Legalism and Porn

legalismpornPornography is an epidemic, not just in the world but in the church too. 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women admit to looking at porn once a month. 51% of pastors say that they struggle with pornography. These are sad and depressing statistics. A startling statistic, however, came across my desk recently: hyper-fundamentalists are 32% more likely to have a porn problem than their Evangelical counterpart. The reason for this statistical jump is owing, I believe, to the relationship between porn and anger.

Counselors have long noted a correlation between porn consumption and anger. Because of the selfish nature of porn consumption, the suppressed guilt, and the fear of exposure, long-term consumers of porn are often easily agitated and annoyed, generally on edge. Two common motivations in the heart of a man addicted to porn are revenge and bitterness. A husband who feeds his own selfishness may become frustrated when his spouse rebuffs his sexual advances. With enough self-focus he may become angry and bitter towards his spouse and resort to porn not simply to feed his sexual desires, but to “teach her a lesson.” It is not, of course his spouse’s fault. It is perfectly normal and within a woman’s right to say that she does not want to have sex at any given time. Yet her husband, so consumed with his own wants and desires, will use her lack of interest as an excuse to indulge. He will justify his sin by feelings of revenge.

In other cases bitterness wells up within the heart of a man or woman. Brad Hambrick helpfully clarifies this motivation. He writes:

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin has become our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.  (False Love, 36)

The idea behind both motivations is that anger feeds the use of and indulgence in pornography. But anger towards others, even a spouse, is often really, at its root, anger at God. It is frustration that God did not give you the spouse you wanted, the sex life you wanted, or really anything.

David Powlison recounts a specific case in which this issue came to the surface. Tom had struggled with porn since he was a teenager. Every Friday night in particular his temptations would sky-rocket and he would give into sin. When pressed about this he confessed, “It’s my temper tantrum with God.” As he sat at home on these nights thinking about all his friends out on dates Tom would become bitter and resentful. “I feel sorry for myself,” he says. “I get angry at God because I think he owes me a wife.” Powlison concludes:

I thought his big struggle was with pornography, but all of the sudden he was talking about anger at God!…Tom was a legalist. He believed that when he tried to be a good Christian God owed him goodies (such as a wife), and when he did something wrong he despaired. (Breaking Pornography Addiction)

Legalism leads to anger at God, which can move people towards pornography as an outlet for revenge.

Legalism is dangerous on so many levels. The belief colors our perception of God by suggesting that if we follow all the rules perfectly than God will owe us later. We can earn God’s blessings by keeping His rules. There is of course some truth to legalism, which is why it can be so insidious. There is a sense in which obedience matters and makes a difference in our lives. The problem is that we assume obedience some how puts God in our debt and guarantees specific desires. This inevitably leads to disappointment in the heart of the legalist. God does not give us everything we want because He wants what is better for us. He does not give us every simple vain desire (James 4:3). He sees a bigger picture and may intentionally refuse to give us what we ask. If, however, our view of God is a contractual view then we will certainly feel cheated, and some may turn to porn for comfort and revenge. “If God isn’t going to keep His end of the deal,” we may think, “then I am not going to keep mine either.” In such moments we feel that we have a “right to be angry toward God and a right to take revenge: a right to porn” (Tim Chester, Closing the Window, 56).

Legalism can drive many men towards porn. Disappointment with God temps us all with bitterness and porn is a way of nursing our wounds, of throwing our own “temper tantrum.” The Gospel can set us free from such motivations and eventually from porn itself. Tim Chester explores this freedom beautifully in his book Closing the Window. He writes:

Do you think of yourself as a slave of god? Then no wonder you turn to porn in anger to get what you think you deserve. But we’re not God’s slaves. We’re his sons and daughters. If God doesn’t give us the partner or the sex or the success we long for, it’s because he knows best because he has a bigger agenda, because he’s making us like his Son, because he wants us to long for the real treasure of knowing him. Marriage or sex or success has become an idol in our hearts. When we can’t have it, we feel bitter toward God, because it matters more to us than God. God is prying our fingers away from it so we can grasp hold of him and the greater treasure that is already ours in Christ. you may not have a spouse or great sex or success for a lot of other things. But you do have the living God. (56)

God gives us more than we deserve in Christ. We deserve hell, we get grace. Our bitterness and revenge are misplaced with God. Getting to this root and working through this motivation is vital to fighting the temptation to look at porn. Legalism may lead to porn, grace will lead to freedom!

There may be lots of reasons why hyper-fundamentalists are 40% more likely to struggle with porn – perhaps they feel less free to confess and seek help. One possible reason is that legalism often drives us to be angry with God and porn and anger often go together. There are many things that need to be involved in a person’s life as they seek to be free from this besetting sin, but exploring this potential motivation is an important first step towards recovery.

Comments

  1. shepherdatheart says:

    Great encapsulation of an epidemic in American Living, and revelation of the hope we as Christians truly have, if we will allow ourselves to fall on the Rock. Our culture is so steeped in love of self, that we hardly know what love is, apart from our self-centered focus to feel good. “What will bring me “satisfaction”? “What will make me feel happy?” “I love you because you make me feel good all over.” “I love the feeling I get”. No wonder anger reins over our selfishness.

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