Recently I did some art for a church series that paired vices and virtues. It’s an interesting concept– I like the idea of looking at both together and trying to see what is real between them.
Of course I chose to do a piece on lust and chastity, because why wouldn’t I? No one else was jumping at it, from an artistic perspective it has the potential to be edgy and interesting, and come on! What church kid isn’t going to choose lust and chastity. Seriously.
I was one of two artists who braved this pair and now that it’s lust and chastity’s turn in service they’ve asked us to each create a video describing our inspiration for the art and to speak specifically about one half of the pair. *I was asked to cover lust.
I have to admit that when I found out I needed to make this video and speak about lust on it’s own I initially felt unexpectedly vulnerable. I mean, sure, give the single girl in her 30’s lust and chastity to the married woman with kids. I highly doubt that it was intentional, but right at the beginning I felt a little… singled out for lack of a better term. And then I got over it.
If I’m being honest, the subject of lust really drove my piece (which I will eventually post a picture of). I very much wanted to take the opportunity to take lust and chastity out of their usual context and look at them in a less obvious sort of way. Christians get really specific when we start talking about sex. We really think we have a handle on what lust is. I’ve also noticed that with those very specific ideas, by and large, we target men and women on opposite ends of the spectrum– we associate men with lust and women with chastity. Even if we aren’t necessarily accusing all men of being lustful, or assuming that all women are naturally inclined to chaste behavior, we use the lenses of lust and chastity to speak to men and women differently about sex. I don’t think I can comment on this point as to whether I think that tendency is necessarily right or wrong, however I do think it’s short-sighted if nothing else.
Stepping away from the traditional definition of lust, which is almost exclusively viewed as an intense sexual desire, I have to ask myself, “Is intense sexual desire the problem itself, or is it symptomatic of the real issue? And if it is a symptom, is it the only symptom?”
I strongly believe that physical lust is symptomatic of what is at the core of all sins: a void that we are trying to fill with something other than God. There is a difference, I feel, in how lust effects us compared to other symptoms like greed or gluttony, however.
With greed the void is filled through the rush of having in excess and gluttony fills its void through wringing more pleasure out of a thing than it is meant for, but both of those function externally. With lust the void is filled by consuming and making the object of our lust a part of US. We conquer and devour what we lust after in a way that forces it into our spiritual and emotional DNA. With that in mind physical lust is an easy example, but I think it’s important to understand that it doesn’t stop there and that just because you may not struggle sexually doesn’t mean that you do not struggle with lust.
One of the defining characteristics of lust is its ability to dehumanize. This comes up a lot when we talk about porn, for instance. The process of possessing and devouring takes a person from human to object and we see clearly how this happens with porn. What we fail to see is how it also happens all of the time within causes we “fight” for. I’ll use the pro-life movement as an example because I think it’s the most ironic. A cause, the purpose of which is to protect human life, can often be found demonstrating outside abortion clinics in a way that completely dehumanizes the women walking in the doors. In our lust for moral vindication and power we stop seeing people and only see objects. It seems counterintuitive to put pro-lifers and porn addicts together, but lust can manifest itself just as powerfully in good causes as it can in licentious acts.
Lust is insidious, we allow it to creep into the areas of our lives where we least expect it and the fact that we think we know lust just to be related to sexual desire makes us easy targets. Any time we try to make something a part of our identity and create objects out of people in the process, lust is showing up.
The great danger of allowing lust to creep into our lives is so much more than the obvious risks and consequences emotionally and physically of promiscuity or porn. The only thing we are created to fuse our identity to in such a deep way is the Holy Spirit. When we try to make these other things a part of ourselves, we’re not only dehumanizing others, we are being dehumanized ourselves.
Goodness, what a lot to think about.