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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

God and Lust

Let’s face it, the subject of human sexuality makes most Christians very uncomfortable. Indeed, traditionally, the human body (and all of its functions related to sexual behavior) has been viewed by the Church as a sinful and/or shameful feature of our existence. As part of their article on the topic of LUST, The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Lust is said to be a capital sin. The reason is obvious. The pleasure which this vice has as its object is at once so attractive and connatural to human nature as to whet keenly a man's desire, and so lead him into the commission of many other disorders in the pursuit of it.” Hence, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the stigma which Christianity has attached to human sexuality is one of the most cherished traditions of that religion.

However, for those who are seeking to live their lives within God’s will, the real question has to be: Is the traditional Christian perspective on human sexuality consistent with God’s perspective on it? In other words, is the traditional view consistent with what Scripture and nature reveals about God’s original design and intention? And, if we answer “NO” to those questions, shouldn’t we be required to provide some justification for such a major departure from such long-held beliefs?

In beginning to answer those questions, it is best to go back to the scriptural narrative about beginnings – the book of Genesis. In the first chapter of that book, we read about how God designed all of the lifeforms that he created to reproduce after their kind (verses 11-12, 20-22, 24-25). Moreover, after each creative act, we are informed that God observed that what he had fashioned was GOOD! Afterwards, the narrative turns to the creation of humankind. We read: “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us’…So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it” (verses 26-28). And, when God had finished with everything, we read: “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Verse 31)

Thus, we can see that these passages of Scripture clearly make God responsible for the physiology of all of the lifeforms that inhabit this planet (including humans) and instilled in them the ability to reproduce that life in the form of offspring. Moreover, after completing those tasks, everything is pronounced by God himself to be VERY GOOD! Hence, in the face of this compelling narrative, it is hard to see how anyone could reasonably attach shame to the form or natural functioning of the human body! Indeed, in the very next chapter of the book, we are informed that “the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” (Verse 25) It should also be noted that this pronouncement is preceded by another narrative about how God created a female companion for the first man to be his helper - and to sexually couple with him (verses 18-24)! In other words, the context makes clear that reproduction wasn’t intended by God to be the only (or even primary) function of sexual relations in humans.

This benign view of the human body and its sexual functions are further reinforced by what science has discovered about them. For instance, in an article which was published by Psychology Today (“Hormones,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/hormones) we learn that complex signaling molecules known as hormones “influence the health and functioning of the body and brain in a wide variety of ways; on a psychological level, they affect mood, how we behave, who we’re attracted to (or not), and more.” More specifically, as it relates to sexual function, the same article goes on to inform us that “hormones are critical for sexual function, libido, and reproduction.” In other words, our bodies are hardwired to function in a sexual way. It is an integral part of who we are – it is an important part of what it means to be human!

Even so, the traditional view is not dismissed so easily. Its proponents will immediately draw our attention to the commandment against adultery, and/or Christ’s statement (recorded in Matthew’s gospel account) about the sinfulness of lusting after a woman! Are they right? Do these other scriptures somehow undo or alter our understanding of the principles which we just established?

First, it is made very clear in Scripture that God expects faithfulness and devotion to be his model for ALL human relationships – especially those of a sexual nature. We read in the twentieth chapter of the book of Exodus: “You must not commit adultery.” (Verse 14) Moreover, this principle of sexual fidelity to another person is reinforced by that other passage that we just mentioned in connection with this subject.

However, with regard to that passage from the book of Matthew, I would say that few other passages of Scripture have been more twisted and abused than this one – or have been employed with a more deleterious impact on the human psyche! Indeed, this passage should be a case study in the importance/necessity of context in the interpretation of Scripture! We read there: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) “Well, there you have it!” “Sexual lust is just wrong!” Not so fast, bucko!

First, Christ’s remarks are clearly given within the context of marriage. In other words, once you have made that commitment to a person, you should not be lusting after another person! This interpretation is not only supported by the clear reference to the commandment – it is also supported by Christ’s following comments on the subject of divorce (see verses 31-32). Moreover, this passage screams for a closer look at the Greek word translated into English as “lust.”

Blue Letter Bible (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1937/kjv/tr/0-1/) informs us that the original Greek word used in this passage was “epithyme┼Ź.” We also learn there that this word indicates an intense desire or longing for someone or something. Indeed, the word implies something bordering on obsession. In other words, the sense is that this is NOT indicative of a passing sexual attraction to someone. In fact, we are informed here that the word implies a violation of the commandment against covetousness (as in, “You must not covet your neighbor’s wife” – Exodus 20:17)! Hence, when we take a closer look, we can see that Christ’s remarks were never intended by him as a blanket condemnation of sexual desire. After all, that impulse was placed within us by God Almighty, and it is an integral part of what he declared to be very good!

To be sure, many Christians have some serious hang-ups about their bodies and their sexual functions, but it should be clear to everyone that the source of that shame and fear is NOT God! In fact, if we are truly interested in getting at the source of these neuroses, I would suggest looking in the direction of that old Serpent which was part of that Genesis narrative we looked at earlier! Yes, that’s right, I’m suggesting that Satan the Devil is responsible for these Puritanical attitudes which have crept into the Christian mind with regard to our bodies and the way they were designed by Almighty God to function!

Indeed, no other subject that I write about excites my critics more than this one. In fact, it inspires such paroxysms of self-righteous indignation that one would think that I had committed the ultimate act of blasphemy! For some folks, anything that smacks of a more “liberal” attitude towards human sexuality had to originate in a depraved/morally bankrupt mind!

We could also discuss the implications of a positive perception of our bodies and all things sexual for other aspects of this topic, but the traditionalists would start clenching their teeth and fists in rage. I could go on to discuss the fact that there is NO specific legal prohibition regarding premarital sex anywhere in the Bible, but I’m afraid it would bring on a stroke in some of my legalistic friends who insist on extrapolating and applying broad moral “principles” from obscure scriptural references. Likewise, we could discuss the fact that the Hebrew word translated into English as “fornication” is closely aligned to prostitution in the original tongue, or we could talk about the Greek word that receives the same designation actually referring to illicit sexual relations of any kind. In other words, in both instances, the English connotation of premarital sex is completely absent! And let’s not even get started on the subject of homosexuality or gender issues – lest we provoke the recitation of a whole host of “clobber” scriptures (their understanding being influenced by the same traditional notions about sex referenced at the beginning of this article)!

No, traditionalists are very comfortable with the shame and guilt which they have always associated with this topic. Never mind that these notions go against our very nature, and that their expectations in this regard are unrealistic/impossible in actual practice. As if we didn’t have enough struggles to deal with as part of this existence, we had to create another layer for ourselves! If it hadn’t been the source of so much pain and misery down through the ages, it would almost be funny.

1 comment:

  1. The following comment was sent to my private email account:

    Right on!

    I've sometimes reflected on the fact that one sight that almost universally delights adults is the sight (and sounds) of a happy baby. It is a picture that makes parents and grandparents proud. Yet we have a completely different reaction to the organs that produced that baby, viewing them with disgust and using coarse and vulgar names to describe them. But the beautiful baby wouldn't exist without them! As you wrote, the whole kit and caboodle was described by God as "very good."