Throwing Out an Anchor in a Sea of Grey

My thanks to Lynn Roush for providing a special guest post this week at ESI:

Whether you’re an adventurous reader or just a mom on the go who enjoys poolside chatter, you’ve probably read or heard about the eyebrow raising bestseller, 50 Shades of Grey. Given the content of the book, which chronicles a sadomasochistic sexual relationship between a young woman and her partner in explicit detail, I’m choosing not to read it. But the buzz it’s created is an opportunity to have a substantial conversation about the barrage of sexual messages coming from our culture every day. After five years of counseling Christian women and helping them sort through the baggage that their sexual experiences have created, I write this post not as a book reviewer but as a counselor who wants to help people think through their sexuality in a biblical way, offering an anchor of truth in what appears to be a sea of uncertainty.

The Bible gives us a clear window into the human heart and becomes the lens by which we can see with clarity the condition of the human race, including our sexuality. If we can grasp the following principles that reflect wisdom of God, then we can develop discernment in the books, movies and music we consume, as well as accurately assess our sexual desires and intelligently engage with those who are seeking to make sense of their own.

We are driven by our desires.  

Logic does not direct our behavior, our hearts do. We are able to justify or rationalize just about anything that we really want to do because the heart will recruit the mind to come in line with its desires. Our sexual desires are powerful because they spring from deep within us and are designed to create a soul-connection with another person in the most intimate way.  The “one flesh” relationship is the singular most intense, vulnerable and full-sensory engaging contact we can have with another person. Sexual desire, above all other desires, can easily overtake us and become the most defining force in our lives.

We are deceived by our enemy, Satan, and by our desires. 

There is no area of our lives in which we are more prone to deception than our sexual appetite, and Satan knows this. We actually want to be deceived! Intense sexual desire is hard to ignore or suppress. And once we taste of the physical pleasure available to us through our sexual organs, it is easy to see why we will so readily believe any lie offered to us that would permit sexual fulfillment at any given moment. Knowing how prone we are to deception should caution us to carefully evaluate our sexual desires and expression and bring them into the light for full examination by God’s word and the community of believers around us. 

Even if we think something is “beautiful” or “pleasurable”, if God has forbidden it, we should not touch it. 

Think of Eve in the garden with the beautiful piece of fruit in her hand. It was pleasing to the eye, and there was nothing wrong with it, but God had expressly forbidden that it be eaten. God created us as sexual creatures and gave us sex for our enjoyment, but He clearly defines the limits of how it should be expressed for our own good. Just because something feels good sexually, does not necessarily mean that God has called it “good.” In fact, He may have forbidden it because it is a distortion of the “goodness” that He intended it to be. But this is a very clever (and hard to refute) argument that people use to rationalize any form of sexual expression that they choose. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “This is the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever been in.” Or, “My marriage was a desert, and now I’ve found my oasis.” Beautiful does not always mean that it is “good.”

Sexual desire and curiosity is natural, but it can lead us to dark places.

It is normal to be curious about various forms of sexual expression and to desire sexual intimacy with another person. But we may be easily enticed into sexual sin by what may begin as seemingly innocent curiosity. Entertainment and multi-media, which capitalize on how easily we are seduced, have found ways to hook people into “trying” something that they would never otherwise do, and it often leads people down a path they never intended to be on, taking them further than they ever thought they would go. Be wary of sexual “experimentation” as it may put you on a path that has unforeseen destructive repercussions in your life. And just remember that one immoral sexual encounter will almost always lead to another.

Removing shame from sinful sexual expression does not undo the consequences. 

We live in a society that has seemingly lost the ability to feel and process the very painful emotion of shame that God has attached to sinful sexual expression. But removing feelings of shame by redefining what is “good” or by suppressing unwanted negative feelings does not detach the natural consequences that come with violating God’s design for sexual expression in our lives. Shame is God’s gift to alert us that we have violated His holiness and it propels us to seek redemption and cleansing through his Son, Jesus Christ. But if we ignore its warnings, then we open ourselves up to reaping a bitter harvest of regret later on (read 2 Samuel 11 to see how the story of David and Bathsheba is a perfect example of the domino effect of devastating consequences that came from surrendering to momentary lust).

Only truth can set us free. 

Because we are so easily deceived and quick to latch on to lies about our sexuality, we can adopt a very distorted view of sex, develop an over-emphasis of our sexuality and engage in behavior that pulls us further away from godly relationships. Sexual intimacy was created by God to be enjoyed in a monogamous covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. As unpopular as this statement may be, it is solidified by the personal testimony of many people who know first hand the damage that walking outside of these boundaries has caused in their lives; from the breaking apart of marriages and families, to the downward spiral of addiction and isolation. Walking in the light of truth is painful and we usually resist it fiercely. But truth is what brings healing and freedom from bondage to sin, and unless we hold out Christ as the Author of that truth, we have no hope of redemption or transformation. 

So how do we take these truths and let them shape how we engage with a culture that embraces fictional erotica like it’s the latest cookbook?

One idea would be that we apply these principles to anything that we read or watch by asking the following questions:

1. What desires are driving the characters thoughts, beliefs or actions?

2. How are their desires deceiving them into making choices that may ultimately harm them? Does this account leave out warning signs that occur in real life? If these signs are present, are the characters ignoring them?

3. Is the storyline reinforcing God’s definition of “beautiful” or has there been an exchange of truth for a lie?

4. Can I trace a line from what was a healthy desire for relational connection to a character ending up in a dark place or relational dead end? How did he or she get there?

5. How does the author treat the emotion of shame? Is it present, absent or minimized?

6. What are the consequences of the characters choices?  Are these being portrayed accurately or have they been softened, downplayed or eliminated all together?

These questions can be useful talking points in a book discussion, but ultimately, Jesus is far more concerned with how you would answer these questions about your own heart and life. He is not disgusted, uninterested, or unaware of our sexual desires. Instead of treating the sexual brokenness around us at arms length, we should look at our own desires and find out where we may have been deceived, and seek to apply truth to our souls. Then we can have a truly meaningful and honest conversation about sexuality with those around us, and point others to the rescuing hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

Lynn Roush earned a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She offers biblical counseling for members and regular attenders at The Crossing.

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