Rethinking Lust

About five years ago, I found myself in the audience at a marriage retreat put on by our church. To be completely honest, I have never enjoyed marriage retreats- they seem to ignite in me an overwhelming sense of failure and hopelessness. However, that’s beside the point I want to make here! We entered the meeting room and the presenters sat side by side up on the platform, the wife smiling and looking adoringly at her husband. The topic was the beauty of marital sex. When the woman stood to address the crowd, she began to admonish wives to satisfy their husband’s lusts as a safeguard against their use of pornography and extramarital affairs. My eyebrows raised, my internal alarms began sounding and anger welled up inside of me. Later, after the session, a 20 Something couple approached me. The young man insightfully remarked, “I think I’ve just been called an animal by the retreat speaker! I’m offended!” In a moment, I was given words to verbalize my revulsion to this very common message to wives in Christian contexts.

Let’s go back into the book of Genesis. The story of the beginnings of the human person has been so helpful in our discovery of God’s design of the human person thus far in our blogs and podcasts. Jesus Himself pointed His questioners back to this same account in seeking to correct faulty views of marriage. In Genesis 1 and 2, we see the first two human persons, a beautiful reflection of God’s image, walking and talking together with Him in an idyllic setting. In the teaching of Theology of the Body, we learn that there was no threat to the dignity and value of the other as a human person. They desired nothing but to love as God loves and they imaged God together, experiencing a life of giving and receiving and returning love to one another. They were naked and not ashamed.


In Genesis 3, a disruption of this loving relationship occurs when the serpent approaches them, offering an alternative to this way of living. He implied that God certainly was withholding the BEST life from them and proposed that they GRASP for themselves that which could REALLY satisfy their desires. The result of this grasping was disordered relationships. Blame, shame and suspicion entered into the picture and they hid from God and each other. They now knew that this self-inflicted brokenness opened the door for them to become victims or perpetrators of use and abuse. They covered their nakedness for protection from one another. Lust had entered into our human experience at this moment.

I did some research on the current Christian cultural understanding of the word “lust”. The definitions were all over the map and resulted in a variety of conclusions about our attitudes toward it. So, for the purpose of our discussion, I am going to draw a relationship between Pope John Paul’s personalistic norm and lust. The personalistic norm states: “The person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” Lust and the God kind of self-giving, self-sacrificing love cannot coexist. There are no exceptions. We do not lay aside our call to image God’s love in order to experience intimate marital relations. The second piece of the personalistic norm describes lust. “The person cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.” Using another human person (or even using our own body-selves) to satisfy our appetites is called lust and is a deep offense to love.

I find that men and some women, have a hard time with this message. It is extremely difficult to imagine a life without lust, even in the context of marriage and relations with one’s spouse. I sincerely believe that this is a result of our acceptance of lust as a natural part of the male life experience. Some would go so far as to say that God created men to be lustful. Our generally accepted solution for this inevitability in life is for men to marry and wives to do whatever it takes to satisfy their lusts. I would propose that every woman (and some men) are offended by this “solution” at some level and much damage has ensued.

This is not the only problem we’ve created for ourselves as we’ve unthinkingly accepted this thought that lust cannot be avoided. If this is true, then the only solution is marriage. Where does this leave our single and same sex attracted friends whom we encourage to remain celibate?

What do I propose? CS Lewis in Mere Christianity states, “Love is the great conqueror of lust.” Christopher West explains the Pope’s teaching in Theology of the Body Explained: “To gain a true victory over lust, John Paul says that purity must mature from the negative turning away, to the more positive recognition and assertion of the real beauty, dignity and value of the body and sex. This can only happen through the concerted effort, in this case of the man, guided by grace, to see the woman’s personhood revealed through her feminine body. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, such “seeing” becomes not only a concept accepted by the mind but a living reality “felt” by the heart….. (this happens) not perfectly in this life, but more and more effectively as we allow all of our diseased ways of thinking about the body and sexuality to be crucified with Christ.” We must learn to see each other, even those we catch a glimpse of on the street, with God’s eyes and love each other with His love!

What if we taught our children that they are not animals? What if we could be enabled to teach them to see and love the person revealed through the human body? What if we actually taught and trained our children from a young age that every human person is a person of value and worth and that the only adequate attitude toward each one is love? What if we insisted that lust is never an appropriate attitude toward a human person? And what if we taught them the way to REALLY love?

Our next set of blogs will be excerpts of THE conversation Workshop Session 5: The Way To Really Love. We have some great resources in our kids’ curriculum to help you begin to teach these life changing concepts to the children in your lives. We also have a podcast that addresses this same topic and gives practical suggestions for teaching and training the kids in our lives! Stay tuned for more help!