daughters and remove them outside the city walls, where Lot can escape to Zoar.

This is the part where Lot’s wife turns around and becomes a pillar of salt.

Then it’s the part where Lot and his two daughters sleep in a cave in Zoar, and his daughters mistakenly believe they are the last three people on earth, so they get their father drunk and take turns sleeping with their father and becoming pregnant with Moab and Ben-ammi, suggesting that the Moabites and the Ammonites were products of incest.

What do we do with this scripture story?

I won’t lie: this scripture story is a tough one for me. It always boggles my mind that somehow Lot is the hero of this story, and I get frustrated that God couldn’t find ten decent people to make Sodom a city worth saving. And I’ve never felt right about Lot’s wife turning to salt for turning to look back but Lot himself seemingly not in trouble at all for either (a) offering his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom and then (b) impregnating these same daughters from a cave. I always walk away from this story wondering why the scripture story messages for this section of Genesis aren’t things like: (1) why you should learn to get along with your uncle and share the same land without fighting, (2) why you shouldn’t offer your virgin daughters as a bargaining tool, (3) why you shouldn’t get drunk in caves, (4) why you shouldn’t rape your father or anyone else, and (5) why you should communicate your plans better with your family and maybe let them know that you aren’t the last three people on the planet.

I mean, ultimately, it’s hard for me to see Lot and his family as role models here. So I don’t accept them and their decisions as a how-to manual for righteousness, nor do I think I need to. I acknowledge and even appreciate that the Old Testament is filled with complicated and far-from-perfect individuals. And, in some ways, Lot’s story as an immigrant forced to flee his home country because of the threat of destruction and war can be a valuable tool for empathizing with and considering the lives of refugee immigrants in today’s world. The ambiguity of this story means there are many directions we can go in our study of it; here are a few of the questions that stick with me as I ponder the story of Lot and his family:

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think it was so hard for Lot to leave Sodom? Have you ever felt the need to speak out against a group of people seeking to harm others but felt afraid to do so? How can we overcome that fear?
  • Ezekiel 16 tells us that Sodom was ultimately destroyed because the “haughty” did not share their wealth with the poor. What does this tell us about what God expects societies to do for the poor and the needy? (Other scriptures on this topic: Deuteronomy 15:4,7,9,11; D&C 56:16–19; D&C 42:30-31,34,37,39,71; Moses 7:18.)
  • What does it mean to you that God told Abraham that he would save these wicked cities even if only a few people there were righteous? How might this help us understand why God allows wickedness and tragedy to exist, even when it means that good people can be harmed as a result?
  • What are ways that we can “go high” when others around us “go low”? What are ways that we can keep our spirits high and full of hope even when we might be tempted to react to problems in the world with cynicism or fear?
  • How can we be stronger than Lot in terms of keeping our families together and safe even while we are being threatened with violence or expulsion from our homes?
  • How does the story of Lot—a refugee of war forced to flee his country and live as an immigrant elsewhere—help us to consider the lives of those fleeing wickedness in their home countries today? How can we reach out to these immigrant communities and give them a place to turn to, because they have been strong and brave enough to leave their own Sodoms and Gomorrahs in order to protect their own families?

A few more things to keep in mind . . . 

1. The world is getting better

The world is becoming a better place to live—not a worse one. Don’t get me wrong—there is still wickedness in this world and many problems to be tackled and solved, and a lesson on how to live righteously in spite of wickedness is an important and fruitful topic to discuss. However, we shouldn’t have to throw “The World” under the bus in order to establish “The Church” as having a monopoly on righteousness. Here are some quick stats to have on hand in case anyone tries to push a deceitful and pessimistic “the world is getting progressively more wicked and evil” narrative on the class:

  • In 1990, 1/3 of the global population lived in extreme poverty. Today, that number is down to 1/10.
  • In 1990, 7.6 million children died before they were five years old. In 2013, that number had dropped to 3.7 million, and the number continues to drop, largely due to the availability of vaccinations and health care in developing countries. (Max Roser breaks down these huge numbers this way: “A media that would report global development could have had the headline ‘The number of children dying globally fell by 455 since yesterday’ and they wouldn’t have this headline once, but every single day over these more than 2 decades.”) Even more perspective: in 1800, 43% of the world’s newborns would have died by age 5. As of 2015, over 95% of our world’s babies survive.
  • In 1960, over 64% of the world was illiterate. As of 2014, that number is down to just under 15% of the global population (15 years and older). This likely results from another fact that today more than 90% of the world’s children attends primary school.
  • Political freedom is better now than ever: while nearly every country in the 19th century was ruled autocratically, more than half of the world’s population today live in democracies. This number is even more significant when you consider that 4 out of 5 people living in an autocracy live in China.
  • In 1966 there were next to zero women serving as heads of state or governmental power worldwide (excluding monarchs). Since then, as of last year, 70 nations have had a female leader, a promising sign that gender rights have improved significantly over the past century.
  • In 1940, 76% of Americans 25 years or older did not have a high school education (less than 5% of Americans had a bachelors degree or higher). As of 2017, nearly 90% of Americans achieve a basic high school education and almost 35% of Americans have earned a bachelors degree or higher by the time they are 25 years old. Education is also on the rise in many other countries.
  • While mass shootings like the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are on the rise in America, violent crimes in America overall have decreased over the last two decades. (Other countries’ statistics vary, but similar patterns of decreased violence are observed around the world.)

2. The world is still full of alarming problems, but we can still control ourselves.

Your students will likely disagree about what are the most alarming problems affecting the world today. For one student, global warming might keep them awake. For another student, racism and bigotry are the most pressing problems and sources of “wickedness” against other humans. For another student, it’s abortion. Or gun violence. Or sexual promiscuity on television. Or their kid who gets bullied at school (or their kid who is doing the bullying). Rather than using this lesson as an opportunity to debate what the most pressing problems are, however, maintain that no matter the issues the students feel most anxious about, we can use our own agency to be a source of light and hope and change in our families, communities, and countries. 

Instead of being anxious about what we cannot control or singlehandedly change about our world, we can focus on what we can control and what we can do as individuals and as a part of groups to make our world an even better place. Here are some handy inspirational quotations you might consider employing into your lesson:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If you, not just you in this room tonight but in all the thousands of other rooms like this one about the world today and tomorrow and next week, will do this, not as a class or classes, but as but individuals, men and women, you will change the earth.” —William Faulkner

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” —Elie Wiesel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” —Desmond Tutu

“To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” —Mother Teresa

“Certainly our world has always been, and will continue to be, imperfect. Far too many innocent people suffer because of circumstances of nature as well as from man’s inhumanity. . . . But in spite of all this, I wouldn’t trade living in this time with any other time in the history of the world. We are blessed beyond measure to live in a day of unparalleled prosperity, enlightenment, and advantage. Most of all, we are blessed to have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives us a unique perspective on the world’s dangers and shows us how to either avoid these dangers or deal with them. When I think of these blessings, I want to fall to my knees and offer praises to our Heavenly Father for His never-ending love for all of His children. I don’t believe God wants His children to be fearful or dwell on the evils of the world. ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ He has given us an abundance of reasons to rejoice. We just need to find and to recognize them. The Lord often reminds us to ‘be not afraid,’ to ‘be of good cheer,’ and to ‘fear not, little flock.’” —Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

From the archives (and other good listens and reads):



  1. Love the quotes in this. Thank you!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    My take on the Lot’s daughters story is that it is religious propaganda.

    The Israelites were closely related to the Moabites and Ammonites by both language and intermarriage, but the latter two groups were idolaters. Deuteronomy 23:3 provides that neither a Moabite nor an Ammonite is allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord.. So the story is intended to put the founders of those nations in a negative light as products of incest.

  3. Excellent work, Grover.

    Re: Lot’s righteousness, it’s useful to situate him in between the hospitality that Abraham shows in the beginning of Gen. 18 and the utter lack of hospitality shown by the Sodomites. He’s waiting in the city gate, which can be read as a gesture designed to make sure that visitors to the city at least receive some hospitality (since he can offer hospitality before the Sodomites get a chance to, uh, refuse it), but he also doesn’t seem to feed them as generously as Abraham does. So, he’s not the best guy (obviously), but he’s also not the worst.

    And I’m with Kevin: the business in the cave amounts to an Ancient Near Eastern redneck joke. It’s all about casting unfair aspersions on the neighbors. Maybe there’s a bad hospitality angle here, too.

  4. Lindsey Gavin says:

    I am grateful for these lessons. Thank you for doing them.

  5. Not a Cougar says:

    I know I’m late to the party. I pulled this post up for reference during the lesson. I made a comment that I didn’t agree that the world was getting worse and pointed out that all of us had ancestors who either committed or been victims of terrible sins (murder, rape, slavery, etc.) all of which were facts of life for millennia but thankfully are now much less common for large swaths of the world. The instructor’s response was essentially, “You don’t have teenagers so you don’t really get how bad the world is” and then mentioned the “increasing” prevalence of transgender people as evidence that I was wrong (to be fair she was very kind in her disagreement). Another class member mentioned that the increased use of foul language was also strong evidence that the world was going to H.E. double hockey sticks in a hand basket. Both were Baby Boomer women, and my impression was that those doing most of the nodding in agreement were also female Baby Boomers (and I’m sure my impression could be wrong).

    The kicker was during the third hour when 4-5 of the high priests came up to me and wanted to let me know that they agreed with me, they just weren’t willing to bring it up in class. Anyone else notice any gender differences when pushing back on the narrative that the world is getting more evil?

  6. nobody, really says:

    We had this lesson just yesterday (two stake conferences in January have put us rather behind).

    I had to share one of the worst comments I have ever heard.

    The instructor asked how we might go about deciding when to cut people loose in our lives – what do we do when friends are encouraging us to return to bad habits?

    A member of the Relief Society presidency offered up “Well, if we are spending adequate time on our families and Church callings, we shouldn’t have any time for friends at all.”

    I was tempted to ask how we are supposed to do missionary work with no time for friends, but I’d already made the Primary president storm out of branch council meeting that morning, so I kept my silence.

  7. Not a Cougar says:

    Wow, nobody, just wow. God bless you, I couldn’t have kept my mouth shut.

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