Drawing the Petting Line
'Surely there's room in the Christian faith to make your own decisions about things?' This was one of the many questions contained in the letter I quoted more fully in chapter five. The answer to that question is both 'Yes' and 'No'. Within the framework God has built for our protection there is a great deal of scope for personal decision-making. But where my wants conflict with God's clear commands, like 'You shall not commit adultery', 'Flee sexual immorality', 'Avoid lust', we have no bargaining power. As citizens of God's kingdom, expecting to enjoy all the privileges such citizenship affords, our duty is to obey. And I sometimes wonder what earthly king would accommodate the same degree of rebellion we mete out to God. In Alice-in-Wonderland terms, 'Off with his head' would have been the order of the day!
We saw in the last chapter that God's framework, sexually speaking, rules out pre-marital intercourse for the Christian. This still leaves some pressing problems for the couple in love: Then where do we draw the petting line? How do we control the sex urge? Why do we fail so frequently? What do we do about such frequent failures?
The petting line
A girl once asked me this question: 'If we can't go all the way, how far can we go? What is an appropriate expression of affection in these one-to-one relationships?'
Here is a very important question. You may be reading this chapter because you are searching for an answer to it for
yourself or for your friends. It is a question most Christian teachers shelve. I want to tackle it realistically, biblically and frankly. My frankness arises, not from a desire to titillate but to educate. It concerns me that, in the sex-saturated society in which we live, too many Christians are uninformed and compromise their behaviour standards through naivete.
What I plan to do is to draw a scale and place petting practices in some sort of order on it. We shall then examine some of these activities in detail and I shall try to help you to decide whether these should or should not find a place in your relationships. I am placing the responsibility on you (your choice, your decision) quite deliberately because, although I have said we need to tackle the question biblically, we need to be aware that the petting problem is a twentieth-century problem. The Bible does not address itself to it. One reason for this, as we observed in the preface, is that in the Holy Land, in the days when the Bible was written, marriages were arranged by the parents. A child of three years old might therefore be betrothed to a seemingly suitable partner whom she might not meet until her wedding night. The wedding would probably be solemnized when she was about twelve years old: before the age of puberty. And who wants to start petting before puberty? The Bible writers had no need, then, to address themselves to our sex problems.
In the absence of the specific teaching many of us long for, we must hang as the back-cloth to human reasoning the working definition of love we observed at the end of chapter five: Jesus' command to love your neighbour as yourself. We must also ask ourselves a pertinent question:
'Is my chief concern to live biblically or am I wanting to squeeze as much sexual licence as I possibly can out of a holy God?' Pause to put that question to yourself before you read on.
The sliding scale
I realize you cannot really draw an accurate slide-rule or ladder physical contact; that a warm hug on one occasion may be less erotic than the touch of a hand on another. But I
believe a visual aid might help our discussion even though it is an inadequate or, in some senses, an inaccurate one.
It might look something like:
Scale of touch 1
We have already observed that the Bible's teaching on the context of sexual intercourse implies that Bible-observing Christians will draw the line below genital intercourse. That is, they will exclude it from their pre-marital experience. The scale will therefore look like this:
Scale of touch 2
Thus far the position is clear, though perhaps not welcome to those who wish the Bible was not so definite. But what about the rest of the scale?
Most Bible-believing Christians accept that intercourse is God's wedding present for married couples, to be unpacked on the wedding night and enjoyed within the commitment of marriage. But what of oral sex?
Oral sex, as we have seen, takes place when a girl receives her boyfriend's penis into her mouth or when a man caresses his girlfriend's clitoris with his mouth and tongue. Prolonged oral stimulation of this nature can bring both partners to a climax. Technically, this is not full intercourse. Virginity is not lost. Is it then permissible or not?
When you are making up your mind on any course of action in the area of sexual relationships it is important to ask four pressing questions and to place them alongside the biblical principle I have already emphasized: love your neighbour as yourself. The first question to ask is, 'Is this practice dangerous in any way?' The second, 'Does it reflect the nature of Christian love?' Third, 'How does this behaviour, if I indulge in it, affect my spiritual life?' Fourth, 'Is this practice natural, that is, did God design us to make love in this way?' We must address ourselves to each of these questions in turn.
One of the dangers of oral sex is that VD of the throat may be contracted through this activity. Gonorrhea of the throat is a serious and horrid disease and it is on the increase in our society today. If there is even a vague possibility that this sexual activity will result in disease, is it truly loving to subject your partner to this kind of activity?
And what about the nature of Christian love? When Jesus told us to love one another in the same way he loves us, he expected us to take responsibility for those we say we love. We will therefore avoid inflicting hurt on them, refuse to put them at risk and avoid exposing them to danger. But when it comes to oral sex, I believe many men in particular, do behave selfishly. They demand a series of sex thrills from their partner which leaves the girl feeling frustrated, bewildered and even nauseated. This, surely, is not love but the antithesis of the kind of love Jesus is describing.
And the effect on your spiritual life must not be ignored. Several couples known to me believed this practice was harmless until they tried it. It quickly drove a wedge between themselves and God. To quote just one couple: 'We believe that oral sex was perfectly all right until we tried it. Then we were plagued with so much guilt that it fouled our relationship with God.'
Any practice which imperils your peace with God should be terminated. It will never be easy to backtrack if you have aroused one another in this way. It will therefore be necessary to talk frankly to your partner and to help one another to re-draw the boundaries of touch.
Christian opinion is divided when it comes to our fourth question, 'Is oral sex natural?' Not everyone will agree with John White's conclusion: 'Orogenital "climaxes" and penile-rectile "climaxes" are sub-normal sexual practices. Like masturbation they thwart the erotic culmination for which our bodies were designed, and therefore downgrade sexuality.'1 In fact, another Christian doctor gives contradicting advice to married couples: 'If both of you enjoy it (oral sex) and find it pleasant, then it may properly fit into your lovemaking practices.'2
When married couples ask my advice about oral sex I echo this second opinion. But I would not give this advice to couples in casual relationships. Surely such intimacies should be reserved for a deeply committed relationship. Surely, if there is even the slightest possibility of VD spreading to your partner through this practice, it should be avoided at all costs.
Mutual masturbation to orgasm
It often happens that two people who love each other agree to abstain from full genital intercourse but, while withholding the final act, the penetration of the vagina by the penis, they stimulate one another's sex organs with the hands until each partner is brought to a full orgasmic experience. Again, technically, intercourse has not taken place and the question is often asked: 'Is this practice permissible or deceitful?'
Again we must consider the dangers of this practice and
measure them against the 'Love your neighbour as yourself' principle. As I explained in my book Growing into Love,3 one danger is that a child can be conceived in this way even though the penis never fully penetrates the vagina. Two people indulging in this kind of love-play obviously lie very close and as they arouse one another they move even closer together, so close that sperm may be split into the entrance of the vagina. This sperm, though split accidentally, is sufficient to fertilize the female egg and thus to conceive a child.
The second danger attached to this practice proves the truth of the saying that sexual kicks have sexual kick-backs. Many couples suffer the deprivation of sexual frigidity after they marry because of this kind of activity in earlier years. The female grows accustomed to manual manipulation and dislikes the change to penile stimulation, and her reluctance to change annoys her husband; the male may be troubled by what is known as premature ejaculation because he has not learned the art of true lovemaking: making his partner happy sexually by waiting before releasing sperm and enjoying a climax for himself. Where this problem persists, the wife feels frustrated, even cheated.
Of course, I am not saying that all couples who practise mutual masturbation to orgasm will bring a child into the world, nor that all such couples will meet sexual adjustment problems after they are married. What I am saying is that very many people do suffer in this way and the question therefore needs to be posed: Is this responsible loving? Is it loving at all? Is it responsible? Isn't it a pharisaical keeping of the letter of the law while denying the spirit of it? I have discussed this further in Growing into Love, p. 87.
As Christians we owe it to one another not to scar others emotionally. This practice frequently does. As Christians we are exhorted to honour our parents. The degree of pain inflicted on parents by pregnancies of this nature is heartbreaking. As Christians we owe it to society not to bring children into the world if we are not ready to care for them and love them. Can this behaviour, therefore, be indulged in by Christians and leave them guilt-free? And, again, we must enquire what effect this genital excitation has on each individual's walk with God.
Each individual must decide for himself. But in my opinion, one-to-one relationships of the kind we are studying, which are formed without any probability of marriage, years away from the possibility of marriage, should push the boundary even further back so that the sliding scale begins to look like this:
Scale of touch 3
By heavy petting I mean the practice of slipping your hands inside a girl's dress to fondle her breasts; or undoing the zip of your boyfriend's trousers to fond his genitals; or stroking your girlfriend's things or genitalia. Heavy petting includes lying together in a state of undress from the waist upwards, or fully naked; lying side by side or on top of one another.
There is nothing wrong with these activities of themselves. They are delights designed by God for marriage where they are intended to result in intercourse, created to awaken the degree of sexual excitation which will eventually bring each partner to orgasm.
As Christian people we must be responsible people. As Christian people we must learn to make wise choices. As Christian people we must look ahead, not just at passing pleasures, but at their consequences. Anyone who has crosses the boundary between petting, by which I mean
fondling one another outside the clothes, and the heavy petting I have just described, will tell you, if they are honest, that the difference is phenomenal: it is not unlike the difference between grinding along in second gear and slipping into overdrive.
We need to acknowledge the cold, clinical fact of the matter that there is something about the naked flesh which brings to the surface the full force of sexual desire, the glandular urge we talked about in chapter two. As one girl described it to her boyfriend when his hands started wandering down her body: 'There's a tigress living inside me, and if you touch me there it will leap out at us.' She was right.
That tiger has to be tamed; not chained, nor mounted and ridden, but trained. Tiger-training becomes much more difficult with every new and exciting form of touch. That is why you may have to bring the boundaries back another notch:
Scale of touch 4
Genital intercourse is for marriage only.
Consider carefully the consequences of breaking into the question mark areas.
Think carefully about the effect of every expression of affection. Don't assume that any form of touch is necessary innocent for you.
By petting I mean fondling one another's breasts and genitals outside the clothes. I also mean any form of lying together. Included in petting comes prolonged kissing: any kiss which is more than a leisurely peck and particularly any kiss which involves that highly sensitive organ, the tongue.
What we have to recognize is that any form of petting is dynamite. As one young friend of mine admitted after kissing his girlfriend for the first time: 'It was fantastic. But it was frightening too. It brought to the surface such powerful feelings in me that I didn't even know were there. I know I'm going to have to cool it or I will lose control.'
I admire a young person who admits to that degree of pressure and adjusts the sexual sliding scale accordingly. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, the Bible does not set out a neat set of rules. 'Do not indulge in petting.' 'Do not kiss for more than thirty seconds.' 'Abstain from cuddling, caressing and holding hands.' The Bible does not even mention these fascinating phenomena for reasons I explained earlier.
In the absence of absolute guidelines, every Christian young person must take stock of the bare, biological facts: Holding hands quickly leads to embracing. Embracing leads to cuddling, caressing and kissing almost as quickly. This first, fairly innocent, phase passes automatically, yet imperceptibly, into the next: petting. Once the body is thus revved up, it wants to dictate the pace, to press on to pursue the delights of heavy petting. But by the time a couple indulges in heavy petting, chemical changes have taken place which make it exceedingly difficult for most people to stop short of intercourse.
For example, when a man fondles his girlfriend's breasts, her nipples swell and become highly sensitive to touch. At the same time a secretion of fluid lubricates her vagina so that her body is prepared for the act of intercourse. God did not create the female body with a convenient off-switch which could be applied at the height of sexual excitation.
Similarly, when a girl fondles her boyfriend's genitals, the penis become stiff and highly sensitive to touch. When
aroused by such erection, the male, no matter how sincerely he desires to go God's way, finds it extremely hard to say no to the full act of intercourse. Again, God seems not to have supplied the male body with a switch which can be flicked to 'off' when the pressure is on.
I have spelled out these cold, clinical facts, not to shock, but to educate. If we are to be adult and to make wise and loving choices we must know the facts, be aware of the dangers, heed the warnings and act accordingly.
Young people sometimes press me for an answer to the question, 'How far can we go?' I realize that if you are one of those people, if you are reading this chapter because you want me to decide for you where you should draw the petting line, you may well be feeling disappointed and frustrated by now. I hope, though, that you will accept that I cannot be your conscience.
On biblical authority I have the right to say to you that genital intercourse outside of the marriage is wrong. I have no biblical authority for dictating to you where you draw the petting line. What I do have is the responsibility, as an older Christian, not to leave you to muddle your way through your relationships with the opposite sex; the compassion to encourage you to think carefully about your use of touch.
While I was planning this chapter I was invited to speak to a certain Christian Union group. On my way to the meeting, I drove along a stretch of road which had been newly surfaced. Road signs warned drivers to restrict their speed to 20 mph. But several drivers speeded past me at 60 mph. I was not surprised, therefore, to find the roadside littered with fragments of shattered windscreens. In this chapter I have tried to point out the dangers. Whether or not you slow down is entirely up to you; but if you decide to accelerate, be aware of the possible consequences for you and your partner and your relationship with God.
Cooling the sex urge
But how do you slow down? How do you cool it? When the flame of passion begins to burn, how do you quench it? Where is the fire extinguisher? Or as one girl put it, 'What I'd like to know is how how do you channel your sexuality
into forging warm friendships? If you don't repress or suppress your genital desires, then surely they'll take over especially at certain stages of the menstrual cycle when you only have to touch your skin and your body tingles all over.'
In responding to this question I want us to look at certain provocative situations to avoid, certain substitutes which might replace excessive cuddling and certain disciplines which must be introduced if we are to master our sexual desires instead of being consumed by them.
As we observed in chapter two, any appetite grows when it is fed. The more you eat, the more you want to eat until you overeat unless you control your appetite. The same is true of the sex appetite. Yet Christians may develop, as others do, an inflated interest in sex. They may feast on plays, novels, girlie magazines, blue movies, pictures of pin-ups, and personal erotic fantasies. We are surrounded by people who are prepared to go on feeding our insatiable sex hunger. There is money in it. Paul's advice is this, 'Don't be beguiled'. Rather, feast on heavenly things while you deliberately deal the death-blow to the lust, the evil, the greed and the idolatry which incurs the wrath of God (see Colossians 3:2 and 5).
Of course, this reorientation will not come naturally nor without a struggle. But just as a diabetic knows that unless he changes his diet he will die, we, too, have to take the sex situation seriously. Unless we act ruthlessly and take ourselves in hand, placating the sex tiger will result in spiritual death for some of us. It is as serious as that.
Situations to avoid
But this reorientation is not simply a reorientation of the mind. It has to be accompanied by a radical change in behaviour. We know, for example, that provocative dress eggs people on, yet Christians (both male and female) sometimes wear jeans specially designed 'to make you sexy'; women wear perfume guaranteed to inflame the passion, see-through blouses which leave little to the imagination, skin-tight T-shirts and no bra, all of which attract attention to the curves so fascinating to the opposite sex. Such provocative
dress is not only unwise but unloving. It makes self-control difficult for one's partner and Christians in general.
Similarly, certain behaviour which pretends to be love-in-action is the antithesis of love. As we have seen, petting, and particularly heaving petting, produces the kind of sexual excitation where it is almost impossible to say 'No' to the full act of genital intercourse. Many, many Christian couples have compromised their own sex standards not because they set out to rebel against God, but because in their love-play they reached the point of no return and fell captive to erotic desire and passion. Many have done so in complete ignorance. I feel a deep burden for such couples. That is why I have tried to spell out the facts explicitly, calling a spade a spade in this way. Keep these facts before you. Know which are the highly sensitive, erogenous zones on your body: the breasts, the nipples, the thighs, the genitals, even the ear lobes! If your partner's hands stray on to these areas, push them away, tenderly but firmly. As Walter Trobisch so sensibly said, 'A slap on the fingers can be a greater proof of love than a French kiss.'4 And if your partner pushes that hand away, show them that you respect them by keeping the hand away. To inflict unwanted genital intimacy on anyone, or to charm another person to go further than they want to go, is not love, it is selfishness. It means you care more about yourself than your partner. Love never trespasses, never tries to take advantage of another, never tries to overpower another, or to borrow Len Barnett's phrase, never tries to 'storm the gate'. No. Real love is patient, kind, protective of the loved one's safety and well-being.
And real love recognizes the fact of the situation, that nakedness, near-nakedness and any form of undressing is in itself a powerful stimulus. It quickly brings couples to that point of no return I referred to earlier.
I am not saying be scared silly by these facts. Nor am I saying sweep them under the carpet as though they do not exist. I am not even saying sit on them. What I am saying is, recognize their powerful presence. Recognize that they are a God-given part of you. Resolve, not to be mastered by them, but to be good stewards of them.
Stewarding your sexuality
You can do this in three ways: by controlling your desires, disciplining them and replacing a glut of genital play with other activities. Let me explain what I mean.
The most successful disciplinarian among the schoolteachers who taught me at school was the smallest, quietest, most mouselike teacher in the school. She would often arrive to find our room in an uproar. Faced with the riot, she never seemed to panic. She certainly never shouted. She did use a foolproof method of class discipline. She would stand at her desk, peer at the rebellious class, sum up the situation and then whisper in her soft, prim voice, 'I want you all to stand by your desks and be quite silent.' We always fell for it. Because she spoke in a whisper, an insistent 'Shh! Shh!' would go round the classroom. To hear her was to obey her. And so we would stand, sheepish and still, beside our desks. Meanwhile she, like Little-Bo-Peep, would gaze at us with a hurt expression which seemed to say, 'How could you do this to me?' We would feel guilty. The hubbub would subside. Then she would smile her beautiful smile and say, 'Now sit down and take out your books.' As I say, we fell for it every time.
Our glandular urges, the biological tension which pulsates through our body, the sexual desire which surges through our minds and emotions threatening to devour our entire person, like a class of rowdy, rebellious teenagers, can be controlled and disciplined. We must not suppress them. We must not repress them, as I said earlier. We must acknowledge their presence and determine that, like my timid teacher, we will gain the upper hand.
We must do this because Jesus requires it of us and to love him is to obey him (John 14:15). We must do this because love can be hurt, even killed, by mis-directed sex. We must do this for our own well-being. The million dollar question is, 'How?'
One way is to follow Paul's advice to the Philippians. 'Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such
things' (Philippians 4:8). In other words, retune your minds. Tune out the distorted. Tune into the truth.
Genital love-play, as we have seen, is true and noble and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy and right in its God-given context, marriage. Because it is tarnished and trivialized and cheapened when snatched out of this context, we have to learn in our one-to-one pre-marital relationships, the art of focusing, not primarily on the physical expression of affection, but on the many other ingredients of the friendship which, it is to be hoped, exist alongside erotic desire. The clamour for genital intercourse is reduced as you determine to explore all the other avenues of your relationship: sport, music, Christian activities, poetry, reading, walking and so on. Concentrate on these and you find that a thousand strands of sharing bind you to one another in a rich relationship. Isolate the physical and over-indulge in it and, like eating too much Devonshire cream on a holiday, you will be sick: sick from it and sick of it.
As you refocus, as you determine to gain the mastery, a new sense of excitement creeps into the relationship. You even begin to enjoy that much-neglected art 'discipline'. After all, the discipline of waiting until marriage for the full, physical expression of love is not unlike the discipline of keeping your Christmas presents unopened until Christmas Day. You know your presents sit there, wrapped, on top of the wardrobe or under the Christmas tree. You long for a feel or a peep or shake. But you know that to let those parcels divulge their secret prematurely will spoil the unique magic of Christmas Day. Similarly, as Walter Trobisch so rightly says, those who unwrap God's wedding present of genital intercourse miss the 'beauty of the in-between, the pain of waiting and the joy of suspense, the suffering which made them so happy.'5 And as Richard Foster reminds us, 'Discipline brings freedom.'6
The role of the will
The key to victory is the will. When I pointed this out to the girl who asked the question I quoted at the beginning of this section, 'How do you channel your sexuality into forging warm friendships?', her face brightened, her eyes sparkled
and she replied, 'Yes. It is possible, isn't it? I mean, you can discipline yourself. It all depends on the will. Perhaps that's where the elusive off-switch hides in the will.'
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom underlines the vital role played by the will:
We must be prepared to do God's will and pay the cost .... We see that we cannot partake deeply of the life of God unless we change profoundly. It is therefore essential that we should go to God in order that he should transform and change us... But it is not a change of mind alone that we call conversion. We can change our minds and go no farther; what must follow is an act of the will and unless our will comes into motion and is redirected Godwards, there is no conversion; at most there is only an incipient, still dormant and inactive change in us....
Nor does conversion end there: it must lead us farther in the process of making us different. Conversion begins but it never ends. It is an increasing process in which we gradually become more and more what we should be.7
With an act of the will, then, we must place the hard clay of our rebellious will into the hands of the Creator and beg him to remould us. To change the metaphor, we must constantly bring our lives into alignment with the will of the Father, or more accurately, ask God to bring our wills into alignment with his. Prayer must become the Alignment Centre. Prayer must be the place where we sweat out the fearsome battle Jesus fought in his temptation in the wilderness. Prayer must become the place where, like Jesus, we make our choice: to live a life centered around number one, gratifying self no matter who gets hurt or deprived, or to deny ourselves the delights of self-gratification so that we fulfil the law of the King.
To align ourselves to the King cannot happen without a struggle. It can be done by struggling, by co-operating with the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of God.
What we must do with these sexual appetites is similar to what we do when we fast from food. You plan a thirty-six-hour fast. At
eight o'clock the first morning, your appetite tells you it is time for breakfast. You do not repress the desire by pretending you are not hungry. You look at the clock, admit to your stomach that normally you do eat at this time, but you tell your stomach that today will be different. You are not eating toast for breakfast: simply drinking water. At one o'clock the situation repeats itself. That insistent little voice called appetite knocks on the door of your awareness to remind you it is dinner time. 'So it is,' you reply, gently, with appreciation. 'But today, we're not having the normal fare: just a glass of water.' At six o'clock, appetite, the faithful clockwatcher, visits your awareness again. 'Remember what I said?' you reply. 'We're not eating for another twelve hours. Let's have a glass of water.'
The first time you fast, you wonder whether you and appetite can keep up the contest. The second time you fast, it becomes easier. After that, the routine becomes an adventure. You know you can do it. You know that you are not in bondage to food or appetite. You know that by the grace of God, you are in control.
The way to treat the appetite of sex is not dissimilar. Listen to its clamour. Recognize your need. Admit that these urges are not someone else's problems but yours. Then take the emotions in hand. Treat them like rowdy children. Discover the inner freedom which really does come from discipline.
You will not discover it until you try it.
Why do we fail?
'Then why do I fail so consistently?' I can almost hear my readers ask that question. I have a letter on the desk beside me asking just that question. I have a young couple coming to see me this week puzzled by that same question, crushed by persistent failure.
There are so many reasons. There's space here to mention only three: bondage to the world's view, bondage to self, bondage to the robot mentality.
Bondage to the world's view
Many of us despite what I have written, despite what we believe in our heads, are gripped at gut level by the world's view of sex: love each other and do what you like. In his excellent little booklet, Love is a Feeling to be Learned, Walter Trobisch shows how subtly this belief worms its way into our lives:
During the time of Hitler, a film was shown in Germany which told the story of a doctor whose wife had an incurable disease. In detail the film showed how she was tormented by her sickness until her husband killed her with an overdose of sedatives. When he was put on trial for murder, he defended himself by saying: 'I loved my wife.'
Here, God's commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill' was questioned in the name of love.
The film was shown in 1940 and was used by Hitler as a psychological preparation for the killing of the incurable and insane, for exterminating life which he judged unworthy of living. The end was the assassination of six million Jews in the gas chambers of the concentration camps.
Walter Trobisch concludes, and I agree with him,
If we seek to set up the standard of love ourselves, we fall into the hands of the devil. When Germany questioned the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' in the name of love, she fell into the hands of the devil. When we question today the commandment 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' in the name of love we fall equally into the hands of the devil.'
Since we do not know what love is, love has to be protected by the One who is love himself. There is never a contradiction between love and divine will. There is no action of love which goes against a commandment of God.8
When we disobey the King, as Adam found centuries ago, we give Satan a foothold in our lives. He wreaks havoc now as he did then. What we must do, therefore, is to renounce the
devil with all his lies and his ways, seek to be cut free from this bondage and determine to live differently.
Bondage to self
The second reason why we may fail is that each of us was born with a bias to pleasing self and with an equally powerful bias against pleasing God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that, 'When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.' Yes. The self has to die but the self is slow to die. Like the proverbial cat, it seems to have nine lives. We think we have put lust to death one day and the next it proves to us that it is alive and well, as troublesome as ever.
Where the determination to live for self is born of rebellion against God, 'I am going to make my own decisions no matter what God says', we need to confess and be cut free from this self-seeking attitude. But it sometimes happens that this search for genital love is born, not so much from rebellion as from deprivation of love in the past or the present. Where sexual immorality springs from deep-seated need, it is healing which is required as well as confession. We shall examine this deprivation of love in more detail in the chapters on homosexuality and on loneliness.
Bondage of the robot mentality
A third reason why Christian couples sometimes push over the boundaries they themselves have built round their genital expression of affection is that they expect God to do what they themselves must learn to do: discipline their thoughts, discipline the wandering fingers, discipline the runaway emotions. One young man I know complains regularly about God in the context of sex: 'I've trusted him with my life. Then why does he allow me to be so wayward?' But this young man puts himself in situations where he knows full well temptation will gain the mastery over his wobbly will. This young man feasts on pictures and thoughts he knows full well will feed his moral weakness. Why, then, blame God? God is not going to padlock our feet, handcuff our hands or clap our wild imagination into prison. No. We are not God's robots, nor
are we puppets on God's string. We are adults. Free. Free to make good choices. Free to disobey.
When we fail
And if we disobey, if we fail, what then? Recollections of praying with young people tormented by sexual misdemeanors of the past and present are among my most treasured memories as I reflect on my counselling ministry. The good news which I want to shout from the roof tops, which I have already emphasized in my book Growing into Love, is that sexual sin is not the unforgivable sin.
Nevertheless, sexual sin is a grievous sin. As Paul puts it in his pastoral letter to the Corinthians: 'All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his body' (1 Corinthians 6:18). But it is deeper even than that. As we noted earlier, sexual sin sinks in deeply. As one girl put it to me once: 'It's the memories that keep cropping up, the dreams, the guilt. I just can't forgive myself even though it all happened years ago.' There are ways out of this predicament. Because they have relevance to later chapters also, I have placed them in a chapter of their own at the end of this book. Turn to it when you need to. Use it. Let it be one of the ways God transforms you into the likeness of his amazing Son.
Notes for chapter six
1. John White, Eros Defiled (IVP, 1977), p. 25.
2. Ed and Gaye Wheat, Intended for Pleasure (Scripture Union, 1977), p. 76.
3. Joyce Huggett, Growing into Love (IVP, 1982), p. 87.
4. Walter Trobisch, Love is a feeling to be learned (IVP, 1974), p. 25.
5. Love is a feeling..., p. 17.
6. Richard Foster, Celebration of Disciplines (Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), p. 45.
7. Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer (Libra, 1973), pp. 64 - 66.
8. Walter Trobisch, Love is a feeling ..., p. 21.
Chapter Seven || Table of Contents