…for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds…
2 Pet 2:8
I’ve always thought the phrase “hell on earth” had little truth behind it. After all, how can we compare the temporary sufferings of this present world to eternal suffering in hell? I was surprised, however, to find that the word “tormented” in the verse above comes from a Greek word often associated with the sufferings of hell. In Rev 20:10 it is used to describe the eternal suffering of Satan and his demons. It is also clear in Mt 8:29 that the demons within the two men of the Gergesenes connected this word with their place of final judgment as they questioned Christ, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Finally, the root of this word is translated “torments” in Lk 16:23 where we find the rich man in hell experiencing this eternal pain. But, in our text in 2 Peter, Lot is still on earth as his soul, not his body, is “tormented”! The wicked have to go to hell to experience it, but for the righteous, this experience can be very real right now.
We understand that there is a sense in which this earthly torment cannot be helped. When Paul instructed the Corinthian church to not keep company with fornicators in 1 Cor 5:10, he had to qualify that statement in the following way: “Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” As long as we live in this world, it is simply not possible to keep ourselves from being exposed to sinful practices. Besides, if the church were to separate herself from the ungodly world, how would any of them here the gospel and be saved? Isn’t it the church’s responsibility to go “into all the world and preach” (Mk 16:15) this gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation”? (Rom 1:16) At the same time, however, we should not let the filthiness of the surrounding society dull our senses to sin. We must maintain that abhorrence of sin that causes the righteous in Eze 9:4 to weep. The one’s that are marked for preservation by the Lord, who will not be destroyed in the coming judgment, are those “who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done.” Yes, we’re concerned for men’s souls, but as we seek their eternal good, we “save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jd 23)
What strikes me about Lot in our text above is that it seems to some degree his torment was self-inflicted. The verb used is in the active voice. In other words, it doesn’t read “he was tormented” but rather states “that man…tormented his [own] righteous soul!” He was an active participant in this affliction by “seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.” How often are we guilty of the same offense? Sure, we will be subjected to sinful sights and sounds just because we live in this ungodly age, but is not true that sometimes we place ourselves in situations where it’s likely we will encounter the wicked’s lawlessness? If you’re deathly allergic to peanuts, you don’t go to a restaurant that specializes in dishes made with that legume for fear that one might accidentally make it’s way onto your plate! Likewise, if sinful lust is torturous to our souls and tempting to our old nature, we shouldn’t purposely involve ourselves in activities that will likely lead us into sin!
Abram told Lot to choose a dwelling place. “Is not the whole land before you?” (Gen 13:9) But with all the places he could have chosen, we find in v. 12 that he “dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.” Lot chose to dwell here even though we read in v. 13 that “the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.” We have similar choices today. Do we need to elaborate? Don’t we know the things we can see or hear that tempt us to sinful thoughts and actions? If you settle near Sodom, sooner or later, just like Lot, you’ll end up right in the middle of it! We must guard our outward members, our eyes and ears, for they are paths used by the enemy to assault our inward man. For example, the first time the root word of our word “seeing” is used in NT is an example of using our eyes for sin (Mt 5:28 “looketh”). Job understood his eyes to be an inlet for sin, an avenue into his heart and mind. In Job 31:1, he says “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I think upon a maid?” We would do well to follow brother Job’s example and direct our gaze away from that which might cause us to stumble. Similarly, we find our ears can be given to wicked practices as the group we find in 2 Tim 4:3,4. The word “ears” in these verses is our word “hearing”. We have been granted blessed eyes and ears that see and hear what many prophets and righteous men have not! (Mt 13:16,17) Will we then use our faculties to pursue that which is of far less value?!! Turn your eyes to the One that cries out, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Is 45:22) Lend your ears to He of which the Father says, “This is my beloved Son: hear Him!” Be diligent in your walk, children, for the days are evil. (Eph 5:15-16) Don’t torture your righteous soul!