… And What Does Modesty Have to Do with It?
Ezekiel 23:20 (KJV)
20 For she doted upon their paramours (illicit lovers), whose flesh (genitals) is as the flesh (genitals) of asses (donkeys), and whose issue (emission) is like the issue (emission) of horses.
I’ve promised several people I would write this blog, so here goes… I started with the verse (above), simply to show that God is not afraid to speak about sexuality, and does so with language that makes us conservatives a bit skittish. Based on this, I conclude the notion that we should not talk about it, is not at all grounded in biblical truth. Especially using verses out of context, like Ephesians 5:12, “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” to justify covering up sexual sin and abuse, or to condemn talking about sexuality, in general. I’ve had that thrown my way too often by those wishing to cover up abuse in the church. It may be shameful to repeat what is done in secret, but it is not sin to repeat it, and putting guilt and shame on those who speak out, abuses that scripture. Especially considering that the verses before and after talk about exposing and bringing to light those very things, . In context it says, “ And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.” Surely, if the dark things of sexuality are to be brought to light, then talking about sexuality–particularly the ‘not dark’ aspect–is good. It is not evil, perverted, or unforgiving to speak of the ‘dark thing’, nor is it in any way displeasing to God. And it is not displeasing to God for us to take a good hard look at our misconceptions about sexuality. That established, this blog post is about lust–what it is, and what it isn’t–not about sexual abuse.
A variety of conversations influenced this blog post, not the least of which is the frustration of many women, and possibly a few men, regarding teachings on modesty in conservative settings. (To determine who I refer to by ‘conservative’, I would say ‘if the shoe fits–or the dress, as the case may be–wear it”. With the word ‘dress’ referring to’attire’, not ‘frock’, and serving as a figure of speech.) Countless women, all being women who value modesty, have shared with me the pain and frustration of hearing, almost Sunday after Sunday, that it is their duty to prevent men from lusting. Some have messaged me, others have told me in person. Their heart cries go something to the effect of, “I feel raped…” or “I feel stripped…. as if I am only an object to be lusted after… when men preach like that… when they accuse me of immodesty, and I am already fully covered…” This coming from women with flowing skirts that reach nearly to the floor, and their hair tucked neatly inside a veil, women who are modest and beyond.
One encounter stood out, among all the conversations I’ve had, when a church leader’s wife explained how she felt, and how her identity had been lost in her culture’s teachings. “What do we (as women) have left? Who are we? We’ve been stripped of identity. We have no voice. We are treated like sex objects when all the focus is on covering us up….” She poured out her heart, asking deep questions about her purpose, and the purpose of every woman in church, and trying to reconcile her religion with the Word of God, and the prophecy in Joel 2 that God’s daughters will prophesy–speak out truth, boldly–and whatever personal wonderings she had. We spent some time talking about her feeling like a sex object, and feeling stripped of identity, by teaching that focuses on controlling every detail of a woman’s attire, rather than teaching modesty, self respect, and personal value.
This teaching is not only in her church, it is all around, this belief that how women dress makes men lust, or prevents it. And that teaching is utter nonsense. Modesty isn’t utter nonsense, but that teaching is. Keeping in mind that what is perceived as modest varies drastically, from person to person, church to church, culture to culture. Modesty is more about respect for ourselves, than respect for others–though that is a part of it–and with the best of intentions and most modest attire, there may well be someone lusting. And the men preaching it every Sunday would be the first I would be uncomfortable around, as their minds are clearly already there.
In these conversations with women, about modesty and lust, the one thing I started to realize is that, for many of us, our understanding of what lust is has become about as skewed as the notion that women are responsible for that lust. I left these conversations asking, “What is lust, exactly?” and that got me thinking….
Is lust the physical response–natural, God-given response, I might add–to beauty? Is lust the desire a man or woman has, to be loved intimately, sexually? A desire that exists, even before marriage, simply because we are human? Is that desire sin? Is it shameful? Or is it, in fact, a God-given desire that should be ‘blessed’, rather than cursed, and brought under ‘management’ rather than suppressed, it’s existence denied, and made shameful?
When my husband sees a beautiful woman–modestly clothed, or not–he has a choice to make. Will he ‘look on her, to lust after her’, or will he see her through the eyes of respect, as God looks on her? Will he ‘ogle’ her, with sexual intent and impure thoughts, or see her as God’s beautiful creation, worthy of honour, respect and protection? Whether she is a prostitute, and scantily clad, or a woman covered head to toe–Christian or not–or a woman in church looking like the prostitute, he has a decision to make. And, regardless of her self-respect or lack thereof, she is worthy of his respect. Each one is God’s creation, made in His image and likeness, and ought to be treated with the same level of respect as if it was Jesus standing in front of him. And he does.
Is he human? Yep. Pretty much. Is it possible for his body to respond to visual stimuli? I expect so. Does that threaten me? Not at all! I trust him, as a godly man and loving husband, to handle his sex drive well, and be intentional about how he responds to temptation or opportunity. It is his responsibility to deny what the flesh desires, and live out his commitment to holiness. And, like King David, he has to make a covenant with his eyes, and a commitment in his heart, to live with integrity and honour. And if the beauty that stands or sits before him, triggers a bodily response, causing an erection or stirring some sexual desire, he has to make that choice again, to look away,to walk away, or do whatever it takes in order to honour and respect the woman in front of him. But that bodily response is not lust, it is not sin, it is not shameful. It is human reaction to sexual desire and stimulation, and it must always be mastered and brought under personal authority–authority God has given each one of us. And the desire, itself, is part of how we humans are wired–not just the men–and that makes it sacred, not perverted. The sin is not in the desire, or the temptation, it is in our response and our handling of it.
Lust is a deliberate indulgence in, or pursuit of, impure sexual gratification, or ‘unrestrained sexual desire’ , as one dictionary puts it. I once read a quote that went something like, ‘Lust is sexual desire that dishonours the object of its desire, and has no regard for God.’ And that ‘objectifying’ of the person being lusted after, says it all. It is wrong to treat someone as an object to obtain, conquer or dominate. And making a person feel like they are only a sex-object does just that. This over-sexualizing is done through using someone sexually, and it is done through teaching with an over focus on modesty to extremes the Bible doesn’t address. Tacking on the notion that men can’t help themselves, sexually, takes it to a whole new level, as does adding warped personal judgement like, ‘You might as well be naked if …’ when a person is not covered neck to ankle or doesn’t wear cultural attire. That is perverse, and it is not biblical. It says something about the warped mind of the teacher, and turns the audience into sex objects to be lusted after. Rather than promoting holiness, it promotes lust and perversion. It is for men like this, that I wonder if God does not feel compelled to draw a curtain over the mountains, lest they should imagine breasts and wander down a path of sexual lust. (If elbows supposedly look like breasts, and must therefore be covered to keep men’s minds pure, how much more the mountains!)
These misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what lust is–condemning even natural God-given responses–and imposing guilt on women for men’s responses to that desire–has done great harm to the body of Christ. It has heaped shame on young men and women unnecessarily–and likely older ones too–and left them struggling in their faith, believing there is something wrong with them. They feel defeated, fearing they live in lust when, in reality, the things they feel are natural, God-given desires that they are managing well.
The young woman who longs to be held in the arms of a loving husband, desires a beautiful thing. For her to desire sexual love as part of that experience, in marriage, is natural and wonderful. Even biblical. The young man who longs for a wife to hold and love, isn’t a pervert, nor is he lusting. He is acknowledging that God created him with the desire for relationship, and sexual love as part of that relationship. There is nothing evil about it, and it isn’t lust. To say we didn’t have those desires before marriage, for most of us if not all of us, would be blatant lies. For those who lived in denial and pushed those desires into oblivion, the same truth still applies–the desire was there, we just lied to ourselves about it, and that is not noble either.
When God made us sexual creatures, in the Garden of Eden, He blessed us as sexual creatures. “Male and female created He them, in His image….” or something like that, it says several times. Our sexuality does not frighten God. He said ‘it is very good’, and blessed us, sexually. To teach anything less is a slap in the face of the Creator, and a disgrace to us, as His image bearers.
It is time to reclaim the wonder and holiness of our sexuality, and consecrate ourselves to God, teaching our sons and daughters the truth about holiness and purity, including how to respect those who do not respect themselves, or don’t live up to our standards. When we lift the burden of false guilt from our children, they will find it easier to walk in holiness before God.
I understand that my views are conservative and outdated to those who accept ‘anything goes’ in the area of sexuality. And my views are liberal, bordering on blasphemy for those who have a list of man-made laws they like to tout as ‘scriptural’. I am not offended by either disagreement, nor do I believe I have the ‘best’ and ‘most right’ understanding. It is simply the understanding I have, and I embrace it. To pretend anything more or less would by hypocrisy. What I do know is that what we have had isn’t working. Holiness in the church, as it has been presented, is a myth, going by at the percentages of people who struggle with sexual sins and addictions–and it is time to acknowledge that. For us to pretend it’s ‘out there’, and judge harshly, when we are as human in the struggle, is deceptive and serves only to keep us in bondage.
I have watched people break free from addictions, and abandon homosexuality simply by adopting a biblical view of God-designed and God-blessed sexuality. By recognizing who they are in Christ, and discovering they are unconditionally loved by God, many have overcome the depression that goes with sexual struggle. Therefore I speak with bold confidence in this regard, and I do so without judgement for those who disagree–you are accountable for you, I am accountable for me. And I speak without apology for my beliefs, no matter who is offended.
Change does not come without disturbing ‘the way things are’, and it does not come without offence.