When I teach Emergency Preparedness to people I talk to them about something called “Negative Panic.” It is the reality that when we are in a scary circumstance, when we are facing the choice between life and death, human beings have a tendency to slow down rather than speed up. We expect ourselves to be able to think clearly, move swiftly, and make obvious, wise choices. But the truth is studies have shown that our brains do not function the way we expect them to when faced with a crisis. We tend to be very slow to move, unable to think clearly, and striving to make sense of what’s occurring. It’s why police officers, fire fighters, and our military spend so much time training. It’s so that their reactions become second nature in a crisis. So that they don’t have to think but merely react according to how they were trained. (It’s also, by the way, why each one of us needs to make plans now to prepare for a disaster! You won’t be able to think straight after the disaster has occurred.)
It was this notion of negative panic that came to mind as I was reading the story of Lot. (Gen. 19) He and his family are visited by angels. They tell them, “Flee for your lives! We’re about to destroy your city.” But Lot hesitates. Repeatedly the angels tell him, “Flee!” But still he is slow to move. Was he in shock? Was he experiencing negative panic in the midst of this life and death choice? Possibly. But I think there is a better explanation for our dear Lot.
The truth is the crisis hadn’t occurred yet. Their city was going to be destroyed but it hadn’t happened yet. In fact the angels told him they wouldn’t do anything until he and his family were safely out of the area. While I’m sure it was traumatic to have to abandon his home in such a hurry I don’t think we can lay the blame completely at the doorstep of the human brain’s ability (or inability) to respond to a crisis. No, I think Lot’s wife gives us a much better picture of what may have been at work here.
Lot and his family are so reluctant to leave that the angels forcefully seize them by the hand and take them outside of town. Then they tell them to head for the hills. Even then Lot objects. He tells the angels they can’t possibly make it all the way to the hills without being swept away by the disaster. He pleads with them instead to let them go to a small city not quite so far away. They make it to that city and, as promised, the destruction of their home town begins. But what does Lot’s wife do? She turns back. Against the orders of the angels she turns back to the city that she loved and she instantly becomes a pillar of salt.
While I know that we are not to read every scripture as a metaphor this one just seems too obvious for me to pass up. The city Lot and his family lived in was sinful. So sinful in fact that the Lord ordered its destruction in a supernatural way (fire and sulfur raining down from heaven). But He provided Lot and his family a way to be delivered from that destruction. So what was the problem? Why was this such a hard choice? The salvation was there. It was offered as a free gift to Lot. He didn’t earn it. He didn’t have to work for it. In fact he was literally hand-delivered out of his sinful surroundings. But once set free he did need to do something…he needed to give up the love for that old home. He needed to set his heart on his new destination. It was apparently a tough choice to make. One that his wife couldn’t make.
Jesus referred to this story too. He said in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
Isn’t this the same choice you and I face everyday? Are we going to “flee” the sinful life we’ve called home for so long and trust in the salvation that we’ve been given? Or, are we going to try to hang on to that life for as long as we can? Are our hearts always going to long for that life? Or can we set them instead on our new destination… our eternal home. We can’t live in both places at once! We are called to make a choice. It’s not an easy one. We can become very comfortable in our lives of self-indulgence. We are at ease in our culture and all the luxuries it affords. “What’s that, Lord? You want us to follow You? But what if You take me someplace that’s not as comfortable? A place that others in my life don’t understand or don’t approve of? You want me to do what? Go where?”
Joshua said it most profoundly, ” But if serving The Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Josh. 24:15). Choose. Decide. Don’t be luke warm. Which is it going to be?
If we are going to commit to live each day being God’s glove in the world we must flee from the sin that so easily entangles us. And we cannot be paralyzed by the “negative panic” that the enemy tries to use to keep us from committing to the path that God has chosen for us and purposefully laid out before us. We can’t get caught up in the fog of indecision, compromise, and lack of action. We must be followers that follow.
Negative panic is a reality in the physical world. But, just as it doesn’t have to dictate our response to crisis in the physical world (with proper training and preparation), it certainly does not have to dictate our actions in the spiritual realm. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!
Lord, may I flee when you tell me to flee. And may I never turn back. Keep our hearts stayed on you that we may complete the good works you have prepared in advance for us to do. Thank you for your love and for the free gift of your salvation.