Why We Need the Salt of the Earth
Have you ever come face-to-face with evil?
I grew up in countryside towns, first in England and then in Wales. Growing up, I never really saw evil outright – standing in the open, as it were.
The first time I really came close to it, that strange dark force that makes the hairs on the back of your neck go up on end, was when I was at university. I was at the clothes stall of the soup kitchen I volunteered at each week, when a man came over in need of some free clothes.
He spoke very politely, talking of friends and family and his struggles with money, and he was very friendly with me. In return, I was all smiles and friendliness back – as I was with all the guests.
The interaction finished, he moved on to get his free food and I thought nothing of it. Then, at the end of the shift, a male volunteer who had watched the interaction came over and told me to speak with a kindly older woman who was more senior than him.
She spoke to me very sweetly (though in a serious tone) and explained that this man wasn’t all politeness and friendliness as I’d thought. He was a convicted violent rapist who was now trying to make a life for himself after prison.
Cycling back to my student accommodation afterwards, I was pretty shaken by it. The moment where he’d removed his shirt in front of me to try on one of the items of clothing he was thinking of taking, was now especially disturbing to me. At the time I’d only thought it a little odd – guests didn’t usually do that.
So often my experiences of evil growing up in the UK were like this. Evil was of course there, but it was wearing a respectable appearance – remembering its ps and qs as it did – so that you could go about life without noticing it. It didn’t make the evil any the less real, but it was easy to … simply pass it by.
Here where I’m living in Colombia – and I say this with love knowing that most Colombians I know would agree with me on this – you just can’t do that.
Being prepared for evil is a simple survival instinct here. Walking in the street, you clutch your bag shut in readiness for the velvet-fingered hands of pickpockets. You choose your route home at night carefully so as to avoid the rather less velvet-fingered hands of armed robbers.
And then come the protests that I’ve witnessed recently. You just can’t be in a state even resembling cool indifference when you pass one of these by. The force of the emotions of the protestors is contagious. Your heart starts thumping. All your senses go on the alert. You feel their anger and their rage pass through you like an electric current.
The best way I can describe the differences between my experiences of evil in Colombia and the UK is through an analogy with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
The sleepy countryside towns I grew up in were like The Shire. You can see evil there in the ordinary ‘human’ foibles of the greed and gossiping of the hobbits. Nevertheless, life moves along more or less peacefully – perhaps even dully at times.
In Colombia on the other hand, is where you can see the warring forces of good and evil more obviously. This is where the raging fights with dragons happen in plain sight.
How a Community Can Become Consumed by Evil
For us Christians, we need to be awake and responsive to the reality of evil – whether we find ourselves in a sleepy shire or at the centre of a dragon fight.
That is what Jesus meant when He commanded us to be ‘salt’ (Matthew 5:13).
The book of Lamentations and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah are two good starting points if you want to do a post-mortem on the devastating consequences of a place being consumed by evil.
What we unearth when we slice open the cadaver and plunge in our hands to identify the source of the corruption, is the blackened form of the human heart in enmity with God.
In Lamentations, the people of Jerusalem had turned to other gods. God was no longer the one occupying His Holy Sanctuary and a foreign, darker, ‘enemy’ force had taken His place. In this book, we don’t just see depicted the historical events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE by its enemies. We also get the spiritual view of what happens when we allow the Enemy to take God’s place in our hearts – whatever physical form that Enemy of God (sometimes referred to as the Devil) takes.
And as we see in Lamentations, the outcome really isn’t pretty.
Despair reigns supreme.
The people are so hungry that they faint and some parents even resort to eating their children.
Women are raped and ‘boys stagger under loads of wood’.
Everything that was once theirs has been given over to this enemy power and they must now pay for the most basic life necessities.
It’s a devastating image.
How to Be the Salt of the Earth
Now, in the ancient world, the antidote to corruption was … salt.
Before fridges, what did you do to stop the animal carcass you’d prepared for eating from going bad? You salted it.
This being so, when Jesus called us to be ‘the salt of the earth’ He envisioned a special role for us. We were to be the active ingredient offsetting corruption and the decaying, destructive effects of evil in our communities.
So, how do we do that?
This is where taking a look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in handy.
In God’s dialogue with Abraham over Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes clear that it just takes a handful of good people with their hearts set on serving God, for the overall spiritual atmosphere to shift.
Here, in this story from Genesis, Abraham tries to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah, an evil city on the verge of destruction. He tries to negotiate with God the number of good people there would need to be in the city for them to be spared destruction. The number goes down from fifty to forty-five to forty all the way down to ten.
With fewer than ten people in the city whose hearts are aligned with God’s will, the destruction is pretty inevitable. There just isn’t enough salt to preserve it from the rot that’s set in.
Of course, God saves the few good people who are in the city and gets them out (Lot and his family). The rest of the city is turned over to the inevitable consequences of their hearts having allied with evil – their decision to make Evil their master and become enemies with God.
A Practical Approach to Being the Salt of the Earth
Which leads us to the practical, everyday things we can do to bring God into our communities and keep the overall spiritual atmosphere in alignment with His will. The things we can do to be our communities’ preservatives.
If we pray using the Lord’s prayer as a model (as discussed in this post) then an important aspect of our prayers is to try to bring our hearts in alignment with God’s will – ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven’. Instead of opposing Him and becoming His enemy, we want to be on His side. We want to work with Him to bring about His good purposes in the situations around us.
Once we’ve got a sense (through prayer) of those good purposes He has for the people and communities around us – we do something about it. If there’s homelessness in our city, we donate our time, our money, whatever it is we have to homeless shelters. If there’s injustice, we campaign against it and work to alleviate the suffering it has caused.
Another kind of prayer but distinct enough to the one outlined in 1. to deserve its own point. This is the kind of praying Abraham demonstrated when He tried to negotiate with God to preserve the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are huge spiritual battles that occur over people and communities to get them to go to the dark side – to oppose God and align with evil. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, for whatever reason, the rot was too set in for a recovery. That’s probably not the case in the community you’re in. And so you can pray and intercede for those around you. Pray for the battle over their hearts. Pray for them to seek God and find Him. That they may come into a loving relationship with Him, of the kind they were always designed for.
Prompts for Thought
Which methods for being the salt of the earth will you try to start practising?