Celebrating Freedom as We Cheerfully Shackle Ourselves

This past week, I happened upon an opinion piece in which the author, a grad student at MU, rather offhandedly extolled the virtues of certain forms of pornography as “empowering” to women. This comment was not even the main point of the editorial, mind you…just a little something extra tossed in for some postmodern feminist flavor, I suppose.

Whenever Christians read something like that, whether in print or online, we almost have to wonder if it’s worthwhile to even try to respond in faith, with kindness. After all, one has to stretch the imagination just to consider how many false assumptions an individual needs to buy into before arriving at a conclusion so obviously out of touch with reality – a reality that can easily be backed up with pornography sales figures, divorce statistics and childhood horror stories straight out of the local sex offender registry. Even if a reasoned response could help to peel away just one layer of falsehood, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that there will be several more stubborn layers underneath. So why bother, right? But then, 1 Peter 3:15 doesn’t let us off so easily.

So, for whatever it was worth, I replied to this woman’s column, only to find that her response to my response was a clear confirmation of an attitude that views reckless, sinful behavior as “liberating,” providing a richer, somehow fuller and more meaningful expression of female sexuality than was ever dreamed possible back in “the dark ages” when any of us actually cared about what God said.

What I find so very sad is that whenever anyone embarks on a “new adventure” apart from God’s clear commands, the exact opposite is true; we actually rob ourselves of the deepest, fullest expression of any good thing given to us by a loving, merciful God when we attempt to treat it as a commodity, a right, something we will manipulate to suit our own ends. In seeking to take any of God’s sacred gifts (sexuality, ethnicity, intellect, etc.) and use them for our own selfish ends, we invariably abuse and profane them. Sometimes, the tragic results of our sin, folly and rebellion don’t even need to wait for eternity to manifest themselves…we can be utterly ruined and debased right here and now, in this lifetime. Forget about eternity (just for the sake of argument); marital implosions, job loss, financial ruin, rapidly-declining health…all of these and more are readily available to us in the here and now.

Turns out I know a little something about this subject. Alcohol, another gift given by God to gladden the heart of man (Psalm 104:14-15), became a powerful, pitiless false god to me during my college years and stayed solidly planted on the throne of my heart until God – in His great mercy and compassion – freed me from this slave-like addiction in 1997. All praise and honor to Him and Him alone for this great, life-giving intervention! But of course…there was a ton of destruction sown along the path in the intervening 20 years. Some of that destruction I am still living out, today, in the here and now, and some of it I will never, ever escape…much as I would like to.

I think it’s vital to note that at no time in my youth did I ever once hoist a bottle of whiskey and think to myself “Gosh, this seems like something that I would do well to enslave myself to for about 20 years.” Quite the opposite, in fact; most people addicted to you-name-it will minimize the damage they are doing and expend much in the way of time and effort to convince you (and themselves!) that they “can quit” whenever they want to.

I am not an addictions expert, certainly, but I invite you to ask anyone who fits that category a few quick questions about long-term abusers. Odds are good that they will all tell you the same thing; at some point in the pursuit of satisfying the monkey on his or her back (whether it be sex, drugs, alcohol, fame, whatever), every addict runs full-on into The Merciless Law of Diminishing Returns. We can perhaps see this most easily when we look at the use of alcohol; a man of medium build who previously might have gotten drunk with “just” a six-pack of beer may very well, if he continues to drink regularly, soon find that he needs a six-pack “plus a half-pint bottle of schnapps.” Check in some time later, and now we’re up to a 12-pack plus shots. (It doesn’t work this way for everyone, of course, but neither do a few exceptions here and there invalidate the rule.)

Author Pamela Paul affirms the law of diminishing returns at work in her study of pornography when she notes that “With addicts, often, pornography crosses over to their real lives. They may start going to prostitutes, hanging out in strip clubs, meeting women from sex chat rooms. There were quite a few who found that their interest in adult pornography trickled down to an interest in looking at teens, and soon they found they were looking at child pornography.” (How Porn Destroys Lives)

Interestingly, a remarkably-similar expression of this truth can be found in Proverbs:

Proverbs 27:20 (NIV)
Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
and neither are the eyes of man.

So, perhaps not surprisingly, as I look at this opinion editor’s statement from a biblical viewpoint, I have to vehemently state that pornography is not a form of “empowerment” for women; it is a form of enslavement. While it may start out looking and feeling like sexual freedom, it inevitably pulls its participants – on both sides of the camera – deeper and deeper into addictive behavior patterns. Whether we are talking about sexual addiction, alcoholism or any other version of looking for satisfaction and meaning outside of Christ, the dynamic is exactly the same. “I go after more…yet it only makes me want more.” It is one of Satan’s most readily-observable cruelties that people who trade in their relationship with God to feed their monkeys get less and less out of the experience as time goes by.

What a stark contrast to a life given over to the Lordship of Jesus, Who only ever gives us more and more of what we really need, along with the joy we really seek – namely, Himself – and Who is pleased to do so even in response to the most lame, pathetic attempts to worship and honor Him (Isaiah 64:6).

And yet, it seems like we as a culture will do anything we can to “free” ourselves of the boundless love of Christ. We will pour billions of dollars a year into pornography. We will drink alcohol by the gallon to escape from the restless gaze of the One Who made us. We prefer to pass our days in front of a glowing television screen rather than discover what God Himself might have planned for our lives. We barely notice that former boundaries between what we once thought of as “decent” and “an abomination” are crashing down with ever-increasing speed and regularity, or that we are being steadily desensitized to ever-increasing efforts to devalue and abuse the most vulnerable in our midst.

Given that we decide to pursue true freedom in Christ (as opposed to the “freedom to self-destruct” that our culture relentlessly points to as “liberating” and epoch-making), what does that really “look like?” Probably the single best sketch I’ve ever seen of what true freedom looks like appears in the Book of Acts, specifically Acts 16:16-40, in which Paul and Silas have been stretched out on a rack for the crime of speaking out in Jesus’ name. Modern readers of this passage tend to blow right past the phrase “stretched out in the stocks,” which can conjure up cartoonish images that bear little resemblance to what is, after all, a painful form of torture. Even in the midst of this agonizing night, Paul and Silas were “free” to sing hymns and praise God, free to look past their deprivation and agony in this life, free to rest solely in the glories of God revealed in the face of Christ.

That’s the kind of freedom I hope to achieve one day. I am not there yet, not by any means. Heck, most days I am not even in the same ZIP code as this kind of freedom, and yet I have great cause to celebrate the rich mercies of Jesus in my own life simply by virtue of the fact that I now am clear on at least one thing: I will never, ever find final and lasting fulfillment anyplace outside of God’s will.

Lamentations 3:21-23 (ESV)
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

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