How are we to live in the midst of pornography's prevalence?

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How are we to live in the midst of pornography's prevalence?

Mar 26, 2012 |John Thomas
Question

I have a two-part question. A good friend of mine is engaged to be married in a few months. However, he has expressed struggling with pornography to the point that it's almost a once-a-week occurrence. His mobile device makes it readily accessible, yet his lifestyle prevents any attempt to do away with it. He hasn't told his fiancée yet, and I've encouraged him to break the news of this struggle in the premarital counseling he's undergoing with the fiancée and their pastor soon, but he's afraid and, I'm sure, embarrassed.

Realizing some of your advice in the past has been to delay marriage or call it off altogether till this serious sin is dealt with, it doesn't seem an option for this couple who both burn with passion for each other (though not to the point of immorality) and who love each other deeply. What would you tell him to do?

Secondly, for the rest of us guys — and myself — for whom pornography hasn't left us unscarred either. I know of no one in my age group (20–30) whom it hasn't touched, and so far my encouragements and offers to help my friend mentioned above (consisting of entreaties of "hey, Dude, call me if you're tempted, and we'll pray") are sapped of their power for lack of credibility as I have struggled also. All the guys in our church have at one point or another.

How can I best serve my brothers, and the wider church world, in making myself available for this fight? Have we lost all credibility for accountability if we have/do struggle in the same areas? How can we collectively, as a church, fight for and esteem marriage as being honorable in the midst of pornography's prevalence?

Answer

As to the first part of your question, yes, it is critical that this struggle be addressed during your friend’s engagement and pre-marriage counseling period. The longer the sin is tolerated, the more damage it causes and to more people. This is why we must be intentional about dealing with sin when it happens. I say this especially for those who are not yet engaged nor in a relationship. I hope this couple’s counseling will provide a venue for talking this through, but that’s not always the case.

Naturally he’s embarrassed and a little fearful. No one wants the things they’re ashamed of to be out in the open, especially in front of a future spouse. But as painful as it is to go there, he — they — need to go there, not only for confession of a sin that directly impacts sexual purity in marriage, but also to prevent a marriage being built on deception right from the start. Whatever initial pain is caused by walking through it now, it’s nothing compared to the pain down the road.

Do your best to make your case with him. Let him know you’ll stand with him and support him. He needs to do this because he loves her and doing so will show that to her. And if I were him, that’s just what I’d tell her: "I need to share this with you, because not doing so would mean lying to you. As ashamed as I am to tell you, love demands it. It might cost me deeply, but it’s worth it to know I’ve done the right thing for you." I have witnessed many similar confessions and seen the freedom that comes afterward. The weight is lifted and a fresh start can begin.

As to your second question, I’ve thought, prayed, studied and discussed hours and hours about the topic of pornography. I’ve written several times about it, as have other Boundless writers. All generations have had to battle lust, but the obscene (pun intended) access this generation of males has to pornography has unleashed a plague. The sobering truth is that these are the same males through which the battle must be fought and won for the sake of the next generation of men. This is much bigger than our personal struggles.

We’ve written about all the practical ways to set up "access" barriers with filter software and accountability partners and a variety of strategies on that side of the problem. We need to take advantage of every tool that’s out there to help us on the "access" side. That’s absolutely basic and non-negotiable now days.

My thoughts lately though have been not about "access," but about the male "inclination" that seems so predisposed to this particular sin. My thoughts aren’t fully developed, but I’ll share what I have now and more down the road as they coalesce a bit. Maybe they will spark a discussion with your friends that will help you "serve the church" by leading you to a better understanding of the problem and spur exploring new solutions. I’ll introduce it now and finish in the next column.

I believe the power of pornography, in addition to all the addictive chemical reactions it causes in the brain and the obvious component of connecting with the male "visual" wiring, is that it feeds something in the heart that is idolatrous. I call it the "rock star" syndrome. Pornography makes the consumers feel like little gods.

Unlike real rock stars who actually have "worshippers" and love the feeling of being adored (no wonder so many can never quite seem to retire), pornography is all fantasy, but it has that power nevertheless. Porn consumers live in a fantasy moment of being (presumably) adored by the girl on screen. She absolutely can’t live without you and you only. No other man will do.

This draws the heart of a male the same way a romance story draws the heart of a female. It touches the deep place of the heart that longs to be desired. When that place gets twisted, it becomes idolatrous, selfishly seeking what borders on worship, something reserved for only One.

Now I want to unpack a little more about pornography use as self-idolatry to help us better understand what is driving it and as a result purge it from our lives.

A few disclaimers:

First, these thoughts are based on hours of conversations with young men with whom I've counseled and mentored. I've spent a good bit of time thinking about, praying about and studying this issue, especially over the several years that I've written for Boundless, since it is a topic that comes up over and over. I don't think any of these are profound or original thoughts, but hopefully they will help.

Second, porn use isn't always — nor only — self-worship in the way I'll describe here, but I believe a deeper look at its appeal, in this case especially for men, reveals something about sexual immorality we rarely consider, a sin I described in my previous column as the "Rock-Star Syndrome," and I'll go into more here.

Third, all sin, at its core, is self-worship in that in choosing sin we are purposely turning from God and trusting our own nature over His. We aren't literally worshipping totem poles — the image most of us get when we think of idolatry — but we are definitely choosing "self" over and above God with every act of disobedience.

Finally, self-idolatry manifests in many more ways than porn use or longing to be adored by an arena full of screaming fans. But I think it drives a good bit of our thinking and behavior, especially when it comes to relationships, probably more than we care to admit.

The longing to be loved is in the heart of every human being. It is placed there by God, in its highest form to be fulfilled in relationship with Him. For all the good and godly human relationships we can have, I fully believe our deepest longings, our deepest affections, are God-placed and only God-satisfied. All lesser desires point to this one ultimate, mysterious longing: to feel the embrace of our merciful Father, to know His love for us and to sense His good pleasure with us.

We long to uniquely mean something to someone because God made us to uniquely mean something to Him. Not that He is incomplete without us, but that He has the capacity to love each person individually without ever running out of His abundant love. The longing to be loved by God is so intensely strong it is never at rest, always seeking to mean something to Someone. To borrow the well-known phrase from Augustine, our heart is "unquiet" until it finds its rest in God.

So what does this have to do with pornography use? Pornography is a world where sex is adored and where people, especially men, are presumably loved, really, worshipped, for nothing more than the act of sex, a fantasy world perfectly tailored to men. The user fantasizes that he alone is longed for in this world of adoring, begging women, and that only he will do, only he can satisfy their need. In this fantasy world he is a little god. It is one of the darkest perversions of the male longing to be uniquely loved.

Of course pornography isn't the only place where people are used to meet the personal needs of others. And men aren't the only ones using others as objects to attempt to quiet the unquiet heart. Both genders do it in all kinds of relationships, including marriage. But pornography targets this longing, especially in men, and has built a hellish, multi-billion dollar industry around it — an industry that has yet to fulfill its promise to a single customer.

The heart issue is nothing new for the young man, as a quick look at Proverbs confirms; but the 24/7, free, anonymous and individual access has thrown gas on the proverbial fire. As simple as this sounds, I believe the first place to look for personal solutions to porn's appeal is at the heart, to ask, Why am I after this? Why do I long for this? Is it because I am god-like in this little fantasy world? Is this pacifying my desire to be desired? If so, why am I not satisfied in God's affections toward me?

That's the same question we could ask ourselves about anything we do that draws us away from God and objectifies people rather than serves and loves them.

These aren't questions that are always answered quickly or easily. It usually starts us on a journey of soul-searching that can take a while. We might discover that our relationship with God is severely lacking. Until that is addressed, all of our relationships will be out of whack, even the ones God has ordained.

So that's the conversation I encourage you and your friends to start. That's the first step in the journey. Maybe start by gathering them together and reading this article. Then ask questions about the prevalence of porn in your life that goes beyond the obvious one of access. Keep talking about it together, praying about it together, and opening up the Scriptures together until God reveals to you how you can satisfy your thirst for Him in Him alone.

As to the "credibility" part of your question, yes, credibility matters with the message. But failure while striving to live pleasing to the Lord is not the same as blatant, unrepentant hypocrisy.

Thankfully, failure does not disqualify, as famously seen in the life of Moses, David, Peter and countless others down through the ages. It's for the sick that Jesus came; He's the one who calls, qualifies and gives grace for an obedient, joyful and victorious life. But that experience is a process called sanctification, and we are always in pursuit of a greater level of it. Even Paul admitted not having obtained it, but "pressed on" in pursuit. The "not having obtained it" is not what credibility is based upon; it's the "pressing on" which gives us credibility. So press on!

I'm praying for your journey to be life-transforming.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2012 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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