How Church Culture Has Gotten the Whole Lust Thing Wrong
What Did Jesus Really Say About Lust?
When I was a starry-eyed college freshman from the tiny town of Germanton, N.C. just entering the big world of Appalachian State University, a really obnoxious frat guy came to visit my roommate. He looked over at my desk and saw a Bible.
“You don’t actually believe that stuff do you? I mean the Bible is just all about suppressing your feelings. There is a verse in there about how if you even look at a woman lustfully, you have sinned. There is no way anyone with a natural sex drive could live that way. I mean I’m looking at you lustfully right now.”
I don’t actually remember how I responded other than being awkward and embarrassed.
But I heard him. What he said actually seemed like a valid point. I knew the exact verses he was referring to. Matthew 5:27&28 says “You have heard that it was said ‘you shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus Never Condemned Normal Sexual Attraction
Was Jesus really condemning that tingly feeling that occupies 90% of the thought life from the ages of 13-23ish (and >50% afterwards)?
First of all, the Greek word for that tingly attraction feeling is “eros” and it’s a really good thing when we understand it. Physical, sexual attraction is a normal, healthy, quite enjoyable part of life.
However, it is also a powerful force that can be used to really harm other people. In the verses above, Jesus did not use the word “eros” he used the word “epithumeo” which means “to set one’s heart upon, or to covet”. Comically, it is the same word used for how we should feel about the teachings of Jesus!
How weird would it sound if we started saying, “I lust for God’s word?” Sadly, I can totally picture people being that creepy. In the Greek, the word we have translated lust wasn’t a sexual word (like eros) it was about taking something and thoroughly owning it, using it, making it completely yours.
Jesus Condemned Using People!
Guess what?! God ain’t about us epithumeo-ing people!
What Jesus was essentially saying was, “Y’all got all kinds of rules about not committing adultery but I want to tell you, it’s not Ok to look at women like they are objects to be used by you. If that’s where your heart is, you are just as bad as the people who you condemn for breaking marriage laws.”
Jesus continues in what seems like a really messed up teaching, (especially if you are an extreme literalist!). But if you understand what an extreme call to valuing people this is, you should want to shout this from the rooftops.
Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell”. (vs.29-31)
Let me explain:
Think of these verses all together:
Point 1: It is not OK for you to look at people as sex objects to be used for your pleasure with no regard for the hurt that you may cause them.
Point 2: Point number one is such a big deal to God that you should go to any extreme necessary to keep yourself from using people in this way.
Point 3: The extreme seriousness with which God regards this violation of human dignity cannot be overstated.
He will judge people who use other people. There is no way for you to justify it. You should be extreme in your measures to ensure that you do not let your natural sexual attraction turn into an excuse for using another person, created by God with the same value as you.
Jesus mentioned gouging your eye out or cutting your hand off. Obviously, this is a literary device meant to demonstrate how extremely God hates sexual abuse. Literally doing that wouldn’t help anyone anyway, they’d just be a one-eyed one handed predator perhaps more demented by their disfigurement.
A thorough understanding of God’s high regard for people is the answer. I don’t think that you can abuse someone when you understand their incredible value. Abuse is about dehumanizing and devaluing.
What About the Abuse in Churches?
As I type this, I’m filled with rage, bitterness, and disgust over the abuse over the cover ups that have been committed by church leaders and many of their followers.
They have wrongly placed the institutions created around the teachings of Jesus over the actual teachings of Jesus. I don’t want anything to do with any institution that denies the dignity of an individual.
The stuff that makes the headlines is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole religious notion of thinking that you are approved by God for something you do or believe leads to an arrogance that justifies abuse.
Jesus was never OK with any of that. Everything he taught was about the dignity of individuals.
Using people is not OK with him! He calls us to fight against abuse with everything in us!
It is a gross misrepresentation of everything Jesus taught and stood for to allow sexual abuse to continue in churches. Those who commit these acts and those who participate in the cover up are no longer representing who Jesus is.
This just one more reason why I keep saying religion sucks but Jesus is freaking awesome.