Wednesdays on the blog I am presenting the various chapters of my book Idol Thoughts, on the traditional doctrine of the eight thoughts that take us away from God and how to pray with Scripture to overcome them.
We have reached the second of the thoughts, which is the thought of lust. Now, because there is everlasting confusion on this point, I need to clarify that what the Church means by lust is not simply sexual desire. God made us sexual beings with that strong drive towards sexual union—this is not something that in itself takes us away from God. The lie that the Church ‘hates sex’ is so commonplace that we have to keep clarifying this.
Sex is good; sex is God’s creation; sex is how God in His infinite wisdom ordained living creatures should reproduce; sex in our human creation is both an expression of that generativity and a faithful committed union in love. In this it becomes a most profound expression of our being made in God’s image and likeness, of the God who created the heavens and the earth and each of us in it out of love.
So what is lust, then? Lust is the thought that happiness is the body of the other. In other words, lust takes one aspect of sexuality—that it is intensely pleasurable—isolates and elevates that aspect to be the whole of it. Lust is the thought of using another person in his or her physicality to bring pleasure to oneself, apart from the God-imaged, God-designed purpose of sex as a fruitful union in love.
Well, I don’t need to (and certainly don’t want to) go on any kind of intemperate rant to show that lust is rampant in our society. The so-called ‘adult entertainment’ industry is multi-billion dollar one, and the use of on-line videos and images to fuel lust is pandemic (I am avoiding the ‘p’ word so as not to get blocked in your spam filters!).
Meanwhile hook-up culture, the complete sundering of sexual encounters from any kind of relationship whatsoever, fueled by social media sites and mobile apps, is the norm for many young adults. The whole idea is to take what is one thing—sexual intercourse, openness to fertility, and committed union in love—and sunder it into its component parts so that none of those things are related to the other.
All of this is, strictly speaking, demonic. Strong language, but I mean it and stand by it. When that which is the most precious and extraordinary creature in God’s world—the human person, the one ‘thing’ about which we say ‘image and likeness of God’, is reduced to an assemblage of body parts for the pleasure and gratification of the other, this is a triumph of the demonic in the world.
The abuse of food in the thought of gluttony is at least an abuse of something that is in fact meant to be used. Food is for eating, after all, even if in our broken humanity we eat too much of it or make more of it than we should. But another human being is not meant as an object of use for my pleasure. We are meant to regard each person, every man and woman, with such reverence, such awareness that this person is a reflection of God’s glory, infinitely beloved of Him and destined and desired by Him for eternal life.
Lust utterly destroys that reverence and does incalculable damage to the person who is its object. It is such an assault on the human person, and in that such a rebellion against God’s whole plan of creation and redemption, that it is essentially a descent to the demonic sphere of reality.
Now in my book I do talk about the Scriptures that might help purify our minds from the false beliefs that underlie that struggle with lust in our world. I won’t go into that now (hey, why don’t you buy my book if you want to see what I say there!). I also talk about the need for discipline, especially what used to be called the ‘custody of the eyes’, the careful choice around what images we allow to wash into our minds and hearts in our lust-saturated media culture.
What I only mention in passing in the book, though, is that the whole of the Church’s sexual moral doctrine, which we believe is a faithful presentation of God’s will and God’s truth, is also the path to healing the deep wound of lust in the human person, a wound that does go to the very core of our broken humanity.
In other words, sexual intercourse is held within the covenant of marriage, a life-long commitment of fidelity and love, and held to be open to the generation of new life, and in this integration of sexual activity into fruitful committed love there is a perpetual healing of the dis-integration of lust. The traditional language spoke of marriage as a remedy of concupiscence, and that’s what it means.
By placing sex where God intended sex to be placed—within the indissoluble bonds of matrimony, open to children—the tendency to use and abuse the other, to reduce the other to an object of my ‘happiness’, is so situated that it at least can be healed (human freedom is such that it is of course not a given that it will be).