Lust

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Lust” 2 Samuel 11

This is the fourth message in a Lenten Sermon Series on the Seven Deadly Sins.

We don’t often talk about lust in church.  Passion and sexuality are God-given gifts, part of our essential being, and key to God’s best hope for the creation.  They can be the crown and ultimate fulfillment of our most committed and caring relationships.  Yet, when misused and expressed as lust, passion and sexuality can have destructive consequences.

Consider adultery. Until a few decades ago, adultery was still a criminal offense in many countries where Christianity is the dominant religion. Adultery is technically illegal in 21 states in the US. New York is one of the few states that considers cheating on your spouse to be a sin. Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, among others, have felony charges against it. Most couples marry with the expectation of fidelity, and yet extramarital affairs persist.  22% of married men and 14% of married women have committed adultery.  Adultery, as a breach of marital trust, is emotionally traumatic for both spouses.  17% of marriages that go through an incident of cheating end in divorce.

Lust among Millennials is expressed in hookup culture, which has replaced traditional dating on college campuses.  In hookup culture, relationships are purely physical and very brief—a few minutes, a couple of hours, or overnight.  Sexual intimacy is followed by no further communication or connection that could lead to attachment.  Often, drinking is involved.  One in three students characterize hookups as “traumatic” or “very difficult to handle.”  One in ten students say that they have been sexually coerced or assaulted.  Professor Lisa Wade of Tulane University says that hookup culture is “a punishing emotional landscape where caring for others or even simple courtesy seem inappropriate.”

The most prevalent expression of lust in our culture is pornography. More than 90% of young men report that they watch porn with some regularity. The world’s largest pornography website Pornhub reports that 90 billion videos are watched on their site every day by 64 million visitors. $3,000 is spent every minute. Research suggests that porn is bad for our committed relationships.  A 2016 study by the University of Oklahoma found that divorce rates double when pornography enters the marriage.  56% of divorce cases cite obsessive interest in porn as a contributing factor.

According to Aristotle, lust is an irrational, insatiable desire for pleasure that increases the more it is exercised. Thomas Aquinas taught that lust is a “voluptuous emotion” that “unloosens the human spirit and sets aside all reason.” In his Inferno, Dante Alighieri portrayed unrepentant lustful souls in Hell, eternally buffeted and driven by the force of a whirlwind. From antiquity through the 19th century, artistic depictions of lust are typically female.  Maybe we can blame it on Prudentius, who in the fifth century described the deadly sin of lust as “lavish of her ruined fame, loose-haired, wild-eyed, her voice a dying fall, lost in delight.”

In our modern understanding, we acknowledge the harmful unrestrained, sometimes escalating, sexual impulse of lust.  Yet, we also recognize the interpersonal abuse of lust. Our Friday night hookup isn’t regarded as a person with social and emotional needs to be respected or reverenced.  They are just a means to get our “rocks off” (as the Rolling Stones once said).  Jesus understood this.  That’s why he taught that when we look at others with lust, we have committed adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:27-28).  In lust, we dehumanize and objectify others, looking only for our self-satisfaction.  Lust can also lead to the abuse of power.  The #METOO Movement shined a spotlight on successful men, like Harvey Weinstein, who used their personal, professional power to coerce women into sex.  In Old Hollywood, they called it the casting couch.  Now, we know it’s rape.

Our biblical paradigm of lust is King David.  While the younger men went off to war, the aging king let his eyes roam and his lust call the shots.  He abused his power to use Bathsheba to gratify his needs.  Then, when there were consequences, he hatched a series of plots to escape responsibility. Uriah was summoned home to sleep with his wife, but when the younger man proved too honorable, things got darker yet as the king engineered his death.  David may not have shot the arrow that took Uriah’s life, but he was the murderer, nonetheless.  History and Hollywood have suggested that Bathsheba was somehow to blame for the King’s lust.  But we know better.  I like to point out that the only sound we hear from Bathsheba in this terrible tale is her wailing of lamentation for the husband she loved.

We find the remedy for our lust in chastity.  Chastity has gotten a bad rap, conjuring up images of prudish men and women with their shirts buttoned up and a withering gaze for anything flirty.  So, perhaps I should begin with what chastity is NOT.  Chastity is not abstinence, although in practicing chastity, we may make choices for abstinence at different times in our lives.  Chastity is not sexual repression, pushing down within ourselves or punishing ourselves for our natural sexual impulses.  Chastity is not refusing to think about or talk about sex, as if sex isn’t a normal, natural part of being human.  Unfortunately, we tend to project all those unnatural, unhealthy qualities onto the virtue of chastity.

Aristotle taught that chastity uses rational principles to govern and bring into order our sexual desire.  He saw it as a natural discipline to be learned and practiced, saying, “as the child should live according to the direction of his tutor, so the appetitive element (lust) should live according to rational principle.”  In Christian thinking, chastity is more than just thinking our way past our sexual impulses.  Robert Kruschwitz, a Senior Scholar at Baylor University, says, “Chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”  I’ll break that down.  In chastity, we are at peace with our bodies and our sexuality—we see their God-given nature.  Then, we bring a loving reverence for ourselves and others to our intimacy.  We honor ourselves as creatures made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and we revere the image of God in others.  We bring love and respect to our intimate encounters for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness.  In chastity, those sexual impulses that we all experience are governed by Christ’s great commandment that we love God—and we love others as we love ourselves.  When we get right down to it, chastity is a choice to live in love. To bring agape to our sexuality.

Our biblical model of chastity is Joseph, the youngest son of Israel’s Patriarch Jacob (Genesis 39).  After Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, the Captain of the Egyptian Guard.  Joseph served as Potiphar’s personal attendant, and the bond between the two men grew so close that Potiphar entrusted Joseph with his entire household. All was well that ended well until Potiphar’s wife cast her lusty gaze upon the well-built, handsome young Hebrew.  She commanded Joseph, “Sleep with me!”  Joseph refused the temptation, seeing that if he said “Yes,” he would betray the kindness and generosity of Potiphar and the love and goodness of God, who had blessed Joseph amid his misfortune. 

We can push back against the harmful consequences of lust in our society by practicing the virtue of chastity.  G.K. Chesterton taught that “chastity, like any value or virtue, is a positive thing that you gain, not something that you give up.”  Indeed, this notion of chastity as a gift or quality earned after moral struggle dates back to the 13th century.  Thomas Aquinas was said to have fought long against the temptation of lust.  According to tradition, when Aquinas prevailed, the angels gave him a rope belt as a sign of his victory.  Soon after his death, his followers began to wear chastity cords in hopes of a similar victory over lust.  Aquinas’s chastity belt is preserved today at the Cathedral in Cheiri, Italy.

In the absence of Thomas Aquinas, chastity belts, and the intercession of angels, there are some steps that we can take to nurture our formation in chastity.  We can acknowledge that lust and sexual urges are part of who we are.  We can learn to recognize what our triggers are, whether it is loneliness, a work trip, porn, or a fraternity party with too much alcohol.  We can be attentive to and mindful of our thoughts and physical state, and then we can choose not to act on those impulses.  It helps to have a small circle of trusted, honest, confidential friends who can hold us accountable, with whom we can share our temptation and find encouragement.  We can find role models who inspire us in the way of chastity at its best, whether it is Jesus or Thomas Aquinas or Captain America, who waited so long for his best-gal Peggy.  We can also accept that chastity, like any other virtue, is one that we can fall from.  Even Jimmy Carter admitted that he had felt lust and committed adultery in his heart.  And yet we trust that even as we fall, the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient for us.  We can begin again.  Perhaps most important of all, we need to talk about lust and chastity with our children and grandchildren, who will one day find themselves in the midst of that emotionally punishing landscape of hookup culture.

Well, my friends, we’ve done it.  We have talked about lust in church.  The roof has not fallen in.  Instead, we’ve taken an honest look at the world out there, where the God-given gifts of passion and sexuality have gotten misdirected into adultery, pornography, and hookups.  Lust may abound, but so can chastity.  Let’s choose chastity.  Let’s make that reasoned, respectful, loving choice for ourselves.  Let’s make it for the sake of others.  Let’s teach it to our children.  Amen.

Resources:

Lisa Wade. “The Rise of Hookup Culture on American College Campuses” in Scholars Strategy Network, August 25, 2017. Accessed online at scholars.org.

Alexandra Solomon. “What Hookup Culture Means for the Future of Millennial Love” in Psychotherapy Network, Oct. 5, 2020.  Accessed online at psychotherapynetworker.org.

Content Team. “Adultery” in Legal Dictionary.  Accessed online at legaldictionary,com.

David Schultz. “Divorce rates Double When People Start Watching Porn” in Science, August 26, 2016.  Accessed online at science.org.

Content Team. “Porn Addiction” in Psychology Today.  Accessed online at psychologytoday.com.

Robert B. Kruschwitz. “Chastity as a Virtue” in Christian Reflection, 2016.  Accessed online at baylor.edu.

Adam Jeske. “The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust” in InterVarsity, March 15, 2014.  Accessed online at intervarsity.org.

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, Book 3, Ch. 12. Accessed online at virtuescience.com.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. Accessed online at newadvent.org.


2 Samuel 11:1-18, 22-27

11 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 16 As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17 The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 22 So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24 Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 25 David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.


James Tissot, “David Sees Bathsheba Bathing,” https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/d/images/3/3a/King_David_Bathsheba_Bathing.jpg

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