Lust but not Least (an examination of a deadly sin)

Lust is defined as a disordered sexual desire. Certainly desire and attraction, properly ordered is not sin but our culture has gotten this out of whack. You might say Lust is sexual desire, for its own sake, divorced from relationship, a love of sex because of how it makes you feel.

And Lust is certainly everywhere in our culture. We use it to sell cars, web domains, beer and margarine. It is celebrated in movies, television and song. Little boys look at lingerie catalogues and National Geographic (Jane Goodall=Hot). Sex shops and strip clubs spring up in sleepy little communities and there is an ever-growing list of celebrities whose marriages end in some kind of sexual scandal.

It is certainly as prevalent as any of the other sins, but those caught in the clutches of Lust feel particularly isolated. It is easier to admit to gluttony, greed or envy than it is to admit that you are a Lust-monger. Personally I could abstractly tell you that I struggle with Lust (and the rest of the deadly sins) but I am reluctant to share the exact shape this struggle takes in my own life (I do have people I do talk to about this, just not the entire world wide web). What is it about this sin that isolates us in a sense of shame?

The strange flip-side is that we tell ourselves that our Lust doesn’t hurt anyone else. We say, “I’m only looking, I haven’t done anything.” But as we have seen with the other sins, internal thoughts and habits of mind will manifest themselves in our everyday lives. When we entertain private lustful thoughts, we withdraw from the hard word of relationship; when we objectify others this manifests itself in injustice towards them. One of the places where the damage of Lust is most evident is pornography, so I want to take a moment to explore that. Of course this isn’t the only place that Lust is damaging our society, but it’s worth looking at. The problem that is, not pornography. Pornography is just bad, don’t look at it.

Pornography: A Case Study of the Damage of Lust in Our Culture

According to familysafemedia.com, every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornographic material and 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into internet search engines. Seventy percent of American men age 18-34 view pornography once a month. The internet provides few limits to accessing sexually explicit material and little accountability. 25% of all internet searches are related to pornography. In early 2008, Dennis Lohrmann observed that internet searches for “college girl,” “women” or “mature” returned over a billion results on Google. Whereas previous generations have had pornography, its access was limited and society shunned it. With the internet, television and movies, sexually explicit images are universally available. While it is clear that men use pornography much more than women, the use of porn by women has been steadily growing (28% of all people who admit to a ‘sexual addiction’ are women).

The ubiquity of pornography extends into the church. According to one estimate, “sixty-four percent of Christian men struggle with sexual addition or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.” 1 out of 6 Christian married men, use pornography to masturbate and in the year 2000, 33% of clergy have visited a sexually explicit website (I have also read statistics which suggest that use of pornography is greater among Christian’s who subscribe to traditional complementarian beliefs). This is a major problem, particularly when you consider how pornography rewires brains, creates unrealistic expectations and isolates pornography users from relationships and community. There is an interesting blog post exploring this dynamic over at the Good Man Project.

And that is just what porn does to ‘the user.’ The real problem is what porn does to ‘the used.’ Pornography is not victimless. Many of the women of porn have been forced against their will to have sex on film. Even those in porn who say they are not victims bear the scars of the repeated psychological impact of being wanted only for their body and not for their person-hood. When women (and men) are objectified in this way, and a major segment of society habitually takes pleasure in their abuse, we have a cycle of oppression. And ‘the users’ do not restrict their ‘using’ to pornography but it shifts in their attitudes to women (and men) poison all their relationships.

Other Ways Lust is a Problem

Lust drives the sex industry. Why do men pick up prostitutes (and this is overwhelmingly men)? I once heard Michelle Miller of REED (Resist Exploitation Embrace Dignity),s a non-profit working with sex-trade workers, once say to a congregation gathered for Sunday worship, “The men who are picking up prostitutes on the downtown Eastside [Vancouver] have baby seats in their backseat and Jesus fish on their bumper.” Evangelicals wax eloquent about family values but Lust has born its strange fruit in our midst (for the record, my only bumper sticker says “Reading is Sexy”). Certainly someone doesn’t just walk out of a Bible study one day and decide to go buy some sex; rather this stems from long cultivated habits of mind.

Freedom from Lust

The good news is that freedom from Lust’s control on your life is possible. This is not freedom from desire, desire is good when properly ordered. We can be free from the wrong expression of desire. There are thousands of ministries, counselors, books, internet filters available for sex addicts to get the help they need. If this is an area of major struggle, reach out for help. If the statistics above tell you anything, they tell you that you are not alone in this struggle. There is a ton of resources out there and I commend them to you.

But I want to commend something more fundamental to the struggle over lust: Relationship.

I once heard someone say, “Relational problems are best worked out in relationship.” Lust is preeminently a relational problem. And so if you want to experience victory and freedom then you need to cultivate good friendships. You need a network of support and care with people who know you and love you, and who you know and love. You need to have a relationship with your spouse or significant other where you are expressing love for them and not just using them. You need to cultivate a friendship with God, where you lay your soul bare before him and share your life with him. We need to move beyond our propensity to ‘use’ and learn how to appropriately give and receive love.

Of course relationships are not easy and to say the answer lies in cultivating healthy, satisfying relationships is not a quick fix. But you only conquer Lust when you get beyond the quick fixes. What is required is commitment, intentionality and vulnerability.
In the end, this is what it means to put on the virtue of Chastity. Rebecca DeYoung says:

Chastity is a positive project, a project of becoming a person with an outlook that allows one to selflessly appreciate good and attractive things–most especially bodies and the pleasures they afford–by keeping those goods ordered to the good of the whole person and his or her vocation to love. Chastity’s fundamental question is not, “How far should I go on a date without crossing some invisible line of ‘sin’?” but rather, “How can my life–my thoughts, my choices, my emotional responses, my conversation, and my behavior–make me a person who is best prepared to give and receive love in relationship with others?” Chastity preserves and protects and paves the way for wholeness in all our relationships, all of the time. To channel and control our sexual desires is to empower ourselves to love. (Glittering Vices, 178)

So what are the things that keep you from real relationship? What are some ways you can reign in the Lust of your flesh and pursue Love more?

May the Lord Jesus free us from the clutches of Lust and set us free to Love him and others

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