Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is Looking at Porn the Same as Adultery? Continued

I asked the question, "Is looking at porn the same thing as adultery, and therefore a biblical grounds for divorce? I promised you gymnastics to answer the question. Here is the verse, Matthew 19:9: "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery." Now for the gymnastics. Matthew uses a word for sexual immorality, not adultery in this verse. Why is that? The little word causes an awful lot of frustration for those trying to decide what exception there is to the prohibition on divorce. Here's why.

1. By using the word for immorality rather than the word for adultery, Matthew seems to broaden the circumstances under which one could get a divorce. In other words, if Matthew would have written, "except for adultery," we would all know what that means, and we wouldn't even dream of thinking pornography is grounds for divorce.

2. However, because Matthew wrote, "except for sexual immorality," we are left trying to figure out all the possible ways mankind can be sexually immoral. Can a couple get divorced because the husband likes to wear women's clothing? Is that sexual immorality worthy of divorce? If lust is adultery in the heart, is that grounds for divorce? By using sexual immorality, rather than the very specific adultery, it seems couples could get divorced for just about anything, being that we're all sexual beings and all still struggling with swimming in a fallen culture with less than perfected hearts. Is this really what Jesus (and Matthew) had in mind?

3. Is looking at pornography adultery? I don't think so. When Jesus said if one looks at another with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart, I think we need to realize there is a difference between adultery in the heart and adultery. If you think this sounds like double-talk, then consider this: John says anger at a brother is murder and James says covetous passion is murder. Is it really murder worthy of the death penalty or life in prison? Of course not. I think what Jesus is saying is that these sinful actions like murder and adultery begin in the heart with things like anger and lust. Allowed free reign, all lust would be adultery. And all anger would be murder. If one doubts this, read war history where soldiers were left to carry out their desires.

4. So if one believes that Matthew left an "exception clause" in the prohibition against divorce, is looking at pornography adultery that is worthy of divorce? No. But I think most would agree that it's some kind of sexual immorality. And that is what appears to be the exception in Matthew. So according to Matthew, it doesn't take adultery. Any ol' sexual sin will do if you really want out of your marriage. That is, if Matthew did, in fact, leave an exception to the prohibition against divorce.

5. However, before any depressed spouse starts shouting, "Yippee!" I think it's only fair to stretch your mind a bit. What makes pornography pornography? Have you ever thought about that? Is it nudity? Is it a rating? Is it an action being carried out? I would argue that many R rated movies have everything to get the mind racing that pornography has. Is it not porn because you can't actually see the parts connecting? (Except, of course, for your favorite Hollywood actors' two foot long tongues scouring the inside of each other's mouths.) Is it not porn because there's a little more time between sex scenes in a Hollywood flick? Is it not porn because Hollywood movies are more socially acceptable? You know the action being simulated in an R or even PG-13 movie. Why is it not pornography? In addition, are romance novels that stretch women's hormones to the breaking point and appear to be just as addictive as mags and movies are to men also pornography? Go to a used bookstore. My goodness, if those little books aren't popular! And what about soap operas? Why are they so appealing? Is it really the long goofy stares before commercials? Of course not. It's the gut-wrenching romantic intrigue of following depraved human beings on a daily basis. So before we come down too hard on those who have problems with porn, we should do a little deeper assessment.

Now that my gymnastic workout is winding down, it's time to ask the real question. Is there such a thing as a biblical grounds for divorce? Was Matthew leaving folks an out if they think their spouse turns out to be a pervert? John Piper thinks no. He doesn't believe Matthew was giving an exception. He thinks all divorce is against God's revealed will. His arguments are fair ones, but he is in the minority. Most evangelical conservative folks think there is an "exception clause" in the Matthew text we looked at. Now, just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it true, but it does give me a reason to tread very carefully over what they've said. However, when the majority view doesn't make as much sense as the minority view from Scripture, I'm all for the minority view. In this case, I'm tempted to agree with Piper. I think Piper's view has serious merit. In his view, one can't get divorced for sexual immorality at all. Therefore, call porn whatever you want, it's only grounds for forgiveness and continued marriage. Call adultery whatever you want, it doesn't give you grounds for divorce.

Piper's view has been called the "betrothal view" because those who hold this view think that Matthew was referring to people in his day who were betrothed (like Mary and Joseph in the beginning of Matthew). Joseph, for example was betrothed to Mary, but when he found out she was pregnant, he couldn't just "ask for the ring back." He would have had to divorce her. So betrothal in that culture was more serious and binding than our idea of engagement, which more and more is just an excuse for a couple to live together for awhile without real commitment. Only Matthew gives the supposed exception clause. The other gospel writers don't give any reason for divorce, and call all remarriage after divorce adultery. It's interesting that only Matthew gives the full account of the birth of Christ, including Joseph's dilemma.

So here's what I'm saying:

1. I want to err on the side of marriage, not divorce, because marriage is God's design. Divorce is necessitated by man's sin.

2. I can sympathize with someone caught in a sucky marriage. I think Scripture spends a lot of time helping people deal with suffering rightly. But just because someone's marriage sucks doesn't give them the automatic right to end it by any means possible. We need to all learn rugged perseverance.

3. Marriage is never commanded in the Bible. And neither is divorce. So if one gets married, he or she should consider it a finished act until death. Bearing with one another through sin and hardship only makes Christ look more beautiful and displays the true purpose of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church.

4. Most of the time, folks contemplating divorce are doing it out of convenience or offense. Both reasons are wrong with only a little thought to prove it. Someone might say, "Yeah, but Jesus allows for divorce in adultery because he knows I could never trust my wife again. He knows how hurt I feel." Is Jesus that soft on us? He told Peter to forgive infinite wrongs, even when it hurts. He told folks in Revelation that they were about to be tortured and killed for his name, but if they kept faith they'd be in Heaven soon. He told Paul to live with his thorn. I fear we've fallen for the therapeutic pansy Jesus. I think in the midst of every conflict, we are always wisest to see how God might be refining us through it rather than looking for the backdoor to the furnace.

11 comments:

Kati said...

"Bearing with one another through sin and hardship only makes Christ look more beautiful and displays the true purpose of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church."
I believe that's the answer in a nutshell.

Enjoy your blog.
Kati Stephens (a friend of Janal's)

Antonio Romano said...

Your thoughtful, responsible, biblically-grounded, and Christ-exalting handling of this issue is absolutely phenomenal. Thank you so much for your loving analysis. We are so darn depraved it's beyond exasperating. I do not understand how Christ can bear with us. I really don't. And I think this is because I'm way too depraved to fully understand the unbelievable implications of the Cross.

And you are absolutely right: it is an amazing testament to the grace and glory of God when a spouse is willing to forgive the other for countless and hurtful sins. How much more our Heavenly Father.

JanAl said...

I like your post, but my thoughts about the motive of the heart when you are seeking out porn, has not changed. But, praise God that He is the one that weighs the motives of the heart. I feel compassion for men, because it is always in their face, from television commercials to magazine racks to the 1/2 dressed woman in the grocery line (in which I call all of that soft porn). But, a man or woman can not help what is placed in front of them, all they can do is discipline the eyes/mind. But, SEEKing is a whole different story.
God eventually could change my thoughts on this, but this is how I view it now.
*It did take me 10+ years for God to change my thoughts on divorce (that it is NOT an option). And I am thankful for that. Oh I pray that God will allow me to see people with the same Grace that He sees me with.

Darby Livingston said...

I hope no one thinks I think seeking pornography isn't sinful and ultimately futile in granting satisfaction. However, I think the motives of those who seek it are no different than those who don't - they want to be happy. That's the root of everything humanity does, so we can all sympathize.

JanAl said...

I know that 'seeking' was not brought up by you, but that is the direction my mind went when I answered the question of adultery

Nan said...

Hi!

I have been reading the latest posts and comments. I have not yet commented. Till now. As I prepare to share...does anyone remember the famous words of Joan Rivers, "Can we talk?"

I so wish I did not have to agree with John Piper...but I just have to. Our heart's desire should be to bear any sufferings with which Christ has called us to. Everyone suffers differently in a marriage. If a spouse were addicted to gambling and the wife and family were suffering, that might be as painful to her as sexual infidelity. The same might be true of a spouse who's a drunkard. I kind of see those sins as a type of "whoring after another lover" because he's still forsaking his spouse.
I sometimes wonder, is it
accurate to say that looking at pornography is "cheating on a spouse"? I think many women see it that way. Is it?
The truth is, I'm not sure that men and women see pornography through the same eyes and mindset. Having recently read Darby's blog and his posted Mark Driscoll video, I was taken aback by the concept that God created men to be hardwired visually. I personally did not like hearing that! I rebelled against that very notion. It made me aware of every man my age that I passed in WalMart. When
a man smiled and nodded hello to me as he passed, I wondered, was he scoping me out? The thought that he might be, was a great insult to me! So I asked my husband if it could be that he was assessing me. He replied, " It's possible." What kind of answer was that?! I honestly started to think all men were cads and jerks! All men care about is exploiting women as sex objects!

But....then again (sigh), if I consider what Mark Driscoll said in the video post, that men are created to be visual, then I have to agree with God that He made it to be a good thing. Could I consider that man might possibly be created to adore the female body? Could it be, the very site of a female (especially one who takes good care of herself) is like a work of art? Could it be an act of appreciation toward a woman? And the fact that it might cause some hormonal stirrings within him, is not because he's a cad or a jerk, but rather due to a natural biological response? We all remember what Adam said when he first saw his wife, Eve,
"Whoa!"
I confess, I don't know how that works in the male brain. In fact, I'm baffled by it and I think that
many other women are too. But it's that inherent biological reponse in a man that made his heart skip a beat when he first saw his wife. It's the same physiological stirring that makes him attracted to his own wife sexually. Aren't we as wives happy for that which God created in a man? I would say that we are. Is looking at porn the same as adultery? I think for many women, pornography feels like adultery, because through sex, a wife is sharing that part of herself which is supposed to be the most intimate. That is, her sexual expression! It's not just her nakedness,(doctors see women naked all the time) but it's
her sexual ability to make her spouse sexually aroused and desirous of her. A wife who enjoys sexual expression and that part of her marriage, it somehow connects to her personally in such a way that makes her feel cherished and special. The priceless vase thingy. When an indiscretion occurs, it's like a slap in the face to her. It's as though she really is not so special after all. Quite replaceable, actually. And very very sad, if it's repacement by pornography, of all things. Here's another pitfall for many women. Often, the woman can attempt to place the blame on herself for the indiscetion. She thinks there simply HAS to be something lacking in her, since she's been "replaced" in her own mind. She can literally try jumping through hoops to try to compete with the womwn in the video who's "replacing" her. It could also make the wife in turn, withdraw, as Mark Driscoll spoke about. She may feel inferior and withdraw sexually. She may not want to be visually generous with her spouse any more. It could be a time of real distress in her marriage. To many women, it is like Anonymous said in previously, "It is adultery lite; I'll go this far and no more." In other words, "I'll do it mentally, if not physically." And for the women, that hurts.
Now, I know it works both ways. I'm not out to bash the guy. If a man saw his wife continually looking at other men in public, and buying Playgirl magazine, and looking at pornography on the net, he'd surely have to feel SOMETHING! And what if she had more fun going solo? I can't imagine him not feeling spurned! My compassion would go out to any man just as much, in a scenario such as that.
So, as to Darby's blog title, "Is looking at porn the same thing as adultery?" In any case, we are still called to bear with our spouse through sins and hardships, thus making Christ look more beautiful and desirable to the world (which He is)!
If infidelty makes a spouse feel like they've been played for a fool and mocked, Christ can identify with that, can He not?
I truly believe that He exalts the humble. But, "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble!"
And forgiveness toward another always comes hard until we let go of our pride. With pornpgraphy or adultery, it might be a much
harder offense to forgive because it hits a person's pride at a very deep level.
In closing my comment, I'd like to quote a Catholic Priest (of all people)! Many years ago, someone I knew was considering divorce because his wife had committed adultery. The priest's counsel to them was this;
"Any indiscetion, no matter how severe, should destroy an otherwise stable relationship."

May I add to that; "A Christian marriage can be quite stable if it's foundation is built on the Rock!"

A strong sense of who we are in Christ, means everything!

I've seen some Christians stand strong through an offense where others would have given way. I know that it's Christ who is carrying them. It's during those times that He looks so desirable and beautiful, and real in that person's life!

And for the one who stands strong and overcomes sin, Christ looks so desirable and beautiful and real in that person's life!

Since this blogspot is dedicated to marriage, I'll close with the quote I've never forgotten.
" No indiscretion, no matter how severe, should destroy an otherwise stable relationship"

Stable, because it's built on the Rock!

Darby Livingston said...

"I sometimes wonder, is it
accurate to say that looking at pornography is "cheating on a spouse"? I think many women see it that way. Is it?"

I think it's important to realize that pornography is all about the image. There is definitely a sexual component, but I would argue that's there in other areas - romantic comedies come to mind. Why do women so much love romantic comedies? It could be for the same reason men like pornography. In the same way women might feel they can't measure up with the bodies or desires portrayed in pornography, men might feel they can't measure up to the fictional character and perfectly plotted gut-wrenching romance of the latest Meg Ryan flick. Similar emotional interaction, but different offensiveness. It's been proven that pornography builds a tolerance that can wreck "normal" intimacy with a spouse. But I would argue that many are running from relationship to relationship trying to live the latest Hollywood romance and wondering why it isn't working. Porn can make intimacy difficult, but the romantic notion of love and "happily ever after" can make the daily drudgery called your husband quite unappealing when a less than genuine person at work or church smiles at you or stares in your eyes just a second too long. The dangers are all around us, not just on the internet. There's no filter on romantic comedies. While acknowledging that pornography crosses lines that other media doesn't, I still think it's worth exploring other areas that are more subtle, but perhaps just as dangerous to rugged marriages.

JanAl said...

If we are to look at what scripture says, and not look at what it does not say, then based on Mth. 5:28, then looking at porn is adultery (I guess that when I say that I am thinking of a person who has the motive, and intends on self-gratification apart from his wife.) I agree with the comments that it is not the same as physical adultery, but that some woman could feel hurt by the act of looking at porn. Maybe it is just me, and how I feel convicted right now. I believe Jesus wants us to hate that sin just as much as the physical part of it.In Matthew, Jesus is reminding His disciples that mere abstinence from the physical act was not enough,there must be inward purity. The law forbid the act of adultery, Jesus was forbidding the desire. Sin begins in the mind , and if we nourish it, we eventually commit the act.
A person might become proud that he has never physically committed adultery, but his eyes could be full of adultery.
Then, if we go on to verse 5:29,
Jesus is saying that if any part of our body causes us to sin, it would be better to lose it, rather than lose your soul. Do we take Jesus words literally? No. Because we have the Holy Spirit, who gives us the strength to live a holy life. But, we are also required to discipline our minds/eyes.
That also goes for a woman who is aware that the 'fantasy' of a romantic movie, is causing her to have expectations from her spouse that are unrealistic. She must then chose to not watch those movies, or read those books.
Our purpose in life is to bring Glory to God. That is a question I am learning to ask myself before I make a decision. I find that I fail more often than I succeed. But it has helped me to be more on guard with my walk as a Christian.
I also think that because most women do not battle the visual part of sexual sin, the same as a man does, for me anyways, it seems that when I hear a man's point of view, it can sometimes sound as if it is no big deal to look visually at a woman with lust. But, when I read scripture, Jesus wants us to hate it, and that is not what I hear from some men. I understand that it is every man's battle, and I have heard a few men say that they hate that sin in their life, and that hating that sin helps them to discipline themselves.

Darby Livingston said...

One thing is certain, all sin is very serious, and none should be dismissed as no big deal.

JanAl said...

Ok, I do need to confess, because I do not want to come off as self-righteous, like I have never failed in this area, that I have lusted after a man (ok, there is more than one), and because of that my husband does not let me have his picture in my house (Tim Mcgraw).
Funny, but true!

Steven Douglas said...

First of all, great post on a tricky subject. These are never easy questions to deal with.

There are so many considerations, it is hard to know where to begin. Matthew's "exception clause" may be the best place. There is nothing in the surrounding context of the passage to indicate this is a matter of betrothal. In fact, as you have indicated, betrothal was like a marriage contract, there was very little to separate the ideas of marriage and betrothal, except for living together and sexual relations. Therefore, I think the betrothal view is a mistake. The conclusion that they come to, however, that people should not get divorced, is not a mistake. I would agree whole-heartedly with Piper on that point, even if we did not agree on why.

The reason there must not be divorce is not based in this law or that, but because of the image of God and his desire for humanity. Malachi 2:15-16 says, "Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," [think of Adam and Eve in the Garden] says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

God hates divorce. It is not his design for humanity. Further, marriage is a symbol to the world of something different - God and his people, Christ and his church. When we divorce, we represent Christ and the church as something broken to the rest of the world. Notice in 1 Cor. 7, where Paul gives instruction to new converts from paganism - they are to remain married as long as an unbelieving spouse wills it. And they are to remain married if they have a believing spouse. These people are living symbols of God and his will to the rest of creation.

Are Christians living with this understanding today? Absolutely not! Many Christians want to be served rather than to serve - they do not model Christ or his church. In a "me" culture, those who do not divorce but serve their spouses, even through sin and short-comings, are a peculiar people. But that is what God's people are called to (Ex. 19:5 KJV).

There are some men who cannot stop porn addictions, and there are some who won't stop porn addictions. There is a vast difference between the two. The latter are certainly intentionally disobeying all the Scriptures which tell believers to be pure and to treasure their wives, and to have no hint of immorality. Further, they are not allowing the Spirit to redeem them. In most cases, I would say that these are lost and are not Christians, even if they claim to be. These are not keeping God's covenant or their marriage covenant. Can a woman divorce her husband for this? I think according to Matthew and Paul - yes. Should she divorce her husband for this? According to Paul - it depends on whether or not he wants to remain married to her or not. The collective Scriptures on marriage and divorce give us a clear picture, though, of biblical marriages that stand strong as a message. That should not be jeapordized for anything. If it is, though, all attempts should be made to redeem it.

Anyway, that is my $1.25. Thanks again for the great and thought-provoking post.

I would be honored if you stopped by my blog as well - www.theyodelingrabbit.blogspot.com