The great chastity experiment

A while back, tcblack’s challenged us with a post on modesty, pornography, and sin, particularly with Job 31:1 – “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” Since I am quite aware of what it means to gaze at a virgin, I resolved not to be a lecher, a dirty old man. I would not gaze at the virgin. I would be chaste. And so I am here to report:

Abject failure.

Please understand that I am not a hubba-hubba kind of guy. I was well raised. I do not stare at womens’ chests. I am devoid of imagination and do not envision myself kissing women on a south seas beach. My tiny scrap of imagination is reserved entirely for my wife. And so, like the pharisees, I’m pretty clean on the outside.

C. S. Lewis might say that all this comes from without – from a good environment and upbringing, from good genes, or as he says “good digestion.” My cleanliness is the product of the best in Christian middle class upbringing, loving parents, good schools, and providential protection from temptation and sin.

What lies beneath, though? I know what it is to gaze at a virgin. I look at a beautiful young woman as I looked at Miss Thorton, my second grade art teacher. Not with a lust, but certainly with an intensity that seems unmatched. I can soak in the Getty Center for hours, I can watch the rocky mountains with great enthusiasm from a jet, and I can study the groundhog in my back yard with great glee. But I cannot look at any of these as I look at a beautiful woman, even in just a glance. There is too much interest, too much intensity in that. And so I have slowly come to realize that though my look is not overtly sinful, still below the level of articulation something is going on, and that something seems too much like sin.

And so with tcblack’s posting, I decided that the reasonable action was to avert my eyes. I can see where I’m going, but I won’t be looking at the chicks. Look at the fat bald guy, or the fire hydrant, or the mp3 player, but not that. And in a sense I am again successful in a skin-deep fashion. My eyes are quick to avert themselves when they are told “don’t look at that.” And even my spirit is quick to tell my eyes to avert. I bear no resentment towards our Lord at having this avenue of entertainment cut off. It all works beautifully.

Except for one thing. I still look. There is a time where the eyes settle and before the spirit says “don’t look there” where I look, understand what I am doing and enjoy the view. And this is the difference between sin and sinfulness. A sin is an action which can, in theory at least, be avoided. Sinfulness is a state of existence and quite impervious to the workings of man. The sin is in looking; the sinfulness is in the inarticulate desire to look. We Lutherans confess that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” and we are absolutely right – that the sinful nature cannot be changed by anything that we do. It will only be changed by our Lord, and that only completed with our death or with his return.

Until that time, our challenge is to do what we can with our sin, through both discipline and practice, and most certainly through prayer.

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Rom 7:21-25)