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.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is Looking at Porn the Same as Adultery?

Is looking at pornography the same thing as adultery, and therefore, a justifiable cause for divorce? We'll look at this question over two posts. The question itself comes from an inference drawn from Matthew 5:28. "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Couple that verse with what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9 - "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery" - and you get a supposed justification for divorce. While I wholeheartedly agree that we must let the Bible say what it says, I think we need to be very careful to let it say what it says, and not what it doesn't say.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the death of whole nations by the people of Israel. From several texts, we can rightly gather that Jesus is himself God. The apostles tell the church to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and live our lives after his example. Put all that together and here's what we come up with: Christians should kill whole nations of people because Jesus, being the God of the Old Testament, killed whole nations, and we're to follow in his footsteps. We can see that this kind of mental gymnastics is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. However, I'm afraid we may have to do some in order to understand this question.

I think to rightly come to terms with these texts, we have to consider what the real issue is. Is the real issue God's concern over an offended person's feelings? In other words, does Jesus feel sorry for a man with an unfaithful wife, so he says, "God ahead man, I wouldn't want to live with her either. I feel your pain." When Jesus gave adultery as an exception for his prohibition of divorce, what was he seeking to protect? He doesn't come right out and tell us. So we're stuck trying to play gymnastics. Tread lightly.

I think the most important thing we can do when thinking about this is keep a very high view of marriage. Any attempt to belittle marriage or treat divorce frivolously by using a so-called exception clause is wrong. God has joined a husband and wife together with a little of his Spirit in the union. It is not something that should be broken lightly. It is also important to understand what marriage is. Marriage is a covenant, or a pledge of faithfulness to another person. In marriage, two people pledge to be a companion to one another. Part of this companionship is sexual fidelity and exclusivity.

When that exclusive sexual claim has been compromised, then it does appear that Jesus grants a permission to divorce. However, before doing so, the offended party should understand that Jesus also says that divorce is granted because of hardness of heart. So an unfaithful spouse shows a hardness of heart in committing adultery, and an offended spouse shows a hardness of heart in breaking off the union. The offended party should also consider that God is a husband to every member of his church, and never divorces his bride for any reason, including spiritual adultery. He absorbs the debt, including all the emotional pain of betrayal upon his own body on the cross. He is a true husband who lays down his life for his unfaithful bride. We're just stretching out in this post. The real gymnastics will begin next time. :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Gospel and the Poor

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presb. Church in NYC, has written an excellent journal article on how the gospel affects giving to the poor. It's a little long, but worth working through. Keller is one of the most respected voices for missional-type thinking in the church today. If you notice that I occasionally link to other blogs, sites, etc., it's because I find others write things that I would love to be able to say, but haven't.

John Piper - Sex Guru

John Piper has some great thoughts about mismatched sexual desire between a husband and a wife.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last Minute Gift Idea

If you're having a hard time thinking of a last minute gift, consider Spectacular Sins by John Piper. This book just might be Piper's best book yet (that's like trying to rate one of Tiger Woods's shots as better than another). The book is tiny and short for your lazy reading friends and family - just over 100 small pages. But the message is anything but small. A little quote to tease you.

"I am writing this book to build a vision of God into our lives that will not let us down in the worst of times. I mean really bad times. Horrific times. Who is prepared to meet the Agony that is coming? Our worship services and our preaching too often pamper us. They coddle.... The coddled Western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction. And when it does, whose vision of God will hold? Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows? Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews. And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. God is weightless in our lives. He is not terrifyingly magnificent. His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.... Our felt needs are about to change dramatically. Pastors will be glad if they are ahead of the curve. Otherwise, it might be too late. Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses. They will be numb with confusion and rage at the God who wasn't supposed to allow this. "If this is the way God is, why didn't you tell us?"

If that doesn't make you want to jet over to amazon and get this book, your jetter is broke. If you order soon and get your shipping right, you could have it in your little hands in time for giftwrap. Or just get it for yourself and curl up with it after the family goes home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our Desperate Daily Need

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

We have a desperate daily need for one another. This is true for couples as well as single people. Over time, married people settle into habits and patterns of life that cater to our worldly appetites. And instead of spouses confronting one another, we conspire together to build our own personal kingdoms rather than God's. We choose together to deny the power of the Gospel by following the course of this world rather than renewing our minds. We clearly see this in the Bible in couples like Ahab and Jezebel and Ananias and Sapphira.

On the other hand, when a couple conspires together for the glory of God, a powerful force for the Gospel can be established. We clearly see this in the Bible in a couple like Aquila and Priscilla. However, behind every Aquila and Priscilla we'll likely find someone like the apostle Paul, encouraging and challenging and stirring up to love and good works. Deitrich Bonhoeffer says it this way:

When Christians live together, at some time and in some way it must come to the point that one Christian personally declares God's Word and will to another. . . . We talk to one another about the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our undoing. We are gentle and we are firm with one another, for we know both God's kindness and God's firmness. . . . When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God's Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God's Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one's community back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God's Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community.

God's Word is what binds us to one another, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what sets our agenda. We often think of Christian maturity as the move toward sinless perfection. That's part of maturity, but I don't think it's the most important part. The most important aspect of Christian maturity is that humility of spirit that makes one confrontable. We all have blind spots, and we all need others to help us see. Praise God that he has given us a community of other Christians to help us fight the sin that we refuse to forsake or fail to see.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Awesome Arrows

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" (Psalm 127:3-5)