Please remember from last week that sexual lust is only one form of lust.
I’m about to quote from C.S. Lewis again. Why do I turn to him so often? Because I think he says things better, more simply, more understandably than most other writers. Because his teaching was aimed at ordinary folks while much Orthodox writing, especially on this subject, is by monastics for monastics. I think Lewis was about as orthodox as one could be without actually being Orthodox. I’m told that Father Thomas Hopko (+ memory eternal), who was Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, occasionally called him “Our Holy Father C.S. Lewis”!
Lewis said that either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct has gone wrong. He thought it self-evident that our desire for sex has become excessive. His evidence? the biological purpose of sex is to procreate the race, but a healthy young man, if he indulged his desires as much as he wanted, might populate an entire village. (!) Lewis wrote that if one attended a certain kind of theater (today it would be on the internet) where something was progressively unveiled and in the end it turned out to be a pork roast or some such thing, we would conclude that something had gone very wrong with our appetite for food. Just so with sex.
Lewis wrote (this was in the 1940s): “They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has… been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess… I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess.” Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 5
Now seventy more years have passed, and our culture is saturated with sex. With what results? About 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock, causing an ever-increasing number of children to live in poverty. We have more sexual disorders, rampant sexual diseases, more adultery, more broken families, a flourishing pornography industry, more sexual mistreatment of women, and men, too, millions of abortions with the accompanying devaluing of human life, and a great coarsening of our culture. Little children today are exposed to things, in the media and even from the very highest levels in government, that I never heard in my high school locker room.
In recent times, only in regard to sex have many people pretended that if it feels good, it’s ok to do it. What if we applied that principle to excessive drinking or wife beating or thievery?
Was Lewis right? See for yourself.
Today anyone who advocates Christian sexual morality is made to feel like a fool, is called a prude or homophobic or (worst of all) “judgmental”. No! We are not judging people. That’s forbidden by the Lord. Nor should we be embarrassed or prudish about sex, as the Victorians presumably were. But we do judge sins and the dreadful effect they have on people. We Christians need to stand firm and say: Sorry, modern world. Sorry, TV. Sorry, movies. Sorry, pornography industry. Sorry, prominent politicians. Sorry, Presidents of the United States. Sorry, even some Christian denominations. Sex outside the bonds of marriage is a deadly sin.
However, this needs to be kept in perspective. The modern attack on normal Christian sexual morality has been so extreme that it has led some Christians in reaction to assert that sexual sins are the worst sins. That is not so. Because sexual sins, like excessive drinking or dependence on drugs, are hard to hide, they are more often repented of. Sinners and prostitutes repented and turned to Jesus. The proud pharisees did not. Let me quote C.S. Lewis again: “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures in the world are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and playing spoilsport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power and of hatred… That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 5
How to get Lust under control
– whether for addictive substances or for power and control or for disordered sex. At the beginning “just say no” is good advice. If you fix it in your mind that you will not even consider adultery or drugs or whatever, you’re probably safe. But once you enter into dialog with the temptation it’s usually all over, or soon will be. Saint John of the Ladder said we can’t defeat the demons by arguing with them. They’re stronger than we are. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 15 That is why to fight the lust, we must change our desires.
Regarding sexual lust, Jesus went to the core of it: “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 If you are already regularly drinking or being bossy or fornicating, just trying by force of will to control your actions will not work, at least not for long – or if it does, you will become proud of yourself and even more of a target for the devil. It’s the heart, the inner self, the mind and spirit and desire that need to change. Unless we do that, the temptation, the lust will just keep coming back. The way to eliminate the symptoms is to be cured of the disease.
That means you need outside help.
First, you need to turn to God. Only God is stronger than the devil. In the Gospels, it is Christ our God who has power to cast out demons. No one else can do so except by his power. That is why even secular alcoholics use the 12-step program in which they turn themselves over to a “higher power”. (Of course, we Christians need to make sure that the “higher power” is the true God – for there are other powers, other “gods”.)
What is required if you really want to control your demons is to let the power of God into your life: much prayer, regular examination of conscience, Anointing, repentance, frequent use of the sacrament of Confession, frequent Communion, and the fellowship of healthy-minded Christian people. Be sure to turn to your patron saint. He or she can hardly wait to help you. And your guardian angel, too.
Self-diagnosis and self-help programs can be very dangerous. As Saint John of the Ladder says, “when dealing with sin, one man’s medicine is another man’s poison”. So find yourself a good spiritual counsellor, a competent person who can guide you, a skilled doctor of the soul who can give you the right prescription. In the case of addiction, you also need the services of a medical doctor and a professional counselor and perhaps a support group.
And then you need patience. The ingrained bad habit of giving in to the demon can take a long time to get under control. Often the only gift that comes from Confession and Absolution is the grace not to give up when you fall again. When the time is right, it is not impossible that God may give you the victory: the lust will be driven out, and the demon will be gone. God can do that. I have seen it happen. I knew a man with a serious long-term alcohol problem: then one morning as he received Holy Communion, God took the desire for drink away from him, and it never came back. But that is rare. Don’t count on it – not in this life.
This is very hard. If lust for something is our great temptation, we must be prepared for lifelong vigilance, a never-ending battle for the rest of our lives. Well, except for sexual lust, which as we get older God inexplicably and mercifully takes away. There’s the old song sung by Maurice Chevalier, the French ladies’ man: “I’m glad I’m not young any more!” (Oh, I don’t really need to include it here, but it’s charming. I’ll take no offense if you ignore it.)
The other temptations certainly do continue as we age, and if we’re not careful can easily increase. But if we keep trying – if we repent when we fall and never give up – we have the promise of a Kingdom where we will finally be free: “there shall be no more…sorrow nor crying [nor] pain, for the former things have passed away”. Revelation 21:4