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Nudity in Art

Comments on several blog posts tell me that this is a hot topic: When and how is it appropriate to include nudity and portrayals of sexual intercourse in various forms of art, specifically film?

In regards to viewing nudity, it’s clear that there’s a spectrum of appropriateness. On one hand, it may be appropriate for a man to view his wife’s or baby’s unclothed body; at certain times a male physician may be within his right to view a woman’s unclothed body. On the other hand, it’s never appropriate for a man to view a woman other than his wife with lustful desire in his heart, whether she is clothed or unclothed.

Perhaps the rightness or wrongness of viewing nude forms has to do with vocation: a husband’s vocation to please his wife, for example, or a physician’s vocation to care for his patients.

And perhaps the rightness or wrongness of viewing nude forms also has to do with the heart: viewing a woman lustfully is clearly wrong.

Perhaps Scripture can provide some clarity, some insights into this issue.

Job made a covenant with his eyes not to “gaze at a virgin.” Habakkuk associates “gazing” at someone’s unclothed body as shameful. There’s something about “gazing” at someone you’re not married to that Scripture considers wrong.

To directly challenge a comment on another blog post: Scripture does indicate that a woman’s breasts are sexual for men, and not merely for men in “civilized cultures.” Consider Proverbs 5:19 and Song of Solomon 7:6-12 and Ezekiel 23:3,21, for example. To further illustrate, let me ask our female readers a couple of questions: If a man not your husband touched your shoulder, that’d probably be all right, right? But if he touched you elsewhere, it would not be all right. If he looks you in the eye, that’s probably all right, right? But if he gazes elsewhere, would you not feel uncomfortable? Of course, because you would feel sexually violated.

Nakedness is associated with disgrace and shame (Isaiah 47:3, Micah 1:11, Nahum 3:5, Revelation 3:18). When we see someone who is without clothing, we are not to admire their form, but to cover them (Isaiah 58:7, Ezekiel 18:7, Genesis 9:22-27).

God modeled this by clothing Adam and Eve. God did this because He deemed such a gift to be good; not giving such a gift would not be good; therefore it would be bad not to give such a gift; because this gift’s purpose was to cover their unclothed bodies, it follows that it was bad for Adam and Eve to go around with unclothed bodies.

God again covers nakedness in Ezekiel 16:8. Jesus affirms clothing the unclothed in Matthew 25: 36.

I need to make it clear that the human body is not shameful. It is glorious. But in most cases, uncovering it before others is condemned. Just as, perhaps, interacting inappropriately with the sacred Ark of the Covenant was condemned.

Scripture is clear that it is wrong to “lie sexually” with someone to whom you’re not married (Leviticus 18:20). The marriage bed is to remain undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Actors who portray sexual intercourse with someone to whom they’re not married are rejecting both of these principles. By paying money to view these actors, we are facilitating and affirming their ungodly behavior.

I see plenty of instances in Scripture where viewing unclothed bodies is wrong. Does Scripture ever portray unclothed bodies as right? Hm. Well, maybe. Isaiah “walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign … against Egypt and Cush.” The Lord himself directly commanded Isaiah to do so in order to indicate the shame these peoples would experience.

Should passers-by have averted their gaze, like the men of Coventry who refused to look at the Lady Godiva as she rode horseback through their town, naked and humbled, sacrificing her honor for their sake? Yeah, probably.

It’s also likely that Jesus was without clothing as He was hanging on the cross. His garments were divided among those who carried out the crucifixion. This nakedness may have contributed to the shame He experienced on the cross.

As with Isaiah, Jesus’ humiliation was a display of God’s holy judgment against sin. Like Lady Godiva, He sacrificed His honor for our sake. It had no entertainment value.

(Note, of course, that the nakedness of neither Isaiah nor Jesus was in any way sexual, but was heartbreakingly shameful and humiliating.)

So is it good for storytellers to use unclothed bodies in their art? Does the vocation of “artist” grant someone the same authority that husbands or physicians may have to view an unclothed woman? Does their vocation permit them to instruct unmarried couples to engage in sexual behavior? Even if so, when is it good for the rest of us to view the nakedness and sexual activity they present to us?

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