For Christian men, it can be difficult to address lust without perpetuating abuses and wounding our sisters along the way. In a former post, I confronted the blame-shifting that unfairly burdens women when it comes to issues of lust and modesty.
When the conversation gets framed in these terms, we men exhibit that we are our father's—Adam's—children. On no other issue do we men so unabashedly and inappropriately play our father's card: "God, it was that woman you put here."
The issues of lust and immodesty date back almost to the very beginning, stemming from a disruption of the relationship God intended for women and men. Digging deeper into Adam and Eve's unity—and disunity—helps shape our current understanding of male lust.
Adam and Eve initially existed in unity, enjoying and exemplifying interdependence. In Genesis 2, God removed Adam's rib and from it created the body of Eve. Remarkably, this creation of Eve from Adam produced a strong physical inclination toward her that illustrates the general inclination men have for women. It's an inclination that prior to the Fall, served to unify the two.
After Adam recognizes Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh Scripture tells us that for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. While Bible teachers and scholars tend to refer to this "leave and cleave" in strictly emotional terms, the context indicates that the "clinging" is also physical and sexual: He will cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh, the latter a euphemism for the sexual consummation of marriage.
The Hebrew term used for cling confirms the physical and sexual nature of the inclination. In similar scriptural contexts between men and women it connotes a man's deep attraction for a woman, almost at the level of irresistibility (Shechem and Dinah, Genesis 34:3; Solomon and his many wives, 1 Kings 11:2). Scripture repeatedly depicts this inclination in men, both in corrupt forms such as the story of David and Bathsheba, or in celebrated fashions like that of the lover and his beloved in Song of Songs.
Before the Fall, the inclination that man had for woman—both physical, emotional, and sexual—was good. It encouraged marital unity and signified that man did not own the place of dominance. It meant that there was a reciprocity and interdependence between male and female, a power dynamic of mutuality.
However, man's desire for woman was perverted—like so many other things that God made good--when sin entered the world. We continue to witness this brokenness in pornography and the rampant objectification of women. Rather than pulling men toward marital unity, man's inclination toward woman became distorted into consumptive lust. Furthermore, man bucked at his vulnerability to woman by reasserting male dominance and shifting the weight of guilt onto woman. Adam was the first to do this in Genesis 3:12, and men have been doing it ever since.
Man's attempt to reassert dominance disrupts the unity God intended for male-female relationships. It dehumanizes the female person, making her into an object for his satisfaction or condemning her as the seedbed of lust.
Lust is the fruit of an undisciplined imagination, so we men are without excuse. There is no one to blame but ourselves. Though lust is an ever-pressing temptation it is not impossible to resist. It does, however, demand constant vigilance, sensitivity to conviction, and the practices of confession and repentance.
For this to happen, the church needs to provide a safe space for men to wrestle with their weakness without fear of shame. This is an important role that men's small groups can fulfill. In environments free from judgment and shame, men need fellow men in whom to confide and find accountability. And while dialogue between the genders is also important for understanding, it is never ever appropriate for a man to confess his lust to the woman for whom he is tempted.
Brothers, when it comes to modesty, our responsibility is not to read a list of rules for modest female dress based on our own personal struggles. Instead, our responsibility is humble recognition of our weakness and how we have perverted that physical inclination that was created good. In repentance we men must work toward a way of thinking about the female body that is in harmony with the created goodness of her whole being.
In view of man's God-given inclination, women may hear this witness and respond to it as an invitation to assist men in confronting lust. Again, this does not necessarily mean women submit to a list of rules and guidelines for modest dress, but it does mean practicing conscious awareness of men's vulnerability without being enslaved to it. For each and every one of us, this is a process of discernment. Both women and men must seek the Holy Spirit and consider the witness of the church as we live out Paul's directive in 1 Timothy 2:9 to "dress modestly, with decency and propriety."
St. Augustine once spoke of the way in which Adam was made weak through the removal of his rib so that Eve could be made strong. This action, Augustine explained, was a foreshadowing of Christ, whose body was broken and made weak so that his bride, the church, could be made strong. Unlike Christ, who was sufficient unto himself, the weakening of man gave birth to a good and beautiful male-female interdependence. This unity between the genders was damaged by the Fall, but not altogether lost.
The church can still bear witness to God's design for human relationships. For men, this means forsaking the way of the First Adam for that of the Second. Rather than blame our sisters, we must crucify the flesh. This is our responsibility in the work of redemption.
Ike Miller is pursuing a PhD in theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is married to Her.meneutics writer Sharon Hodde Miller, and his original piece, Immodesty and Lust, ran on Sharon's site, sheworships.com.
As a part of a mini-series inviting men into the discussion of modesty, his post follows Peter Chin's Why I Tell My Daughters to Dress Modestly.