Over the past year, we have been working with some courageous men who have been willing to talk about their escape from pornography.
In a compelling video presentation of broken and restored lives, several men told their stories in an empty warehouse that provides a visual backdrop for the lonely, secret obsession that had been consuming them.
Later I met with a pastor and counselor to videotape another conversation in the same empty warehouse. Our discussion focused directly on what the men’s stories so powerfully illustrated.
My guess is that we all know how timely and urgent this battle is. In the past, sexually explicit material was available only in out-of-the-way places. Now, to our own loss, and to the harm of those we love, it is as accessible as e-mail spam and the Internet. In the privacy of our own homes or workplaces, anyone can now access images that used to be limited to low lights and out-of-the-way places.
Why is this happening to men who thought it could never happen to them? In part it is because all of us share the flesh of Elijah (James 5:17). We are all subject to feelings of loneliness and rejection. We all crave intimacy in relationships, and for too many today the thoughtless rush of pornography is providing an illusion of that intimacy.
A man might think he can cross sexual boundaries of the mind without getting caught. But secrets of the heart live close to everything else that is important to us (Proverbs 4:23).
Let’s remind ourselves why the alarm needs to be sounded and why we need to care for, rather than condemn, those who are trapped in their own burning building.
It is not just a men’s issue. While men are still the primary users of pornography, both men and women are hurt by it. Pornography hurts everyone. It sexualizes people and relationships and lessens our capacity to understand the real desire and need we all have to be respected and loved.
It consumes our capacity for intimacy. Seeing women as objects of self-centered pleasure dehumanizes them and blinds us to their personality. It blurs the image of God, which together we share. It preoccupies us in a cycle of self-absorbed pleasure, regret, shame, and concealment. The pride that makes us afraid to admit our own failures leaves us with a sense of self-contempt that fills us with ourselves, rather than with the interests, thoughts, feelings, and needs of others.
It sets up a God-substitute in our heart. It is impossible to keep a healthy focus on the Spirit of God and His Word while assuming that the rancid food of pornography is the bread we need and want. When full of ourselves and treating those made in the image of God as something to be used for our own pleasure, we are not under the influence of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
It defaces our own sanctuary. We would not think of defacing a house of worship. Yet choosing the God-substitute of pornography is like writing obscenities on church walls. Or in Old Testament terms, it’s like burning strange fire on the altar of the house of God. Today, our bodies are the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19) and our hearts are the altar. Images burned into the mind cannot be painted over. A man who is willing to risk his most important relationships for a few moments of pleasure diminishes his capacity for good and for God. Just as it did for our first parents, a wounded conscience prompts us to run from God rather than to Him.
It costs more than we think. Self-centered pleasure lasts for a moment. Memories and regrets can stalk us for a lifetime. Though our Lord is quick to forgive when we come to Him with honest hearts, His mercy does not automatically fix a damaged thought life nor patterns of self-deception.
Until quenched by the cleansing waters of God, the fire of pornography leaves us smoldering in our own self-absorption. It puts distance between ourselves and others. It robs us of our conscience before God and our transparency with others.
It requires more than a casual response. Those caught in the grip of pornography cannot fix the problem by simply turning over a new leaf or by renewing personal resolve. As with other forms of bondage, we need a sustained, thoughtful approach to the implications of our choices. We need to do whatever it takes to unmask the fear and wounded pride that is keeping us from seeking help. We need to thoughtfully look for the desires and thoughts of the Lord. Where is He? What is He saying? What is He feeling? What is He offering? What can He do to free us from this terrible enslavement?
Then we need to ask Him for the courage to look in the mirror, to see not only what we are doing to ourselves and others, but why we are doing it. We also need His help to admit that we need accountability. What appropriate admissions do we need to make to trustworthy people? What new paths for our minds do we need to blaze? What old haunts do we need to avoid like a pit of snakes?
Together with some of you who have already expressed your concern, my co-workers and I believe this is a problem that we all have a stake in. There is hope. But the solution requires life-changing honesty, the forgiveness and grace of God, and follow-through that does not minimize the roots and self-deception of an enslaving problem.
So can we pray together: Father in heaven, please let the winds and cleansing fire of Your Spirit rush once again not only through the lives and hearts of Your people but also through the hearts of the countless others who are being consumed by the sexual fires of pornography. —Mart De Haan