The Big Solution
A guest post by Andy Cooper.
But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9).
There are many things to love about the Bible. Aside from the abundant, life-giving Truth that God’s word provides on every page, I’m continually impressed by the conceptual harmony and ideological symmetry of Scripture. As an artist, I appreciate the vast beauty of the Biblical narrative which not only reveals the Creator’s plan and purpose for mankind, but does so via an impossibly well-crafted poetry. I write “impossibly” because, as we know, the text’s wide timespan of origin and varying authorship (around 1500 years and more than 40 writers) is, considering the consistency of the message, some of the best evidence that the Bible could not have been a product of purely human enterprise.
With that down, I’d like to express the thing that I, personally, value most about the Bible; straightforwardness. While the mind of man could never comprehend all that God is, God was gracious enough to inspire dozens of men from various epochs and backgrounds (kings, prophets, doctors, fishermen…) to write down His ideas and intentions in a manner that even the least educated reader could generally grasp.
This brings me back to 1 Corinthians 7:9 and the sometimes awkward subject of lust and marriage.
In today’s Western culture of unchecked, personal expression and market-driven hype, innumerous ideas about sexuality are relentlessly and constantly (I write that literally) being pushed at us while, at the very same time, we are, confoundedly, told that sex is a simple, natural, human act; no big deal. Which one is it? Those of us in the Church often take in God’s revelation within earshot of our increasingly secular society’s contrasting beliefs and typically find the process of reconciling all of this information to be frustratingly impossible because while the Lord’s Word is straightforward, the world’s viewpoints are inconsistent and confusing.
Taking five minutes to watch just about any station on our television will quickly reveal the modern media’s willingness to overtly champion sexual gratification of almost any kind as enjoyably healthy but, on the other end of things, God’s Word has given us a definite context for sexuality. Any of us who matured within the Church were taught, particularly during adolescence, that sexual activity was to be limited to marriage and that those who were able to hold out until their wedding day would not only be doing the right thing, but would be blessed for their efforts.
Therefore, we were instructed that our flesh would have to be subdued with dedicated fury to defeat the world’s aforementioned temptations and reach the promised land of wedded bliss. So, as teenage hormones raged, the battle-lines were drawn and many young Christians took on the foe of fornication with varying results hoping, somehow, to make it to “I do” because, logic would seem to follow, married sex would solve all the problems of lust. After speaking to a number of married Christian men, this does not always seem to be the case.
I have surmised that one of the problems which the pre-nuptial, Christian ‘hold-out’ mentality presents is a feeling that sexual activity of any kind (entertainment choices, mental imagery, physical actions…) is simply a stop-gap solution to help let off steam until the wedding night. For those who are struggling to maintain their purity, it can seem perfectly understandable if they, as individuals who are generally attempting to abstain from sinful conduct, entertain a little indulgence from time to time, especially considering that they’re only doing so because they don’t yet possess a proper outlet for their desires. Plus, some may be so ashamed to discuss their feelings, they deem it safer to deal with these tensions in private and on their own terms rather than seek help and potentially upset or offend their clergy, parents or potential partners.
With these and other obstacles to chastity set into place, some Christians accepted a compromised ethical view of sexuality which allowed them to dabble in certain immorality with the intention of straightening the whole issue out on their honeymoon. If my writing is too vague, I’m basically alleging that a number of Christian men (I don’t feel comfortable speaking for women although I’m confident their story isn’t altogether different) convinced themselves that it was allowable to participate in sexually illicit behavior while they waited for their wives to step onto the scene because, in part, a sinful world had convinced them that they were missing out on all the gratification they deserved. Whether it was pornographic fantasy or actual sexual activity, many believers consistently peeked into a perceived world of forbidden sensuality like a young child gazing up at a rollercoaster he’s too short to ride.
With that image in mind, I believe there’s a serious problem with this entire approach to purity and it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about sex. While our sexual desires may have an appetite or anticipatory excitement level, sex is not food or entertainment (or an amusement park attraction) and, unfortunately, many newly-wedded, Christian men found out that they’d developed a hunger that couldn’t be quenched within the intimacy of marriage. In fact, some fell into a deep and unexpected despair when the thought-patterns they’d developed in singlehood didn’t quickly disappear after they put on a ring. It’s likely that they had mistakenly assumed that what they’d stored up in the back of their minds was energy to be exercised on the wedding bed but, in reality, that information was something else entirely. In fact, many had even let themselves delve deeper into licentiousness prior to their wedding because they assumed those illicit, mental images were a problem soon to be solved like those of a severely parched traveler in view of a spring but, again, sex isn’t that simple.
Sex is an Almighty God’s creation and the act, plus everything that comes along with it, is extremely powerful, both physically and psychologically, so it cannot be reappointed and exploited to suit our individual, human ambitions or sate particular attractions. The Creator gave mankind the gift of sex with His purposes in mind so when it is taken out of God’s context and utilized for our own objectives, even well-intentioned ones, sex can be highly damaging, precisely because of its power. Without God’s Lordship over our bedrooms, sex is often put to use with unrealistic and inappropriate aims.
Some may misguidedly employ sex to achieve a sense of validation or positive personal appraisal while others view sex as a means to strength or vitality, manhood if you will. Men’s sexual fantasies often involve women submitting to males who dominate their ladies with cool confidence and physical expertise. Women sometimes take part in sexual acts with hopes of gaining security in their partnerships or to feel valued or desired by a person they love. While many of the reasons listed above reflect a desire for basic human fulfillment, sex was not given to us as a simple outlet to that end; only a personal relationship with God can accomplish this need. And when sex is misappropriated as a means to fulfillment, it eventually leads not only to failure but to gradual, self-destruction because
“Whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
All of this leads me to what I’m ironically calling ‘The Big Solution’; marriage.
One of the problems with any Christian newlywed expecting marital intimacy to counteract the unhealthy and Godless sexual ideas that they’ve cultivated during singlehood is that NO wife or husband could possibly live up to the imaginative, sensual invention of a flesh-driven, human brain. So, because of the eventual disappointment and lack of contentment that naturally occurs when an appetite isn’t satisfied, one partner may begin to resent or blame the other for not meeting their expectations or for failing to make the proper sexual efforts. Even if the frustrated partner recognizes that their own erroneous thinking is responsible for the calamity, he or she will often retreat back into fantasy to deal with the dilemma because, sadly, they assume there’s nowhere else to turn.
Thus, instead of having one terrible problem, they now have two; an unsatisfied appetite and an unhealthy, dishonest and non-connected partnership. In all probability, there will also appear a stinging sense of regret and depression when a Christian discovers, a little too late, that God gave us commandments involving sexual behavior and purity of thought so that our unions could be protected and blessed, not because he was trying to keep us from having a good time. Where does one go from here? Hope may seem lost but, fortunately, we serve a graceful God who specializes in dealing with hopeless, fallen people.
Before I go any further, I should mention that I’m not at all qualified to be teaching or giving out advice (James 3:1 is one of my favorite verses), I much prefer to be analytical about the catastrophic foibles of human behavior and let others clean up the mess. But, I do, in this case, feel comfortable pointing in the direction of the supreme problem-solver, Jesus Christ. I believe that only a close and completely honest relationship with the true and living God of the universe can bridge the gaps and fulfill the desires about which I’m writing and, as always, our pathway to that relationship is Jesus. As all believers will attest, Jesus came to this earth to die on the cross and save us from our sin, but He also lived to be our Lord. He suffered hardships, endured trials and faced temptation so that He could help guide us through this thorny field of landmines we call human existence.
As the scripture reads,
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18)
and while Jesus’s sexual battles are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, I confidently assume that He, being a fully fleshed man, faced these challenges like the rest of us. In the desert, the Lord shot down Satan’s overtures, in the garden of Gethsemane, He submitted to the Father’s will and on the cross, He pushed through the unimaginable pain of Sin’s weight; I’m fairly certain that He battled with testosterone as well. We, like our Lord, must also fight the good fight to overcome our flesh.
Whether we like it or not, this is war. Hopefully, we’re all familiar with Biblical passages that instruct us to “flee from lust” (2 Timothy 2:22), “cut off our hands” (Matthew 5:30) and cast out demons “with prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). These verses tell us that the only means to defeating the enemies with which we wrestle are hard work and determination fueled by the grace of Father, the example of the Son and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. When we seek the Almighty’s guidance for our lives, we quickly find it in both His Word and the teachings of accomplished believers but while the available strategies may be readily accessible, they are often difficult to follow so, like many things Christian, the solutions are simple but not easy.
At some point in your Christian education, you might have been presented with the teaching that sex is like a pleasant fire which heats the marital abode but, as the lesson goes, we must keep the flames in the fireplace (marriage) lest we incinerate our home. This simple object lesson is profoundly true and I would humbly add that wanton carelessness cannot only burn down our own house but entire neighborhoods and towns as the uncontrolled flames of sensuality spread when we’re in contact with others (“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” James 3:5) because the unfortunate reality of our situation is that any spark of lust has the potential to become a three-alarm, all-consuming inferno.
First off, we need to be honest with ourselves. The struggles I’m attempting to flesh out (no pun intended) feel inherently private because, generally, they begin with a Godless fantasy which develops inside the quiet recesses of our mind before it festers, mutates and implants itself deep within the psyche so that we are no longer able to distinguish it as a foreign invader. However uncomfortable it may be, we must take a truthful, personal inventory and assess who we are, what we’ve been exposed to and the present condition of our hearts and minds with regard to sex. We will need trustworthy partners in this battle; friends, family, priests, pastors, spiritual mentors and, most importantly, our wives and husbands. We will sometimes struggle to confess certain difficulties to our marriage partners because we don’t want to hurt them or, sadly, give them ammunition to criticize us but even in difficult situations, complete trust and transparency is necessary for healing and revitalization.
In many cases, we have been, for a very long time, pretending that our raging, tempestuously lustful sin is nothing exceptional or unusual and that we’re perfectly capable of managing it without assistance. We may also have had some success convincing ourselves that these actions are not, in any significant fashion, hurting anybody else so, the logic goes, the problem can’t be all that bad. This, of course, is a classic lie and a devious ploy of our enemy because, in truth, if we destroy our own life, we will negatively affect everyone and everything around us.
I’d also like to make clear that when it comes to sex-related pitfalls, I am not merely referring to pornography and fornication. Our adversary uses any and every available device to lure us away from the good things of God, so if we hope to outmaneuver the ‘Father of lies’ and overcome our own sin nature, a compromised thought life will not suffice. As Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi reminds us,
“…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Phil 4:8)”
So, whether we’re listening to music, watching a film, joking around with friends, privately contemplating our own desires or quietly reminiscing about the past, we must be vigilant, mental gatekeepers guarding all the ideas that enter our minds. If we are careless and lazy with regard to mental intake, the destructive and deceitful concepts of the world will slowly seep into our subconscious and, before we realize what we’re thinking, we will have begun to live out concepts and attitudes that will fail us when our Christian lives are on the line. This may sound dramatic but, again, if we are completely honest with ourselves about the type of information that is being relentlessly propagated by Godless forces, we will see no other option than to fortify our souls and cultivate a healthy mindset with regard to sex; our future depends on it.
Now, this all might sound arduous, toilsome and harrowing but, happily, I’m convinced that the good news far outweighs the bad. God has a tremendous blessing for the lives of those who obey Him and wonderful, restorative powers to help return those of us who have strayed back to His path. I am confident that those who make a heartfelt effort to obey the Lord will be graciously provided with God’s strength and aid in large quantity and from every direction. We must never forget that God revealed His wisdom and commandants for our benefit and joy, not to randomly restrict us or keep us from having fun, and when we follow His instructions for any area of our life, we will surely experience the fullness and joy He intended for us.
Numerous, scientific tests and secular surveys have revealed that faithful and dedicated, Christian married people experience a far more satisfying sex-life than most non-Christian couples, this does not surprise me a bit. As someone who has worked in the music and entertainment industry all of my adult life, I’ve witnessed countless individuals sprinting full-speed into anchorless, thrill-seeking, sexual behavior and, as time passed, my observation is that every one of those people who recklessly engaged in a promiscuous and permissive lifestyle wound up at a callow, depressed, directionless and, ironically, pleasure-free endpoint. Not only that, those who made these kinds of choices typically took their spouses and children down with them because even when they begrudgingly curtailed their actions for the sake of family stability, they found themselves unhappily laboring to experience peace or joy in even the most advantageous circumstances. Again, God gave us a better way.
As I stated earlier, I am not qualified to map out the exact steps or best techniques for combatting the difficulties described above so I can only take this discussion so far. However, I will wholeheartedly state that if we are going to experience victory in this struggle, the Church Body (all of us), as a whole, MUST place a special focus on this issue and reach out to those who are battling sexual sin with a humble, grace-driven spirit of love, acceptance, openness and sympathy. This problem will not be going away any time soon and no Christian should have to feel fearful, ashamed or embarrassed to admit to his or her struggles as though this particular sin were especially heinous.
While matters of this sort can be awkward and seemingly humiliating, we must never forget that
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord” (Romans 3:23)
“I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman in order to covet her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28)
which should remind us that before the eyes of God, every single one of us is guilty of a stonable, lust-related offense and has no right to look down our nose at anyone else. Quite frankly, when it comes to this concern, we desperately need each other’s compassion and empathy, not the traditional, stigma-fueled condemnation and finger-wagging of faux-fundamentalism. Together, we can combine the gifts we’ve all received from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) to strengthen each other and provide guidance and education for those who are vulnerable in this fallen world. And when it comes to those who have already stumbled, we must never forget that it is our Christian duty to help facilitate support and healing to fellow brothers and sisters who are being held down by the weight of this oppressive, Godless force.