My mother sent me down to the basement of her apartment to transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer. I hadn’t seen communal laundry machines in a while, and as I slid quarters into the slots to slam the horizontal metal tongue into the ravenous mouth of the drying appliance, I noticed that besides the empty slots that received my coins, two on either end were plugged.
“Good,” I thought. “It could be worse. I could be feeding the machine six quarters rather than four.” At the same time, I realized this was a temporary reprieve and that the unused slots anticipated a future cost increase. A time is coming when some faceless entity miles from here will decide that the beast needs more to satisfy it than it is getting now.
My mind leaped to present cultural permutations and a chapter of the Old Testament. The former was the dizzying pace of world change, far faster and more morals-related than Alvin Toffler imagined in his obligatory 1970 college read, Future Shock. The Bible teaching was about culture change in a piece of real estate called Canaan that began the next phase of Israelite history: “They shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16).
The current occupants of Canaan were not yet as bad as they could be. How much worse was it possible to become before God saw fit to order everything that breathed annihilated? The Mosaic law, dispensed at Sinai as preparation for the takeover of dissipated Amorite territory, gives a hint as to how low you can go.
We find the expected laws addressing the moral shortcomings of any people group: Honor your mother and father (Leviticus 19:3); don’t be greedy but let the poor glean your once-gleaned grape vines (vv. 9-10); don’t go around as a talebearer (v. 16); don’t hate your brother or take revenge (vv. 17-18). The reader naturally thinks: These people are just like us.
But then come the laws that seem foreign to us, or at least did until this century: Stay away from mediums (20:6); a man should not lie with a man (v. 13); if a woman mates with an animal, kill them both (vv. 15-16); don’t commit incest (v. 17). In the past I found these laws distastefully unnecessary. Why would God enact rules against far-fetched behavior?
In the first weekend of March, Yale University hosted a “sensitivity training” to foster acceptance of more unusual forms of sexuality. On Thursday the topic was the Harlem drag ball scene, featuring “the queer Black and Latino/a community of New York.” Friday was for “the vibrant community of sex worker activists,” focusing on the disgrace of U.S. policies that keep illegal sex workers in unsafe environments. On Saturday sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt led an interactive forum that encouraged open attitudes toward bestiality, incest, and sex for pay.
Now my Leviticus readings make more sense. God was not inventing perversions to legislate against: His law was a point-for-point rejection of the real sins of Canaan, ripened by 400 extra years to an axe-ready demolition project.
When C.S. Lewis wrote a book about demons, depicting them as beings whose cuisine is the souls of men, I thought it metaphor. But something undeniable is afoot in the never-satisfied appetite of sin. There is always room for the further expansion of evil in a society, just as there is room for expansion in the price of drying a load of wash. Men “fill up the measure of their sins,” while God’s slowness to act is kindness. But one day it all comes to a screeching halt. “The Lord will carry out His sentence upon the earth fully and without delay” (Romans 9:28).
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people should we be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn? Consider the clothes dryer; it tells it all.