“Purity” This outdated, “uncool” word. Somehow, deep in our heart of hearts, we know purity is central to the intimacy and immediacy of our relationship with God. We sense its importance with our transparency and intimacy with those we love. We even suspect, with that creepy sense of a hint at the back of our minds, that purity may be important to our own comfort level, our transparency, with ourselves in our innermost hearts.
So here we are, at last, having arrived at the predictable destination for any discussion of “purity”… the “Sex-Drugs-RockandRoll” part… the “hot-n-sweaty-between-the-sheets” part… the “pornography” part… the “self-abuse” part! Mwah hah haaa! Finally! We’ve gotten to the “Dirty Dancin’ Sex” part! We’ve ARRIVED!
Here is where we… humanly… theologically… parentally… morally… religiously… miss the point so readily and frequently. We think this is the “end of the line”, this sexual immorality thing, when it is but a waypoint, (granted a MAJOR waypoint, but still just) a waystation on the path to our final destination.
And what’s that? What’s the final destination? As ever, it is our own hearts. Our interior selves, the place from which love comes and goes, where relationships form and are embraced. The place where we encounter and respond to God and to one another.
Paul addresses sexual immorality with the Corinthians thus: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6: 12-20]
This is not a condemnation of “sex”. God commanded Adam and Eve (and many others) to go forth, be fruitful, and fill the earth with new life. This is not a condemnation of “the body”. Paul speaks of immorality as a sin AGAINST one’s own body, and urges instead that we glorify God in our body.
So… as I am so often asked, “What’s wrong with pornography, Little Monk? There’s no victim. I’m not touching anyone but myself. How can there be a sin, when no one is hurt or touched, when I’m all alone?” And all that person has for their moral compass is this vague neurotic sense of guilt and shame, laid down when they were very young (incredibly young), when self-gratification was equated with the shame they knew if they pooped their pants or failed to make it to the toilet in time to pee. All they have in their conscience is the human equivalent of the downcast whimper of a puppy whose nose has been squashed into their mess.
They’ve been taught shame. The wrong kind of shame. They’ve been taught to be ashamed of their body. Ashamed of its reactions to visual (or other) sensory stimuli. Ashamed of their body’s connection to their minds and imagination. Often, ironically, this shame bleeds into their own marital relationships, toxifying the very place, the actual place where holiness dwells in all of this. They have been taught shame of passion itself, and thus become caught in a toxic trap that negates any sense of purity or light.
How did this happen?
Their understanding of purity stopped short of the destination. They got hung up at the “somatic”, at the “glandular”, at the “body” part… and they did not carry on with the issue all the way to the mind and the heart!
Jesus addressed this right at the outset in His Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.“ [Matthew 6:27-28]
This word “lust” here, epithumeo (ἐπιθυμέω), simply means “passionate desire”. Humans like to translate it “lust”, but it really doesn’t have an innately sexual meaning. Jesus uses this same word of His own feelings from time to time, feelings of love for those He has come to save, passionate desire to gather, to protect, to embrace. I’ve always likened it to that feeling a parent has, from time to time, where you just want to hug your children (or grandchildren) so intently that you must constrain yourself or cause discomfort. The passion is where the “mind”, the “emotions”, and the “body” (the glands, the intensity, the muscles) meet and cross over into one another.
So what has all this got to do with the topic?
We are speaking here of compromising purity, specifically (at the moment) through sexual immorality. Jesus points out that where it all goes haywire is not in the bed (though that may well be a likely outcome)… but the adultery is in the “look upon her with lust [passionate desire] in his heart”. THAT… is intense focus… THAT is placing the self in the intimate sexual scene… THAT is to generate and revel in the “fantasy”.
And THERE is where the problem lies with pornography, self-abuse, and all the other little “secret dirties” that nannies, and parents, and religious shame-mongers program children with. Such programmers seldom understand the mechanics themselves, and are usually so uncomfortable with the topic (not to mention ignorant), that they never do as Jesus did… get down to the heart of the matter.
If all we focus on is the physical, the material… the video playing… the magazine purchasing, hiding, drawing out behind the locked door… the movie-going… then we miss the point. The heart of the matter is not in the material, it is in the mental, the emotional, the relational.
When we take a false relationship of intimacy into our minds and hearts through the senses… (whether pornography, infidelity, sexual fantasy in the community, church, or workplace)… or any other form of sexual immorality, we make a conscious decision to devote and dedicate our mind and imagination to a LIE. We focus, concentrate, passion and adrenalin involving a whole biological system designed for a joyful, wholesome, and holy purpose… and we poison that, devaluing that to the “merely vicarious”, of no greater significance to us than watching a scary movie for cheap thrills.
The mind… the heart… the inner person… made in the image of God… capable of imagination and co-creatiion… such dignity and power is scarcely imaginable. THIS is what sets us apart (as far as we know) from all other life on earth (perhaps beyond). Here is the essence of the soul, of the heart. Here is where Paul says we sin against our very SELVES, our own body, when we cheapen this.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Where’s the “Purity” issue?
To invest the self, the soul, the mind, the heart, the passion… the capacity we have for imagination and fantasy… into a the non-existent phantom of sexuality without relationship, call-to-oneness, or true trust and intimacy… this is utterly toxic and self-defeating. This leads, inevitably and unavoidably, to emotional desolation, emptiness, unrequited yearning.
The Serpent succeeded in seducing Eve with such a process… painting in her mind something impossible… “a good thing outside the will of God”. Once she conceived of that possibility, she yearned for it, judged it desirable, and acted upon that thought.
The irony is that the generation of “neurotic shame” and “shadowy mystique” usually strengthens the illusion of desirability. Sexual allure is largely cultural. What hairstyles, makeup, clothing (or lack thereof), is “attractive”… is largely dependent on where (and when) you are and who you grew up with. Even the “ultimate allure”, the naked form… varies in “attractiveness” from one culture to another, one era to another.
Why? Because Jesus had it right! It’s in the head, the heart, the desire, the fantasy, the “longing look”. Sin is in the “will”, the “choice”. Purity is a decision as well as a quality. Flee from sin. Refuse to pursue immorality of any kind (sexual or otherwise), and do not even remain “passive” and happy if it is upon you against your will.
Ah… we can “drive out the toxic”, by “embracing the wholesome”. Darkness cannot exist where/when light is brought in to the room. We can “import purity”, and by this means counteract all of the compromises… adulteration, corruption, and toxification. Paul told us how! Watch this…
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:4-9]
How amazing is this?
Paul teaches this TREMENDOUS truth here! And he’s not even talking about “behaving rightly”, or “being moral”, or “purity” or anything like that! He’s talking about PEACE! He’s talking about GRACE! He’s talking about how to invite the God of peace to be with us, and to guard our minds and our hearts!
Gentle Reader… God is NOT a DEAF MUTE! He is not passive! He doesn’t just sit there saying, “Well, let’s see how they handle THIS now, shall We?” or “AHA! He’s made his own bed and messed up, now let’s let him lie in it!” That’s NOT God. That’s not how God has EVER been! It’s not how God is through the Old Testament, New, or in our lives as we walk. If that were so, we’d all have been toast long, long ago.
No… if we will take what WE are and have and can… our attention, our focus… and direct that toward elements of light… “whatever is good, true, beautiful, etc.”. THEN He will bring us the rest of the way! He will purify! He will enlighten. He will guard and grant peace.
Why? Because we deserve it? Because we do such a great job cleaning house that He just can’t wait to get in here? Lol! No. Simply because it’s what He’s always wanting all along. He WANTS to dwell with us. He WANTS us to know peace, not turmoil, anxiety, fretfulness, loneliness.
I often teach that the single most persistent truth I see reflected in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments… is God’s desperate and determined desire to live intimately in, among, alongside His children in sheer love… and our equally determined efforts to resist that. (Fortunately, He’s God, we’re not. He wins!)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Purity is not hokey or out-of-date. Purity reflects the clarity of connection, intimacy, immediacy between God and us, and among ourselves in light and transparency. Compromises of purity lie all around us every day. But the restoration, the maintenance, the protection of purity… lies all around us, among us, and within us as well.
Never despair. Never reject. Never shrink away in fear or shame. “Let your mind dwell”… LEARN… learn to meditate, to contemplate, to use the tremendous gifts God gave us for entering into His consciousness, to dwell on whatever is of good, whatever is of Jesus and Truth. And such effort will bear fruit in the reduction of any and all fantasies in/of darkness.
November 30, 2015 at 7:00 AM
Dear LM, I found this quite chunky to get through. And then absorbing. And then curious. I found myself having a small internal revolution against the “sexual, lust and physique” matter of purity. Almost a “good girls don’t because bad boys will” kind of reaction.
And sitting pondering why, I wonder it is because “secret anything” falls into the same category. Anything I will not admit to publicly and openly, would never “tell my parents” kind of stuff, is always a taking of something from someone.
And the secrecy, the “shame”, the reticence, all of that takes from me. I have to rewire and reformat my core beliefs about me and the world and everyone in it. Lust and acting on it? So many “adjustments” have to be made. A secret food binger? Ditto. A workaholic? Ditto. An alcoholic? A “victim mentality”? All need a facade to be maintained, adjustments to reality to be made, a mask to be kept in place. And that mask is covering something so deep it gets in the way of honesty with self as much as honesty with others.
And at this point I ask: is this a sin? And find myself saying no it is not. It is too deep to be “sin” as I understand it. So why “purity”? And find myself wondering on your words …
“I often teach that the single most persistent truth I see reflected in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments… is God’s desperate and determined desire to live intimately in, among, alongside His children in sheer love… and our equally determined efforts to resist that. (Fortunately, He’s God, we’re not. He wins!)”
That for self-protection, self-nurturing – of love for love and with love – “purity” in all things is only about love.
And now wonder if I have missed the point of your post! 🙂
LikeLiked by 2 people
November 30, 2015 at 7:40 AM
I love the comment, and I’m so glad you’ve made it! I don’t know that you’ve “missed the point”, as much as I know I have struggled to be clear in making it.
You have honed in on precisely “the point” I am trying to make. The whole shame/secrecy thing, so based on externals, on behaviors, on appearances and “outside stuff”. People tend to judge, finger-point, condemn, and pontificate on all the “addictions” and “isms” as being shameful, wrong, sinful…
When the issue is the obsession itself, the focus itself, the swirling inwards to the exclusion of all others… God, self, people… everything.
Jesus highlighted, both there in Sermon on the Mount, and later with his “what comes out from a man” teaching… that it’s not the “outside stuff” that involves purity, it’s the “inside stuff”.
This has been incredibly hard to address, this whole “purity” series… because our thinking (my own programming, for one)… has been, is, so knee-jerk puritanical that it is hard to escape the gravity of the sacred cow long enough to examine and explore what Jesus said.
Alongside all that, there’s the real world issue of people… all kinds of people… young, old, male, female, rich, poor, professional, not… really struggling to grasp a meaningful moral compass in a world surrounded by constant assault on their passions to market products and services. It’s a tough situation when a person has to rely on nothing more than neurotic guilt and shame, to identify why pornography or drug intoxication or alcohol intoxication or workaholism or whatever… is wrong.
In the bottom line, these things are “wrong” because they suck up and soak up the mind/heart in their myopic focus. There is no “self” left over as a free agent to engage in love and relationship with another.
The tricky bit I was trying to say (not sure if I succeeded in saying it or not)… is that the “adultery” of “looking at a woman with lust in the heart”… wasn’t a matter of the lust of burning loins, as the lust of burning heart. WE focus on the somatic. JESUS was focusing on the fantasy, the abuse of the creative gifts, the mental/emotional/relational gifts.
I so struggle to express that. Perhaps I’ve not yet done so.
Return comment very welcome and appreciated. Over…
LikeLiked by 1 person
November 30, 2015 at 8:34 AM
I have been given a picture of taking Alfie swimming. The “rule” is: “no peeing or pooing in the pool”. Alfie does and Alfie will. Alfie has nappies especially to minimise the leakage. As his guardian you only have one truism: if you think he has, don’t check. That one simple lesson comes at great cost – the “not checking”.
We all check the first time. The only time. And find that he has. And then – having let in the water to do the checking – the water now has to go somewhere after the checking – and it does. And now the water is “impure”.
One small cup in zillions of gallons of chlorinated water? Ain’t no one gonna die from that. Apart from Mum/Dad or “Guardian” dying of shame.
Have we broken the law? Not technically: the poo (or 99.9% of it) remains in situ.
Have we done something “secret”? Oh YES we have! A full technicolour, surround sound, 3D, and Hi-Def production of “secret”
Do we feel shame – are we objective – do we still have perspective? And is there any honest reason for saying loudly and repeatedly “He’s getting really cold” (as we head with indecent haste to the toilets, discretely – obviously!)? Yes, no, no, yes!
“JESUS was focusing on the fantasy, the abuse of the creative gifts, the mental / emotional / relational gifts.”
In such a scenario – every “creative gift” is abused with a total focus on self. All to “hide the shame” from others.
Now replace “no peeing or pooing in the pool” with any of the commandments – and them run again against this story …
Lust? The leakage of desire! Alcoholic? The leakage of addiction. Murder? The leakage of disregard for another sacred life. Pooing in the pool? It’s all about leakage!