I jotted down some thoughts after leaving Las Vegas and moving on to the next leg of our sabbatical. First let me say, there is a lot of good fun to be had here. I had a blast! The restaurants, shops, tours and weather are topnotch. Many people call "the meadows" home, and raise a family here. But, in this reflection I want to dwell on the doctrine of sin for a few moments.
Las Vegas embraces sin. It is literally called “Sin City.“ Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada (though officially not in Las Vegas). Their slogan was (I think they’ve changed it now) “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” suggesting to visitors they should go a little wild. Even Forbes published an article, Why Las Vegas is Still America’s Most Sinful City.
However, sin is not worse here, it is just more evident. What is veiled in other places around the world is brought out into the open on The Strip. And, when something is out in the open, it can be more clearly examined.
You would need to be blind not to see moral evil as evil in Vegas. Let me give you a few examples.
In the evening, sex is for sale in Vegas, ripped away from its natural place of committed love. It is used to lure people into casinos with scantily clad suprisingly young girls. While waiting for the elevator in our upscale hotel, I could overhear a group of boys (it would be inappropriate to call them men) talking in the most sexually vulgar chatter I have heard, and I have not lived a particularly sheltered life. What they hoped to do to a Vietnamese prostitute I will not repeat here. At least one of them, perhaps a little more sober than the others, had the sense to call out another to “calm down.” One ad for a topless girl read, "Just turned 18." There is a reason why pagan, as opposed to Judeo-Christian imagery is scattered throughout the city. Any reminder of Christian ethics would be bad for business.
I went for an early morning walk seeking out a cup of coffee. Most places were closed. I guess Vegas is not a morning city as it took about a two miles strolling before I found an open Starbucks. What I did see were drunk people, human beings made in the image of God, sleeping on the hard concrete sidewalks with drinks nearby. I saw sawdust spread out from the previous nights activities (covering vomit?). I witnessed lonely people sitting at still open casinos playing the slots, hoping against hope. Hedonism's victims.
I am not writing this to be judgmental, or even a killjoy, but to make a point. People come to Vegas to openly sin (among other reasons, of course). The sin is not created here, it already exists in the human heart. People bring their sinful hearts to Vegas, and Vegas just gives it a playground. Sin is not in "a city," exterior to us, it is in each of us. Indeed, in my heart. This is what the doctrine of sin has always taught us in the Christian faith.
Not all that far from Las Vegas is the desert. Even the majestic Grand Canyon is only a few hours drive. In the desert, we find stunning natural beauty. It is not the beauty of the forest or the ocean, which are filled with life. Instead, the beauty of lifelessness, stillness, quiet; the opposite of bustle and activity. It is the kind of place Jesus went to pray; the place God used to mold Israel as a chosen people. The desert fathers believed they could meet with God more clearly there. Perhaps this juxtaposition is a parable for us. God is near. Not only near Sin City but our hearts. This is a both a warning and a comfort.
He is near. What happens in Vegas will not stay in Vegas. What happens here, or anywhere else, will be laid bare before an all holy God. There will be a reckoning for our lives. Every hidden sin will be revealed. Every...hidden...sin. We are in need of a heart transformation which only comes by grace through faith.
He is near. He is near to redeem our broken and sinful hearts. He is near to transform us into new men and women. Scattered among the city lights are a handful of billboards that say things like, “Hope in Jesus.” I attended a church service in the city before I left and was brought to tears during the worship, singing, "The King is alive!" Jesus is not excluded from Sin City, or Haverhill, MA, or your town. He is not excluded from your heart.