Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, August 28, 2021~
Covenant: “a formal agreement or contract, between God and humans or between two human parties to do or refrain from doing something. Sometimes only one party was responsible to carry out the terms (a unilateral covenant, which was essentially a promise). At other times both parties had terms to carry out (a bilateral covenant).”
We were unhappy with our cell phone carrier. The pricing was erratic, sometimes shocking. “Customer service” was a frustrating, time-sucking vortex.
When our contract was up, we jumped.
We’d ended the relationship with a business that didn’t seem so interested in serving our needs. We found a business that would serve us better. Much better.
So we begin and end business relationships.
And so, as Dr. Tim Keller explains, do we often treat our romantic interactions today, making them more accurate reflections of business dealings rather than lifetime commitments.
In his sermon/podcast “Love and Lust,” he draws a distinction between the virtue of love as seen in covenant relationships, and the vice of lust, manifested in a business-like approach to romance.
Committed love is a covenant relationship. “Sex is supposed to be a symbol of what you’ve done with your life,” Keller says, that you have fully committed to another person, way beyond a physical relationship.
“You must not do with your body what you’re not willing to do with your whole life.” The language sounds limiting, binding. It is. Yet living love this way provides amazing benefits.
“In a covenant, when you have made a promise, sex becomes like a sacrament . . . . an external, visible sign of an invisible reality. . . . That’s why it’s so meaningful. “
In this way, sex reflects the intimate love God has for our souls.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8, ESV).
Covenant, Keller says, provides a “zone of safety where you can be yourself.”
Covenant produces deeper feelings. “When you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow,” Keller says. As in parenthood, covenant marriage requires giving without regard to receiving, thereby producing “a deeper, richer kind of feeling.”
“Covenantal relationships bring freedom.” He references Kierkegaard who claimed non-covenantal relationships make us slaves. Commitment brings freedom. Freedom from commitment is oppressive. That can seem counter-intuitive in these days, but it’s true.
Lust, however, is a transaction. Sex outside of marriage is “marketing.” Marketing is anything but meaningful.
Keller says couples who live together outside of marriage are trying to figure out “whether this person is good enough to marry or whether I can do better . . . It’s not trusting. It’s not resting. It’s not giving.”
People who live together before marriage are learning how to live together as consumers.
As we’ve moved further down the highway of consumer/transactional sex, we see the results of sexual self-seeking instead of sexual (and otherwise) self-giving.
Our culture has almost completely abandoned any sign of covenantal love. We are becoming a strictly commodified society. Therefore, fewer are buying into marriage.
Edward Davies in “Forget Race or Class, Marriage is the Big Social Divide,” writes that marriage rates in the UK have “been steadily collapsing since the 1970s. Not just declining but falling off a cliff. Even at the height of the second world war, (sic) one of its previous lowest points, the male marriage rate was almost triple what it is today.”
America’s rates show a big drop too.
As my mother so aptly put it many years ago: “Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free?”
Especially when the metaphorical cow you’re renting is trying harder to close the deal.
Many of us have been that metaphor. We sold ourselves short.
In the meantime, many have turned to pornography, primarily men, but women too. Porn is an enormous form of commodification, second only to prostitution.
Keller says pornography is “so focused on yourself, you don’t even have another person. . . . [It] is everything the Bible says is not what sex is supposed to be.” He says porn affects all our relationships, porn influences social aspects from fashion choices to marriage rates, asserting that the drop in American marriage rates is largely due to porn.
Keller quotes Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying:
“People who use pornography have crushingly unrealistic expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance. . . .
“A significant number of male porn users experience a diminished tolerance for the difficulties of real relationships . . . shrink[ing] the marriage pool for women. . . .”
Pornography is “why the number of people getting married is going down.”
That’s easy to see. But fashion trends?
Regnerus and Uecker assert that “All women . . . are increasingly being forced to accommodate sexual behaviors and their appearances to the images and style of pornography.”
The fashion industry influenced by porn? That seems far-fetched.
But Andi Zeisler agrees with Keller, and Regnerus and Uecker. “Porn is now not only represented in, but an indelible part of, everything from high culture to fashion magazines to college curricula,” she writes.
The discussion comes full circle when Zeisler references Naomi Wolf who predicted nearly two decades ago that “far from turning men into the raving, sex-mad predators that anti-porn crusaders . . . once warned against, [porn] is turning them off of regular, nondigital women.”
Marriage rates support Wolf’s thesis. But not all porn watchers are rejecting sex with a partner altogether.
Ponder this: Rod Dreher’s citation of The Telegraph: “A GP [general practitioner physician] let’s call her Sue, said: ‘I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.’ In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries [caused by frequent deviant sex] . . . not, as Sue found out, because she wanted to, or because she enjoyed it – on the contrary – but because a boy expected her to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, [I will too.] “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”
What else is porn doing to women and girls?
We imagine the stereotypical porn user as a man sitting in his basement (perhaps his mother’s) in the dark in front of a flickering screen (his phone or computer). He is glassy-eyed and probably unemployed.
But Zeisler cites Adella O’Neal, publicist for Digital Playground, pointing out that “in 2000 roughly 9 percent of the company’s consumers were women; four years later, that figure . . . bloomed to 53 percent.”
Fox News reports: “Women aren’t excluded from this heavy porn-watching either. Pornhub released information in 2017 that revealed women spending more time watching porn than men, reports anti-porn advocacy group Fight the New Drug. Women were also more likely to search for harder versions of porn than men.”
That may be how we moved from the idea that porn exploits and victimizes women to the emerging notion that sex work empowers them.
Sadly many in the Church have been drinking the poison too.
Fox News continues: Covenant Eyes [a porn addiction recovery organization]” reports that “64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women report watching porn at least once a month.” Take note: Christians.
Porn gives us a distorted view of ourselves and others. And this distorted vision is downloaded into the minds of a majority of Christian men and a significant percentage of Christian women–at least monthly–often daily.
Also this from Dreher: “At a conservative Christian college not long ago, a campus minister told me that every single young man he works with, helping them to prepare for seminary after graduation, is addicted to pornography (meaning that they use it compulsively, and find it impossible to stop, even though they want to). Sixteen young men — conservative, churchgoing men who want to serve God and others as pastors — caught in that trap.”
In Pure Desire: How One Man’s Triumph Can Help Others Break Free from Sexual Temptation, Ted Roberts writes: “Sexual addiction is not just a struggle over a mental perspective; it touches God’s very image, as well as the depths of a man’s soul.”
Here’s an ironic reality. Psychology Today quotes a scholarly study that shows porn use actually lessens sexual satisfaction rather than enhancing it.
“Notably, under no circumstances was pornography use associated with greater sexual satisfaction. These findings, while correlational, suggest that even infrequent use of pornography has negative effects on sexual satisfaction.”
Satan’s counterfeits never match up to what God intended in giving humans the gift of sex.
Where is hope for us?
As mentioned above, Covenant Eyes is a good place to start.
But first, we must recognize the problem. And it’s much more pervasive than we want to think it is.
It’s a heart issue.
We want what we want. We’ve bought so far into materialism and pleasure that we have lost sight of who we are. Of who every other person is.
Each one, imago Dei, the image of God. Each one, His poiema, God’s masterpiece.
The child in the womb. The person on the street, homeless, alone, and hungry. The woman on the screen.
And everyone who sits on the other side of the screen.
No one is ever a commodity.
From Ted Roberts: “Numerous authors have written books concerning the clinical aspects of sexual addictions, and even more books call for believers to seek holiness. But our [ministry’s] ultimate focus is more specific . . . . [We want to] persuade the Church to become a place of hope and healing rather than of shame for those fighting sexual battles. .
“We need ruthless honesty that exceeds our comfort zones and pursues God’s heart, no matter the cost.”
Individuals and ministries need to pursue God’s heart. Such pursuit comes with a great cost.
The cost of ignoring this issue is much greater.
“Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body,” I Corinthians 6: 18-20.