I came across an article with this same title a few weeks ago. It was also from a Christian writer. I had already read many of the other articles on his blog and I had generally agreed with what he said, and very strongly. However, with this one article, what he said just did not ring true in my spirit. I could not bring myself to agree with his viewpoint. And then that got me thinking on the subject. And then it occurred to me that this is quite an obvious article to write for my own blog! Why have I not written this article before? Answer: for the following simple reason: Most articles on this blog come about as a result of my thinking deeply about relationship issues that perplex me. I sometimes share these posts as a way to get my own thoughts straight on different issues. And then sometimes, I will forget my own proposed solutions – and I will come back and revisit these thoughts to try to grasp the issues afresh. However on this one topic, the difference between love and lust, I’ve always felt quite clear on the issue, so I’ve never found myself trying to think deeply to understand it. That does not mean that I am immune to lust. What it means is that I understand perfectly well what it is if and whenever I let myself succumb to it. There is such a difference between this issue, and “the difference between love and infatuation”, for instance, where I have already written a few articles but still struggle to truly understand. And yet infatuation and lust are sometimes used as synonyms for the same thing…. But anyway.
So anyway, I have always been quite sure that I understand this issue – but one thought occurred to me that has made me pause for thought in my confidence – but perhaps more on that later.
OK, let’s start with lust, because I feel that that is easier to define. Lust in the sexual sense is when you see someone, and you are attracted to their physical attributes, and you want to use them only to gratify your own sexual desires, without any thought of genuinely serving them according to their own real needs. Or lust is when the primary reason for entering the relationship is the hope of how the other party will satisfy you sexually. Or lust is when you look at this person and you cannot see them in any other way except sexually.
I guess the reason why this issue can be so difficult for many of us is because sexual attraction is a good and necessary part of romantic relationships anyway. In a truly loving relationship, yes, there should be deep attraction, but our aim within that should also be to serve our spouse in whatever they truly need, whether that is sexual or not. As Christians, we should put our spouses first, while putting our own needs second. We should aspire to see our spouses as full human beings with meaning, beauty and worth beyond their sexual identity. We should cultivate care and compassion for their lives and their concerns. Lust does none of these things. It does not merely take, it grabs. It certainly does not give, as true love should do. It treats other human beings as objects to use then discard.
I think that this is the way lust works. Through pornography or sexually explicit literature we focus and we focus on the gratification that these things promise until this thing becomes so big in our minds and our hearts that it almost consumes all our thoughts. In Biblical talk, it is as if it becomes a god to us. As human beings, we find it so easy to become enslaved to self-gratification, whether that comes through sex, or food, or lavish extravagant living.
So with many people who act lustfully towards others, I’m sure that if they were controlled by their rational minds, they would be able to acknowledge that they were dealing with people, not objects. However I believe that in extreme cases the lust would have ensnared them so much that they are no longer able to care about the human needs of the people that they are dealing with, or the basic integrity of their own actions. In this blog post I am thinking primarily of lust instead of love as a foundation for relationships. However I believe that this is at the root of what causes people to visit prostitutes, or engage in other sexual behaviour that grossly debases other human beings.
Coming back to relationships specifically, for some of us, we may not have watched pornography or read explicit novels. However when we look at this person, all we can see are those compelling physical attributes. Which brings me to my own area of slight confusion – can desires for hugs be lustful? Surely the answer to that is a big fat no, right?! I guess I just needed reassurance on that front! (The question might sound a little silly now, but when it first occurred to me, it raised a kind of horror in my heart – “Oh no!”) That said, I have certainly at times cultivated thoughts which are definitely lustful, to be perfectly candid.
OK, so say you’ve got very strong feelings of attraction towards someone, and you are asking yourself – “Is this lust? Or is this love?”, I believe that this is what it “boils down to”. The same depth of attraction could be present in a situation that could lead to deep tender love, or in another situation that could be twisted to something dark and self-serving – that is, lust. It kinda depends on the thoughts that you allow yourself to cultivate in your heart alongside that attraction. If you have already immersed yourself in lustful thoughts, if you spend your time dreaming of self-gratification, then naturally yes, your mindset will tend to find ways of exploiting those feelings for your own self-gratification. However, if you rid yourself of those lustful thoughts, and remember that the person you’re dealing with is a human being, and make up your mind to put their needs first above your own, above your own sexual desires, above your own sexual needs, then you have managed to use that same depth of feeling for something positive and nurturing.
28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
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