Self-Sacrifice with Self-Respect

It goes without saying that self-sacrifice is inherent in being a Christian in this life. Jesus Christ, of course, was the ultimate sacrifice–becoming obedient to the point of death and giving his own life as a ransom for the entire world. And Christians are repeatedly instructed to follow his example. Jesus taught us, “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” and “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” His apostles were no different. In his first epistle, John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Likewise, Paul instructed husbands, “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Sacrificial love always accompanies Christian faith.

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as pathological self-sacrifice, and it is by no means Christian.

I was reminded of this fact by an objection to my recent case for a religious exemption to the vaccine mandates. In short, I argued that any head of household would be violating both the 4th and 5th Commandments if he were to administer a vaccine which he believed to be harmful to anyone in his family–including himself. It was those last two words, “including himself,” which triggered the objection:

This could certainly be valid if a mandate requires one’s spouse, children or parents to be vaccinated. Under the current situation in the USA, however, it does not apply as the mandate only applies to the worker himself. The 4th and 5th commandments are not commandments to self-preservation. For example the command to “provide for anyone in his household” does not include himself.

It’s a misunderstanding of vocation, of course. It would be like contending that when a king rides into battle, he must bear neither shield nor sword because his arms are given to him only for the sake of protecting his people, not himself. No, the king is part of his own people whom he must protect. Likewise, the head of a household is a part of that very household–an invaluable part at that. And if he were not responsible for himself as well as his family, Paul could never have written that if a man does not work, neither should he eat.

The 5th Commandment likewise forbids self-harm just as much as it forbids harming others. This is why suicide has always been considered a sin. If the Law does not protect ourselves as much as it protects others, then Jesus could never have summarized that Law as “love our neighbor as yourself.”

Scripture dwells more on self-sacrifice than it does on self-preservation because the latter is what humans generally need to be reminded of the least. Not only does fallen nature make a habit of looking out of number one above all else, in most times and places throughout history, survival was by no means a foregone conclusion, and so failing to take care of oneself would have become very problematic very quickly.

That’s not the case in America. We don’t do much subsistence living here, and so survival is pretty much taken for granted. Our culture is affluent enough that many people can live without taking responsibility for themselves. In such an environment, it’s easy to overlook what the Bible takes for granted and abandon self-respect in our pursuit of self-denial. Accordingly, we often try to seize martyrdom for ourselves rather than submitting to the work which God has given us to do.

This same dynamic was present in some monasteries–another peculiar kind of environment. Mortification of the flesh is supposed to be a deliberate denial of our sinful nature (for example, by fasting to remind ourselves that man does not live by bread alone). In some places, that transformed into a deliberate denial of our human nature (for example, by self-flagellation to “prove” to themselves that their God-given bodies didn’t matter).

Many American Christians can be found self-flagellating as well. We teach men to despise their own masculinity. We teach husbands to despise their own authority. We teach everyone to despise their own nation.  We do this despite all these things being gifts from God. So when the Spirit of the Age comes along to strongarm us into putting on a mask or taking the jab despite our own good judgment, we think we must despise ourselves and be subject to the abuse for Christ’s sake.

But in submitting so such things, we are not mortifying our flesh or denying ourselves, but rather denying our God-given vocations.

Respect means to treat something as though it is what it is. You respect an authority by obeying it. You respect a boundary by not crossing it. Self-respect therefore means treating ourselves as though we are what we are. So what are we?

We are sinners, certainly. That’s why we respect ourselves by seeking forgiveness in Word and Sacrament and by disciplining our appetites. But that’s only what we have made ourselves. There’s also the matter of what God has made us.

God has made us saints, citizens of His Kingdom, and His beloved children. Accordingly, we treat ourselves as His people rather than the devil’s. That means we pursue the Kingdom of God and His righteousness above all else.

God has also called us to certain offices in this life. Self-respect means we uphold those offices. A father, for example, must treat himself as though he were actually a father. Among other things, that means he knows he is entitled to honor and obedience from his wife and children, and so he teaches said wife and children to offer it. There are, of course, good ways and bad ways of teaching this, but altogether refusing to do so because he feels he is not worthy of such obedience is not a mark of humility–it’s a denial of what God has made him.

Likewise, when someone in authority knocks on his door to demand that he submit or else they’ll try to destroy his livelihood and subject his children to poverty, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he must submit. He is responsible for caring for them, yes–even to the point of sacrificing himself. Even so, he is their invaluable head; he must never allow his family’s head to be cut off as though it were of no consequence. He is more than a consumable resource for his family, and so he must treat himself as such for that sake of his God-given responsibilities.

In the same way, when his neighbors–even his brothers and sisters in Christ–demand that he sacrifice himself for them or else be branded “selfish” or “unloving”, he need not necessarily submit. He is called to live sacrificially, but a sacrifice is meaningful only when something of value is both given up and received. If his neighbors are not treating him as something of value–if they treat his sacrifice as a matter of entitlement or as a thing taken for granted–then he may be under no such obligation unless it is God Himself who has given it to him.

We must bear our crosses in this life. That means that we must often give up things we would rather hold onto; this much is certain. But crosses are what God imposes on us; not what others impose on us or what we impose on ourselves. So when we are being coerced into harming themselves, the cross may not be in submitting to that harm. The cross may be the far more difficult task of resisting such people and suffering the consequences. And even if it is your family that they are holding hostage, sometimes if is precisely for your family’s sake that you must refuse and trust in God.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Family, Musings, The Modern Church | Leave a comment

A Call to Repentance from Australia

The entire Covid situation has presented everyone with a lot of hard questions.  But Christians should often be asking more and different questions than the world asks. I received a great document written by Rev. Dr.  Michael Lockwood of the Lutheran Church of Australia and medical practitioner Dr. Ian Hamer that asks some pertinent ones.  Here are a few:

Have we honoured our God as the one who will save lives and end this crisis, or have we bought into the narrative that it is human beings who will do these things?

Have we given glory to Christ as the Bread of Life, who alone has conquered death? Or have we acted as if human measures to stave off death are more vital?

Have our human attempts to engineer the outcomes we want led us to set aside the commandments of God? Have we prioritised human commands over those of God or made other moral and spiritual compromises, while assuring ourselves that the ends justify the means? Or have we instead focused on doing what God tells us to do, while leaving the results to him?

Do our actions show that we are afraid?

The Lutheran rationale for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates I posted the other day examined the question of vaccination in light of the 4th and 5th Commandments–considering the demands of our vocations and our responsibility to care for the bodily needs of our households.  But there’s no reason to stop at those two.  Lockwood and Hamer walk through all ten of them and consider some of the implications of how we have reacted to this pandemic.  The results are convicting.

I encourage you to download and read the entire document, “A Call to Repentance and Faith” here.

 

Posted in Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, Theology | Leave a comment

A Lutheran Case for Religious Exemption

Religious exemptions aren’t the long-term solution to the tyrannical vaccine mandates, but for some families, they may be what keeps a roof overhead and food on the table in the short-term. I’ve been frustrated that the LCMS has thus far failed to offer much in the way of guidance or support while her people are at risk from various government and corporate institutions who are threatening their livelihoods and families. James 2 certainly comes to mind: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I suspect we will soon have many Lutheran families who would be helped by a specifically Lutheran explanation for how our faith disposes our consciences against vaccinating ourselves and our households. I’ve seen Christians in various traditions putting together documents to help the faithful maintain their livelihoods–something for which we should be grateful.  However, I have yet to encounter a specifically Lutheran rationale explained.

The following is a beginning towards that goal. It’s not the only objection a Lutheran’s faith may have imposed on him, and it’s by no means the only one on my mind (the role of abortion in these vaccines, for example, is abominable).  It is, however, the one closest to my own conscience. It is my hope that our pastors and overseers will willingly uses this and other rationales in religious exemption letters for the flock God has entrusted to him.

Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession states:

The Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family. The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than man.

A Lutheran ought to love and obey the authorities which God has placed over us. But the state is not the only civil authority which God has established, for the Lutheran Confessions recognize the family alongside the state. The Gospel requires us to preserve both and it is necessary to be obedient to both. Our only exception is when such an authority commands us to sin.

It is precisely such a command to sin which I and many other Lutherans find in this attempt to mandate vaccinations against Covid-19 and its variants both for themselves and for their families.

Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that we are all called by God to certain offices or vocations in this life. We have therefore been given a moral obligation to fulfill them to the best of our ability. In fulfilling them, we are not robots or automatons following a script. Rather, In the course of these vocations, we must each exercise our best judgment with the wisdom God has given us.

Nevertheless, we remain accountable to our Lord from beginning to end for our actions. As Martin Luther himself found in exercising his own vocation as a Doctor of the Church, our consciences are bound to the Word of God. When he rejected the demands of many of the civil and religious authorities of his own day, he did not do so on his own account. Rather, he knew that he must obey the calling and commandments of Jesus Christ over and against any other authority. No Lutheran has any less of an obligation in the fulfilment of his own vocations.

Consider, therefore, the following Commandments our Lord & God has given us in Holy Scripture:

Thou Shalt not Murder

Our Confessions explain this commandment thusly: “We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” (SC I 5)  What’s more, whenever we speak of loving the neighbors God has given us, the same rules naturally apply to ourselves as well, for our Lord said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Accordingly, this commandment pertains not only to the harm of others, but also to the harm of self.  We must highly regard the lives of everyone we encounter, but our own lives and those of our families remain our responsibility.

Therefore, each head of household must judge for himself whether or not his actions will support his household’s needs or cause bodily harm. Though it is impossible to altogether avoid such harm in this life, our responsibility requires us to weigh potential harm against potential benefit in the decisions we make.

Like all medical treatments, Covid vaccines bear both specific benefits as well as certain risks. Both of these can vary wildly from person to person. It is quite clear that some people are at great risk from Covid–the old, the infirm, the obese, and so forth. It is also quite clear that the virus poses very little risk to others–the young & healthy, the naturally immune, etc. It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to weigh the costs and benefits of these treatments as they pertain specifically to the lives under our care–including our own.

No mandate can absolve us of this responsibility. Anyone convinced that these treatments offer more bodily risk than reward would be guilty of violating the Fifth Commandment by administering it to his household over-and-against his own best judgment.

Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

As our Confessions explain regarding this Fourth Commandment:

God wants to have this included in this commandment when He speaks of father and mother. He does not wish to have rogues and tyrants in this office and government. He does not assign this honor to them, that is, power and authority to govern, so they can have themselves worshiped. But they should consider that they are obligated to obey God. First of all, they should seriously and faithfully fulfill their office, not only to support and provide for the bodily necessities of their children, servants, subjects, and so on, but most of all, they should train them to honor and praise God. Therefore, do not think that this matter is left to your pleasure and arbitrary will. This is God’s strict command and order to whom also you must give account for it. (LC I 168-169)

The bodily necessities of all those in our household are the first and most obvious responsibility that any parent has been given by God Himself. This is no less true when it comes to medicine than matters of food, shelter, and protection. Anyone convinced that a medicine is to the detriment of those under his care is therefore violating “God’s strict command and order” by administering it against his own best judgment.

What then of the State? As we’ve already established, mustn’t we maintain and obey government alongside family? Our confessions explain the relationship between these two civil authorities thusly:

In this commandment belongs a further statement about all kinds of obedience to persons in authority who have to command and to govern. For all authority flows and is born from the authority of parents. Where a father is unable alone to educate his rebellious and irritable child, he uses a school-master to teach the child. If he is too weak, he gets the help of his friends and neighbors. If he departs this life, he delegates and confers his authority and government upon others who are appointed for the purpose. (LC I 141)

Our respect for any earthly authority ultimately proceeds from God’s command that we honor our earthly parents. It is indeed parental authority from which any other earthly authority is delegated. When the state abdicates its responsibility to assist parents in the governance and support of their households and instead chooses to override and dominate them, it is the state which has put these two civil authorities into conflict. The state’s negligence and/or abuse in such matters does not abrogate God’s strict command to fathers and mothers to care for the well-being of their household, including themselves.

Therefore, if a head of household is convinced that his government, employer, or any other governing institution is demanding that he harm rather than provide for anyone in his household–including himself–he is obligated to obey God rather than man and disobey that errant institution. A Lutheran who is convinced otherwise about these vaccines may judge differently; but our faith and tradition demand that we be convinced–not compelled.

I stand convinced that receiving these vaccines is not in the best interests of my household. Accordingly, my faith and religion bind me against submitting to this mandate. In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me, amen.”

Posted in Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, Politics, Theology, Tradition | 17 Comments

Lies, Damned Lies, and Submission

If there’s one thing American society demonstrates, it’s how much Satan hates marriage & family. He’s all about murdering babies, defiling the marriage bed, amputating spouses from each other, cannibalizing family with government, and so forth.

One of his staples in this endeavor is to try and subvert the relationship between wives and husbands by redefining headship and submission. But as I’ve been pointing out for a long time, these deceits are usually quite easy to identify. In America’s most hated Bible verses, Paul repeatedly likens a wife’s submission to the Church’s submission to Christ. So you should always take the novel explanation of wifely submission and apply it back to our submission to the Lord. Is it still accurate? If not, then it’s a bad explanation.

With that in mind, let’s take a look the Devil’s latest and greatest redefinition–as related by The Jagged Word in its glowing review of MALE & FEMALE: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design by Jonathan & Christa Petzold from CPH:

It establishes God’s good created order as the foundation for all discussions that follow. What is this good created order from God as it pertains to human sexuality? Answer: male headship and female helpership (I made up the word ‘helpership.’ It is not the verbiage of the book). Male headship is defined as, “utter dependence on the Creator” (emphasis original, p, 30), as opposed to a rugged autonomy that insists upon bossing people (i.e., women) around. Female helpership (did I tell you I made up that word?) is defined as, “God’s gift to the head: to advise him on how to better do his job, to offer vital counsel in decision making, and to call out the head should he fail to take adequate responsibility in his role”

Yeah… If that accurately represents the book’s contents, then I am absolutely ashamed that it came from my denomination’s publisher. Doctrinal review has apparently seen better days.

Let’s start with their redefinition of headship as “utter dependence on the Creator.” In a way, it’s clever. Any objection to it can be unthinkingly rebuked with “What, are you saying that husbands shouldn’t be utterly dependent on the Creator?” Of course they should. After all, there’s a strong sense in which every Christian should be utterly dependent on his Creator. There’s also a strong sense in which everyone is dependent on the Creator whether they want to be or not.

That ubiquity is precisely why this is a terrible way to define the headship given specifically to husbands towards their wives. Rather than the many active responsibilities (and consequent authority) that God gives husbands, it subsumes the entire vocation in a wholly generic attitude towards God rather than describing any particular relationship with the wife. As a result, it says nothing at all. And make no mistake, that vapidity is precisely the point: Satan and his feminists want to reduce a husband’s headship to nothing.

So let’s put their definition back into Ephesians 5. Does “utter dependence on the Creator” accurately describe Christ’s headship over his Church? Obviously not. Christ was indeed utterly dependent upon the Father. His headship of the Church, however, is exercised in  the active works of dying for her, sanctifying her, washing her with God’s word, nourishing her, separating her from her spots and blemishes, and so forth. These are, of course, the very same responsibilities Scripture gives to husbands. And as always, responsibility is inextricable linked to authority. Christ was given all authority in heaven and on earth for the sake of his Church. Likewise, husbands possess authority in their household for the sake of their wives and children.

Next, let’s turn our attention to their redefinition of submission: As helpmeets, wives are “God’s gift to the head: to advise him on how to better do his job, to offer vital counsel in decision making, and to call out the head should he fail to take adequate responsibility in his role.” Once again, put that definition back into Ephesians 5 and ask yourself: is that how the Church submits to Christ? Do we advise Christ on how to be better at his job? Do we offer him vital counsel in decision making? Do we helpfully call Christ out should he fail to take adequate responsibility in his role? A thousand times, no. Any Christian would reject such blasphemy in an instant.

This transparently false redefinition inverts headship and submission in marriage just as blatantly as it would with respect to Christ and his Church. The wife is placed as supervisor over her husband: directing his actions, disciplining him, and passing judgment on his performance. Meanwhile, in his utter dependence on the Creator, the husband must subject himself to the Creator’s gift who was sent to micromanage all of his ways. How wonderful that the book avoids teaching husbands to “insist upon bossing people around.” That’s the wife’s job!

No, the truth about headship & submission is precisely the understanding which the Spirit of the Age hates the most: Submission actually means submission. Headship actually means headship. Wives are to be obedient to their husbands just as the Church obeys Christ. Husbands are to love and provide for their wives in all things, just as Christ does for his Church–including providing leadership.

And contrary to the lies Satan uses to scare women and timid men, this arrangement does not destroy women’s agency, well-being, or participation in this earthly life–anymore than the Church’s submission to Christ destroys such things for the Christian. The wife possesses genuine authority in her husband’s household. It is simply her husband’s authority delegated to her in many and various ways. And the husband does need to respect his own authority which he has delegated and avoid things like micromanaging everything or neglecting the grave responsibilities for which it was given to him. After all, his own genuine authority was delegated to him by God for that purpose.

Likewise, wives are invited to make their needs and concerns known to their husbands so that they may act on them, just as the Church is by Christ. It’s just not in a supervisory capacity. The attitude should be similar to that of prayer–a matter of asking our beloved king for his blessings because we know he loves us. And the husband, of course, should address those concerns just as eagerly as Christ does his Church’s. That doesn’t mean the husband never says no. It only means he should love to answer yes insofar as the request is positive or benign towards the well-being of his household and mission.

Far from being a horror, headship is a beautiful image of the greatest love ever shown to humanity: God sending his only Son to die for us that we would become part of his kingdom and leave the devil’s. No wonder Satan hates it. But although our participation in Christ’s kingdom heaps fire on the devil’s head, it is our greatest privilege and honor to participate in these wonderful vocations.

Christians need to act in accordance with this truth no matter how much the Spirit of the Age rages against us. And anyone who tries to rob us of this blessing by obfuscating God’s Word or wresting it away from us should be treated like the false teachers they are.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Family, Feminism, The Modern Church, Theology | 4 Comments

The Ants’ Real Enemy?

I’ve seen this meme a lot this year: I’m sure you have too:

Is it factually accurate? I have no idea. It does strike me as the kind of “experiment” that was never actually conducted. Nevertheless, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to ant behavior, so who knows?

But apart from entomological curiosity, the facts don’t particularly matter in this case. This didn’t become a meme because of some famous scientific experiment; it became a meme because it effectively illustrates something we’d all like to believe about human unity.

America is experiencing serious and increasingly violent division around numerous societal fault lines. In fact, I think many of us are perceiving that we’re actually on the verge of collapsing into either anarchy or tyranny depending on the day. And there’s no question that those fault lines are being manipulated and exacerbated. Politicians and ideologues alike seek to capture America’s imminent transformation so that they can direct it according to their own purposes. In other words, there is no shortage of enemies (both foreign and domestic) shaking America’s jar.

But are they the “real” enemy? If we take the experiment at face value, then why stop there? There are many more scenarios to consider, and the ramifications are far more illustrative than the original. Consider:

How do the ants react if, instead of someone deliberately shaking the jar, he accidentally knocks it over and it falls violently to the ground?

This is a pertinent question, for just as America has no shortage of enemies, neither do we have a shortage of fools. As the saying goes, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” Americans have not grown more adept at creating stability in our society, but less.

So what happens? I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the ants will still kill each other. The ants don’t really care why the jar is shaking, they just know their world is thrown into chaos and will do whatever they can to establish a new order.

How do the ants react if the jar is violently shaken by an earthquake?

Not only must a nation contend with villains and fools, but also with disaster and unfortunate happenstance. America is being shaken by plague, by fire, by storm, by drought, and by every other evil that has plagued mankind since the fall. No society will ever be immune from such hardship and uncertainty.

So what happens to the ants in this scenario? Once again, it’s a forgone conclusion that they will still kill each other because the jar is still shaking. To the ant, the meta-scenario makes absolutely no difference.

How do the ants react if you first warn them that their real enemy is the guy who’s shaking their jar?

This is, after all, precisely the reason this meme exists–to warn us all about the villains tearing our society apart. So let’s announce as loudly as we can into the jar of ants that someone is going to shake their jar and that he, not the other ants, is the real bad guy.

So do you think the ants will heed the warning they were so graciously given? Neither do I.

I could keep going, but hopefully my point is becoming clear. There is an abundance of threat to this jar. Even if we immediately lynch every dubious experimenter who wants to try shaking the jar to see what happens, some idiot is going to bump it with his elbow and knock it on the ground. Even if we clear the laboratory of interference, nature itself is going to agitate the jar at some point. Not to mention the fact that these different scientists fighting over what to do with the jar are going to disrupt it themselves merely by their struggle. One way or another, that jar of ants is getting shaken.

So who, then, is the real villain in this scenario? Clearly it’s the idiot who tried to put two different kinds of potentially hostile ants into the same jar! They are going to fight. The only real questions are how long until they do, and which circumstances will lead to it. In short, the real problem is excess diversity in an enclosed space.  God deliberately created the nations; we don’t get to just undo that at our own whim.

Once again, there is no shortage of reasons this has come about. There is, of course, ethnic diversity to consider. Americans refused to pick our own cotton, encouraged the largest mass migration in human history, failed to enforce our own borders, and so forth. We’ve repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot in this respect.

But even apart from that, America has also divided herself religiously. Blood may be thicker than water, but our gods take precedence even over our flesh and blood. Now consider how often you’ve seen or experienced family members disowning one-another over politics, masks, and the like. The biggest religious divide in American is between Christianity and Progressive Politics–for that has become the de facto religion of many. And we’re only just beginning to understand how vicious the religion of Progressivism can be. Even those Progressives who wear the label of Christian won’t hesitate to turn on their ostensible brothers and sisters in Christ for defying their true god. The sheep will visit you in prison; the wolves will put you there.

Naturally, we’d all like to think that humans are better than the proverbial ants. Surely we can learn to live together in true unity amidst all the jar-shaking. History, unfortunately tells us otherwise. We cannot fix fallen human nature, no matter how much we might want to. Like communism, multiculturalism is an attractive image whose only real-world ability is to transform people into corpses. We should be just as dubious of “diversity will work this time!” as we are of “communism will work this time!”

As for America, our jar has already been assembled and shaken. If we have any hope at all, it is to deliberately reduce our diversity by means of amicable divorce. But as long as one faction or another still aspires to claim the whole for themselves, peace will increasingly become a stranger to us.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Culture, Musings, Politics | 2 Comments

By Whose Authority? Mask Mandates in the Church

Now that Covid is resurging and our cultural fixtures continue to promote fear above all else, Christian congregations are naturally considering whether to re-impose masks and even vaccine requirements at their services.

Last year, most churches blindly stumbled their way through the shut-downs, mandates, and various attempts at tele-worship because we were caught off-guard and afraid. Our entire country opted to shut down and mask up, so it’s unsurprising that most churches followed suit in their uncertainly.

But this is no longer our first rodeo. And while merely following the crowd is understandable (though not laudable) in uncertain times, its entirely inappropriate once we’ve had opportunity to reflect. The Church is not of the world; we have been set apart–made holy–by Christ. We also have a very different set of responsibilities as compared to civil government. Accordingly, while we should submit to that government when it does not interfere with our God-given duties, we should also be constantly skeptical of following the world’s lead in fulfilling them.

Confessional Lutherans usually sum up the Church’s primary responsibilities in two words: “Word” and “Sacrament.” It’s our job to 1) rightly teach and disciple our people and ultimately the entire world with what Christ has taught us and 2) to properly administer the Sacraments which He has given to the Church. Those responsibilities are precisely why Christ has given the Church authority. Whatever else we may do, it should be in service to those fundamental responsibilities in some way. Whatever traditions we have should facilitate those responsibilities. And so, whenever we consider trying something new or making changes, we need to ask ourselves how they serve those responsibilities.

So how do mask mandates serve those responsibilities? Last year, I and many others thought they would actually facilitate Word and Sacrament. From the beginning, I’ve seen masks as a superstition–offering peace of mind to the gullible, but little if any actual protection. Nevertheless, many of my fellow Christians were too scared to worship or approach the altar if people weren’t wearing one. So I thought it best to accommodate the weaker brother and mask up. Then more of us would be willing to come to the Divine Service, and people would be less inclined to once again shut down services out of fear.

In my ignorance and naiveté, that rationale made sense to me at the time. It no longer does. So what changed?

First, I came to experience first-hand that masks are not harmless superstition. I found out the hard way that because of my chronic sinusitis, masks actually make me ill. If I wear a mask for a few hours, I have about a 50/50 chance of developing a sinus infection. I spent a large portion of 2020 on antibiotics because of this. And so I asked myself, how many of my brothers and sisters were in a similar position?

And how many were in less severe circumstances? How many didn’t need to be medicated because of masking, but merely felt like crap because of them? While my own health challenges make me more susceptible than average, spending all day breathing in your own exhalations isn’t exactly healthy. When our body expels things, it usually has a reason–we don’t typically just put it right back in.

And what about our children? They were always known to be at the least risk from Covid, and yet we slapped masks on them without a second thought. We know so little about the adverse effects of bacteria-laden masks, breathing in their own CO2 all day, and so forth. We likewise denied them the ability to see facial expressions for the better part of a year–a potential detriment for any child and a major setback for those children with disabilities which already make social cues and interaction a challenge.

Second, I finally realized exactly what we’re actually doing when we mandate masks: we are withholding Word and Sacrament from faithful Christians unless they submit to the rules we invent. We are burdening their consciences with man-made laws and withholding God’s peace from them unless they comply.

The realization came to me late last year. My ENT and I had recently figured out the mask connection, and had suggested that I wear a face-shield instead wherever masks are required. I really dislike face shields, but I bought a couple since I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment where masks are not required, and figured I could put up with them when I went to other places.

So I sat in church holding my new face shield, about to put it on, and I found that I was ashamed. Not embarrassed, but ashamed. There I was, about to put a plastic dog cone around my face, but why? All it was going to do was redirect my breath to exactly the same place my nose puts it in the first place. And what exactly was I protecting my neighbors from? I had already recovered from Covid less than a month earlier. I was about to use a technology that doesn’t work to prevent myself from spreading a disease I couldn’t spread because I had been sacrificing my own health to make people feel better about theirs.

I couldn’t bring myself to put it on; and I was hit by the reality that on paper, I was consequently unwelcome in my congregation. According to the policy (which I myself had had a hand in shaping,) I shouldn’t even be there anymore. How many other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ had we burdened in exactly the same way? How many had we told to stay away from the Sacrament?

I knew then that I had failed to ask a very important question: By what authority does the Church require masks or (now) vaccinations? These are matters of health for the families in our congregation. Whom has God appointed to govern the welfare of families? Fathers. Whether to mask or vaccinate their families is their decision, not the Church’s. It is a matter of the left-hand kingdom established by the 4th Commandment–not a matter rightly administering Word and Sacrament. We have no right to tell fathers what is best for their own families. And we certainly have no right to set the 4th Commandment aside and use the Divine Service to coerce them into doing what we think is best. Masks and vaccinations are not criteria we can use to determine who is fit to receive Communion.

Now some might then argue, “Well, if it’s a matter of the left-hand kingdom, then churches should just do whatever the government recommends regarding masks. That’s their domain, right? And our government recommended–and in most cases, even mandated–masks.”

Mask recommendations and mandates might be within the government’s purview (although there is an excellent case for vocational disobedience on the matter) but the Sacraments most certainly are not. Administering Word and Sacrament is not within the government’s authority. Remember what these mandates do:  tell certain Christians to stay away from Word and Sacrament.  Caesar does not get to tell us who we do and do not allow to approach the Lord’s altar–or what Christians have to wear in order for us to admit them. On the contrary, my own denomination exists precisely because we would not accept the civil government’s ruling in how we administer the Sacrament.

Christian fathers will need to consider for themselves whether to mask and vaccinate their families in accordance with government mandates, or whether their vocation demands that they obey God rather than man on the matter. They’ll need to make that same consideration on whether to follow such mandates when they take their families to church. But that’s the government’s business, not the Church’s. Let Caesar enforce Caesar’s mandates; our congregations have no business doing it for them–especially using Word and Sacrament as leverage.

Many congregations overstepped their authority last year. I grieve when I remember my own part in that and consider how many faithful Christians were mistreated as a result. We must not sin in this way again. Will that mean that some Christians will bar themselves from the Divine Service out of concern for their health? Probably; but that’s their choice made according to the wisdom God has given them–not a rule anyone is wrongly imposing on them. That imposition is the problem because it is a misuse of the Church’s authority. When churches withhold Word and Sacrament from members for governing their family’s healthcare according to their God-given vocation, they are doing the work of Satan rather than of Christ.

Posted in Gospel, Law, Lutheranism, Theology, Tradition | 6 Comments

Emasculating He-Man

As a child of the 80s, He-Man was the first franchise I can remember being seriously invested in as a little boy. The appeal is obvious; it was a simple power fantasy wrapped up in the imagery of fairy tales and accouterments of science fiction. When Prince Adam used his magic sword to become the Most Powerful Man in the Universe (TM), it was emblematic of the potential every little boy wants to see within himself.

As much as people at the time complained that the cartoon was nothing more than a half-hour toy commercial, the rampant merchandising only made it more awesome. The action figures and playsets my parents generously gave me only served as more more fuel to feed the imagination and create my own adventures with the colorful palette Mattel provided.

He-Man was popular. It was cheesy and exciting. It crystallized the joy of heroism and the value of strength & courage. It worked hard to not only be wholesome, but also portray heroism within reasonable moral boundaries. And as the title character’s name implies, it was unapologetically hyper-masculine in a manner that was still appropriate for small children. So when Kevin Smith helmed a brand-new He-Man revival for Netflix this year, it’s only natural that it would be a hit.

And by “hit,” I of course mean a mob assassination.

To be clear upfront, I haven’t watched it myself and I have no intention of doing so. I don’t need to watch a snuff film of a childhood hero for myself in order to make an informed judgment. The truth of the matter is our there. Plenty of individuals already took the bullet for me on this one, and I’ve no interest in feeding the Hollywood beast.

To sum the new series up briefly (spoiler warning), He-Man is killed off in the first episode of the new “He-Man” show. The focus then shifts to an extremely butch Teela and her (heavily implied) lesbian girlfriend as she goes her own way to pick up Eternia’s pieces. In the meantime, every male character is killed and/or disgraced while Teela is constantly praised and affirmed for being so strong and wonderful as she angsts in righteous indignation over not having been told Adam’s secret identity. Then in the final episode, Kevin Smith brings He-Man back from the dead for the sole purpose of immediately killing him again with the stipulation that it’s definitely permanent this time. Gotta make sure he’s good and dead, after all.

So yes, He-Man has now been Last Jedi’d, and anyone paying attention saw it coming. Some people literally did. Clownfish TV got the inside scoop very early on, and received a lot of flack for announcing it–including blatant lies from Kevin Smith who insultingly denied the whole thing.

But simple pattern-recognition was enough to let us know that this train wreck was the most likely outcome. Whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters (2016), Terminator, etc, the consistent push on nearly every revival of beloved franchises has been to cannibalize them for makeshift shrines to wokeness. And because feminism requires Hollywood to make every “strong” female character a silly caricature of a man, their only option is to tear down any existing male characters who would inevitably upstage the newly minted heroines. As much as Hollywood likes to brag about subverting expectations, they only do so in the most puerile and utterly predictable ways. They cannot create; they can only consume.

This pattern is not a coincidence. Yes, incompetence and creative bankruptcy play a role, but “Indiana Jones and the Nuclear Fridge” along with the Star Wars prequels showed us what merely incompetent cash-grabs look like. That’s not what we’re getting today. There’s clearly another spirit at work here and another motive beyond profit (especially given the consistent unprofitability of these things.) If there’s one thing dragons hate, it’s boys aspiring to be dragon-slayers.

The Devil has always worked to destroy the Good, the True, & the Beautiful, and he has no shortage of thralls joining his efforts. Part of that work is to remove, degrade, or corrupt anything that might inspire us. Throughout our lives, men will be both given ample opportunity to stare evil in the face and the grave responsibility to defy it. We need to be prepared for that.

Our dragons may be metaphorical more often than they are literal, but conflict against evil is inherent in male nature. (Yes, women are called resist evil too; no, they don’t do it in the same way men do.) But like any fulfillment of our nature, that drive to overcome needs to be cultivated throughout our lives. Our fairy tales and myths are precisely how we begin inspiring and encouraging our children. As Neil Gaiman (paraphrasing Chesterton) put it, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

There is something to be said for the prospect of taking stories enjoyed in childhood and elevating them with more mature themes–to build on the foundations that we laid earlier and remind us of the childlike hope and positivity we sometimes forget as adults. For example, taking The Hobbit and moving on to Lord of the Rings is an excellent progression. But that’s not what’s Hollywood is doing. Kevin Smith took a childlike power fantasy for little boys and transformed it into a childish power fantasy for adult feminists. Taking candy from a baby seems like an apt analogy.

Naturally, the critics, like good little minions of the Spirit of the Age, are praising it just like they do every other humiliation ritual they think is good for us. But He-Man has the now-typical receptive split between critics and viewers (critics at 96% and viewers at 36% last I checked.) We know better than to trust the critics at this point. And we know better than to let our media overlords extinguish our hope along with our myths.

To be sure, every revival/reboot/adaptation announcement still gives me that reflexive reaction of “Wow, I’d sure love to see more of [nostalgic show].” But by now, I immediately remember that successful revivals are extremely rare. Even the ones that aren’t full-on woke are mostly terrible (e.g. X-Files, Indiana Jones.) Bill & Ted Face The Music is the only one I can think of that I actually enjoyed, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the only upcoming revival I’ve noticed that actually looks good. And while both of those continue the unfortunate pattern of passing the torch from men to women, they appear to do so in a way that actually respects and embraces what came before rather trying to dismantle it. It looks to be more about inheritance than subversion.

And as more Americans wake up to this conflict that’s going on in popular culture, Hollywood and established media organizations will inevitably come to realize that they are imminently replaceable. There are already companies like Arkhaven Comics doing the jobs the mainstream won’t do: Producing and curating fun stories that openly embrace things like faith, heritage, and heroism. Artists who choose to inspire and edify will ultimately have an enormous market available to them.

The emasculation of He-Man is a disappointment, to be sure. But despite what Hollywood thinks, killing our heroes won’t defeat us. We will always remember what they represent, and we will always find ways to crystallize those things in new art and enflesh them in our own lives.

Posted in Culture, Tradition | 4 Comments

On the Necessity of Sex

Do people really need sex? I came across some people scoffing at the idea on Twitter recently:

But is the notion really as ridiculous as they think? Let’s set aside the absurd contention in the original tweet that a need must also be a right. (Rights only proceed from responsibilities, not from needs, but that’s another blog post altogether.) Instead, let’s focus on the main question: Is sex a need or not?

Any allegation of “need” should always specify “to what end?” In other words, what do you need it for? Needing something for survival is the answer that always seems to go without saying. That’s how one of my son’s school books defined need: something that you literally cannot live without. But is need really so cut and dry?

As it happens, even physical survival as an end is far more fluid than we might think. It varies in terms of urgency, first and foremost. The man thinking of air might scoff, “It’s not like you’ll suffocate if you go seven minutes without water” while the man thinking of water might boast, “You can go a few days without eating something, you big baby.” We have many such needs in this life, and while we shouldn’t become impatient over less urgent needs, neither should we A) pretend they aren’t truly needs, B) neglect preparing for them, or C) discourage others from preparing. After all, it’s not as though we wait to eat until we’re on the brink of death.

But urgency isn’t the only pertinent dimension. For example, as one’s life draws to a close and his health begins to fail, modern medicine may provide the option of an extraordinary and grotesque medical intervention which will allow him to survive just one more week. It’s both urgent and necessary for survival, but is that truly a need in the same sense as food or water? It’s hard to consider something like that truly needful when most of the humans who lived on this planet did without it, even though they all died without it as well.

That very inevitability of death should provide perspective on our need for survival. And as we all march headlong towards the grave, most of us have, at some point, subjected survival itself to the same line of questioning: What do we need to survive for? To what end do we go on living? It would seem that survival–as precious as it is–is not an end unto itself.

When we ask about the telos of survival, our answers are inevitably religious, for they concern our respective gods–whatever we consider to be the Most Important Thing. Fallen men have propped up many and various idols to fill that place, of course. Some of them have been natural, others supernatural. But as Christians, we look past the false gods to the one true God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When Satan tempted Christ with a true need (food so that he could survive after 40 days of fasting,) Jesus replied: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Mere survival, it would seem, is not the true benchmark of need. Our real necessity comes in fulfilling God’s purposes for us. The Holy Spirit cast Christ out into the wilderness to be tempted; Christ was not going to defy the Spirit for the sake of mere survival.

This is where we find a richer and truer sense of need:  need for the sake of receiving God’s Word; need for the sake of fulfilling our God-given design; need for the sake of carrying out the vocations He has gifted to us. This sense of need includes survival, certainly, for God both designed us to hunger and provides us with food. But survival is put in its proper perspective in comparison to our far broader need for God Himself. When it comes to created things, need is as much a matter of priority as it is of necessity.

Where, then, does sex fit into this better understanding of need?

First, sex is a need for the sake of vocation. “Be fruitful and multiply” is literally the first command God gave to mankind. There are alternative callings, of course; Jesus and Paul are the prime examples of this. But both Jesus and Paul explained that those were alternative callings–that they were exceptional. Most people are called by God to marriage and family rather than celibacy. Therefore, most people need to have sex in order to fulfill their vocations.

Second, sex is a need for the sake of fulfilling our design. Jesus said that God could raise new children of Abraham up out of the stones, but He nevertheless chose to do it differently. Only Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and Eve from his rib. Every other human being who ever lived was born–and only Christ was born of a virgin. Humans reproduce sexually. We are, in many ways, designed around that very fact. Our being male and female is first expressed in the same breath as our being made in the image of God. It’s that important. And just as hunger propels us towards the proper food we need, our sex drives propel us towards the proper intercourse we need. Sin corrupts those desires, of course, but it does not undo them–or make them anything other than God’s handiwork.

Third, sex is actually a need for the sake of survival too as long as you can pause to think beyond just yourself. This is where differences in urgency comes into play. Sex is not as urgent as food, just as food is not as urgent as air, but it remains a prerequisite for life. We may not need sex to survive personally, but collectively, humanity absolutely needs sex to survive. The inevitability of death means that if we stopped having sex, humans would cease to exist before too long.

But survival is also at stake on less abstract levels than “humanity,” for nations and families are in the same boat. And as shocking as this might be to today’s globalist neo-babelites, Christians ought to love both their own families and their own nations enough to contribute to their survival. Many people are becoming keenly aware that their family name will not be passed on or that their nation is dying because they failed to prioritize proper sex. They chose to forgo marriage & children and instead defused their sex drives through fornication and pornography.

So yes, it is entirely appropriate that our God-given desire for sex speaks to us in the language of need, for that is precisely what it is. And if men’s stronger sex drives make us more keenly aware of that reality than women, well it’s hardly the only instance in which the male perspective happens to be more in line with God’s Word.

To be sure, we must keep our need for sex in perspective–just as we do with every other need. Man does not live by sex alone. We sin when we prioritize our need for sex above our need to be chaste, our need to be faithful, our need for God, and so forth. But we also sin when we put too low of a priority on sex. When spouses deny sex to one another, they put too low of a priority on sex. When people put off marriage and end up burning with lust instead for the sake of things which God never commanded, they put too low of a priority on sex. When people violate the Golden Rule by refusing to have children, they put too low of a priority on sex.

Christians need to realize that we can err in either of these directions. Denying our God-given need for sex for the sake of discouraging one error only encourages the opposite error. As always, it is far better to teach the whole counsel of God and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Family | 2 Comments

Discussing “On Being Human” by C.S. Lewis

I foolishly forgot to post this earlier this week, but Zaklog the Great was kind enough to invite me on his channel last weekend to discuss the C.S. Lewis’ poem, On Being Human.  We had a great talk about things like Plato vs Aristotle, angelic nature, and the physicality of Christianity.  I’ll post the YouTube video below, but you can also find it on BitChute if that’s your preference.

 

Posted in Culture, Musings, Natural Law | Leave a comment

Should Christians Freely Indulge in Sexual Fantasy?

So are premarital sexual fantasies–even leading to masturbation–actually ok for the Christian? I recently read a contention to that effect made by Larry Solomon at Biblical Sexology. Read the whole thing here.

To briefly sum up Solomon’s case, he argues that it is not sexual desire itself that’s sinful. (We picked up that faulty idea from teachers in the early church who had a very negative overall view about human sexuality.) When the Bible talks about lust, it’s only talking about corrupted sexual desire. Solomon contends that a large measure of premarital sexual fantasy–including masturbation–do not fall into that category of corruption. He does so by way of an analogy to coveting property, arguing that merely finding a neighbor’s house desirable or imagining living there is not covetous, but only fantasizing about taking that house from him in some unrighteous manner. He concludes that so long as one doesn’t cross that line and so long as one doesn’t desire something that is forbidden in itself (e.g. homosexuality or bestiality,) then sexual fantasies are meet, right, and salutary.

So is it a good case? Well, not by the time he reaches his conclusions, unfortunately. Before we get there, however, there are a few important points he makes during his analysis that are both correct and worth learning from.

The first of these is that there is indeed such a thing as godly premarital erotic fantasy. Our sex drives are gifts from God that are supposed to propel us towards the marriage bed just as hunger propels us towards food. And let’s face it: humans are not designed in such a way that desire is hermetically sealed from imagination. We would never even be able to prepare food if we weren’t imagining something good to eat. The same is true of sexual fantasies whilst seeking marriage.

Likewise, it’s not an accident that God made sex pleasurable. We ought to enjoy and appreciate our spouses sexually, and it’s not as though one’s desire for that only kicks in after the ceremony. If there’s no eagerness, no anticipation, no imagination, and no curiosity about sex with a future spouse, then you shouldn’t even consider marrying one in the first place. Such a one wouldn’t even be able to fulfill his marital duties.

And yes, the practical reality of life in this world is that these fantasies are not going to be exclusively about the person you ultimately marry–and that’s ok. Only in a world of arranged marriages that have been decided very early in life could you even conceivably fantasize exclusively about your future spouse. Maybe that’s what a prelapsarian world would have looked like and maybe not, but such a world is alien to us regardless.

Solomon also correctly notices that undue condemnation of sexual desire is often stilted towards condemnation of the male sex drive in particular. Our boldness, persistence, and desire are supposed to be complimentary with a woman’s modesty, coyness, and submissiveness. That’s part of what makes romance function. And yes, all of that entails a male sex drive that is by design stronger and more easily aroused than most women’s.

But women tend towards solipsism–especially these days. So many women would prefer to control masculine desire so that she is only desired by men she approves and only when she wants them. Unfortunately, the church has often facilitated that solipsism under the guise of restraining lust. We need to discipline our appetites, certainly, but that’s not the same as restraining them to the point of being inert until called upon by a woman. So yes, we shouldn’t be trying to categorically forbid male sexual thoughts and fantasies regarding women’s sexual displays. Men shouldn’t be housebroken.

All of that said, however, Solomon is wrong on some key points that severely impact his conclusions.

First off, it’s worth pointing out the bit of sophistry that comes up when he talks about sexual relations towards the end:

But it is utterly impossible for a man to have sexual relations with a thought, a picture, or a movie he watches on a tv or computer screen. If there is no two-way interaction there is no relation. Therefore, there is no sexual relation.

He doesn’t explicitly say he means pornography here–and maybe he doesn’t–but it certainly sounds like that would be included. If he is, he’s entirely incorrect. There are real women behind these pictures and movies, and while the two-way interaction is not as immediate or personal as, say, a webcam, it is certainly still there. Producer/consumer is still a relationship, and in this case that relationship is blatantly sexual. This part really strikes me as akin to Bill Clinton’s argument that oral sex isn’t really adultery.

But secondly–and more to core of Solomon’s argument–the line between godly erotic fantasy and ungodly erotic fantasy is not nearly as clear as Solomon would like to think. He essentially lays out two criteria that distinguish desire from lust. The first of these is that the fantasy doesn’t involve adultery or fornication. He writes:

So here is where your desire for your neighbor’s house becomes the kind of desire that God is condemning in the 10th commandment and it becomes a bad desire which is lust. What if you knew where your neighbor kept the spare key for their house outside under a rock? And you knew that your neighbor was leaving for vacation for two weeks. So, you began to fantasize about taking the spare key and going and actually using their house for the two weeks they were gone and they would never know.

That thought my friends is a covetous and lustful thought. That is the kind of desire that is being condemned by God in the 10th commandment. And I would submit to you that this the same kind of desire of a man toward a woman that is being condemned by Matthew 5:28 and Job 31:1.

His second criteria comes at the end:

Am I saying that all sexual fantasies are ok as long as we do not entertain thoughts of enticing someone into sex outside of marriage? No. When we have a sexual fantasy, we must ask ourselves, is this sexual fantasy in line with God’s design of sex?

… So, the question is, does your sexual fantasy fit within God’s design of the physical acts of sex between a man and woman? In other words, would such a sexual act be allowable under any context?

If it is within God’s design of sex then your sexual fantasy is righteous before God. If it does not fit within God’s design then it is a sinful fantasy and should not be entertained.

The problem with these criteria is not that they’re incorrect per se–they do describe sin. The problem is with their collective weakness. As I’ve already said, Solomon is correct that it is corrupted desire rather than desire itself that is sinful. But fantasizing about stealing the object of your desire or a desire for something beyond male/female sex aren’t the only applicable kinds of corruption.

One (more obvious) way in which any desire can be corrupted is envy. Envy lives in our fantasies as well, and it isn’t a matter of fantasizing about sinning, but of making God’s blessings to others all about you. In terms of sexual desire, this occurs when you cease to regard your neighbor’s wife as his blessing, but something that “should” be your blessing  instead. The same could be true of your neighbor’s daughter before marriage. It’s one thing to want to have sex with her and to let that desire encourage you to seek marriage. It’s another thing to presumptively think that she should be yours to have sex with rather than anyone else’s when God has not given her to you. Jessie’s Girl was still a song about covetousness.

And envy is only one additional example of disorder. There are innumerable others like it: allowing fantasy to substitute for real-life action , allowing fantasy to draw your desire away from a wife; allowing fantasy to violate the Golden Rule (e.g. “I wouldn’t want some guy leering down my daughter’s blouse and putting it in the wank-bank for later, so I won’t do that to with someone else’s daughter either”); allowing fantasy to overwhelm our self-control; and so on. And as facets like these accumulate, we should begin realizing that “let’s make sure I check-off each item so I can finally jerk-off righteously” isn’t the appropriate attitude to have.

And that is the deeper fault with Solomon’s argument. The problem isn’t really that he’s drawing the line between desire and lust in the wrong place. The real problem is that he’s trying to draw it at all.

Yes, that line does exist in principle–but not in practice in a fallen world. We do need to allow and even encourage our sexual desire to propel us towards marriage. At the same time, we also need to restrain it from leading us into sin. As we struggle to perform that balancing act, we need to lean on grace for the whole matter because our sexual desire will always be corrupted by sin to some extent.

We are never so pure of will and intention that we ever land completely on the side of godly premarital erotic fantasy. Sometimes you’ll know for sure that your fantasies are sinful, but you’ll never really know for sure that your fantasies are pure. Therefore, when we choose to indulge our fantasy life instead of wrestling with it, it cannot help but lead us astray.

You could draw an analogy to nudity. There’s nothing inherently sinful about nakedness. Our bodies are God’s craftsmanship of which we should not be ashamed. But ever since the Fall, we have been ashamed. The solution to this is not trying to fix our errant shame so that we may finally live as nudists, but rather to wear clothing. Accordingly, we don’t cover up because our bodies are evil, but because we are. Sin isn’t just a collection of errant actions, but a corruption of our very nature.

Likewise, we don’t restrain our erotic fantasies because such fantasy is always evil, but because we are. And if we do not practice such restraint, our sinful nature will gleefully embrace the opportunity to drive us off the rails. Despite our best efforts, erotic fantasy is never going to work exactly the way that it was supposed to before mankind’s fall into sin. Our fantasies will not be sinless.

This is the reality that the early Church recognized concerning human sexuality, and in that sense, they were correct. Our desire is corrupted even its nature, and cannot truly be subdued in this life.

Now, I agree with Solomon that many of their solutions to this fact were also errant. Many of them encouraged the removal of passion from the marriage bed, and thereby slandered God’s good creation of sexual pleasure and intimacy. Many of them tried to purify themselves by rejecting their sex drives through monasticism, vows of celibacy, and so forth. But in doing so, they rejected God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply and encouraged others to believe that this defiance was actually holier than obedience. If you want to seek sinlessness in such ways, you might as well go with Origen’s solution and emasculate yourself in response to Matthew 5:30.

But Solomon’s solution isn’t really better. Instead of escaping the struggle against sin through monastic rituals, he is trying to minimize God’s Law into something we find easier to keep. When it comes to erotic fantasy, Solomon seems to want to purify it by making “imagine yourselves married instead of imagining yourselves fornicating” to be the rule of thumb. But the real rule of thumb should be “either translate your desire into some action besides pure self-gratification or else let it go.” (After all, if we’re looking to God’s design for sex as a guiding principle, then solitude isn’t really part of it.) And that rule-of-thumb isn’t there to make us sinless before God, but merely to direct our energy into appropriate God-given vocations.

Neither can we escape our struggle by wantonly indulging in sin, for the Christian knows that he is to control himself and resist temptation. Every man knows that his sexuality frequently imposes a sense of urgency on him, and I doubt any man apart from Christ has remained perfectly patient in response to that urgency. Our sex drives are powerful, and they frequently spill over. We need that powerful appetite to motivate us because successfully forging romantic relationships that might lead to fruitful marriage is extremely difficult–especially today. But freely indulging in masturbation (especially with the aid of the pictures, movies, and so forth that Solomon also blesses) defuses and subverts the sex drive before it can move us to fruitful action.

So the Christian cannot end his struggle against sin by crafting a perfect behavioral flowchart that he follows at all times as many monastics attempted. Neither can he end that struggle by trying to reconstruct God’s Law until it’s possible for him to finally keep it. And, of course, he cannot end his struggle against sin by surrendering to it. The paradox of the Christian man’s life on Earth is that he cannot end his struggle against sin at all.

Christians need to realize that Romans 7:18-23 is business as usual for their lives in a fallen world. If you think it’s not, then you’re not taking God’s Law seriously enough. We also need to remember that Romans 7:24-25 is the only solution to that. Even as we struggle to avoid sinning, we do not strive to make ourselves sinless by obedience to the law, for that is Christ’s work. Ours is to pursue the work God has given us within the boundaries he has given us–and then trust the Blood of Christ for all the times we stray or fail.

At the end of the day, that’s why Christian men don’t need to constantly beat ourselves up over beating ourselves off. Not because we can make our fantasies holy with a few tweaks, but because Christ has declared us to be holy on account of his own righteousness. Sometimes our fantasies and consequent actions might be pure; sometimes they are absolutely sinful. But we escape the daily cycle of condemnation that Solomon mourns by embracing the Gospel–not by modifying the Law to match our capabilities and habits.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Gospel | Leave a comment