The Dummies Guide to Reality It's not Really All about Sex
Can you really blame a dummy for thinking the 6th Commandment is all about sex? Isn't that what the world believes? Already in 1942 C.S. Lewis said that sexual intercourse "is rapidly becoming the one thing venerated in a world without veneration" (God in the Dock, 31). Over 20 years later, he concluded that though everyone said the problem was that people were too prudish to treat sex as they did every other impulse, the real problem was that it was treated as no other impulse was. While every other impulse needed to be bridled, disciplined, resisted, not sex. No that one needed to be given free reign in an enlightened society (Ibid. 320).
Fifty years later we have a western civilization where sex is the be all and end all of entertainment, relationships, life. Contra Faith Hill the secret of life isn't a good cup of coffee, keeping your eye on the ball, or even a beautiful woman. It's sex. And Freud proves it to a dummy like me. He found sex everywhere, and everything from alcohol to automobiles uses it to sell. But this is really a case of finding what you're looking for. We put on sexually tinted glasses and are surprised when we see sex everywhere (Man and Woman, 93). Why we put on those glasses and the taking off of them is what the 6th Commandment is about in reality.
First, let's put sex in its place. A sexually pure and decent life means sex is in its proper place. In holy matrimony, not outside of it. Second, it doesn't have an ultimate or even penultimate place in what it means to be fully human. Jesus the God who is also 100% man was celibate, yet He was not less human, didn't lack anything. Third, God given sexuality gender as well as intercourse is not contrary to perfection. God made them male and female and joined them in holy wedlock in Paradise, and neither their sexuality nor sexual relations caused the Fall. However, the Fall did corrupt both.
Sexuality is not the problem lust is, and thanks to Freud we've equated sexuality with lust. The Latin word he used for the driving force of all behavior, libido, we think of as our sexuality. Actually libido is the Latin word for lust. 2 Peter says the corruption that you see in the world is there through lust.' Sin doesn't lie in the sexual appetite or in sexuality but in lust. Dante defined sin as beginning where one thinks of lust to the exclusion of God (Browser's Dict. 229). C.S. Lewis said almost 75 years ago we had reached that point as a society because crowds would gather to watch a woman slowly take off her clothes. If you came to country were crowds gathered to watch a cover lifted from a plate of food, you'd rightly conclude there was something gone wrong with their desire for food (Mere Christianity, 89f.)
But the fact that we don't really want to be cured of this malady shows that what the 6th Commandment is exposing is more than a problem with lust. Augustine said that when he prayed for chastity he thought to himself, "But not yet." He was afraid God would answer his prayer and cure him too soon of the lust which he really wanted satisfied not ended (Confessions, VIII, 7). But the truth is a lust can never, ever be satisfied only inflamed.
The sad story of David and Bathsheba gets us to the root of the problem. In Luther's original Small Catechism the woodcut for the 6th Commandment is King David standing on his roof while Bathsheba is being bathed by attendants in a stream below. Interestingly, the woodcut doesn't have him looking in her direction.
You know though, according to Scripture, that's exactly what happened. In the time when kings were supposed to be in the field warring on behalf of their people, David spent all day in bed only getting up when evening came. We would say he was depressed. He walked around on the roof of his palace listlessly. Nothing to hope for; nothing satisfied. But then he saw Bathsheba and "she was very beautiful in appearance." And perhaps the song is right: "her beauty in the moonlight overthrew" him. The text says David sent messengers, not soldiers, but it also says that they took her and not that they lay together but he lay with her. Yes, this was a sordid sexual sin.
Yet when David sorts this all out in Psalm 51 after he has been brought to repentance and faith where does he locate the problem? He doesn't say it was lust on his part, much less looseness or forwardness on Bathsheba's part. Remember he writes this Psalm after violating Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He says that he knows his transgressions (plural) and that his sin (singular) is ever before him. Then astoundingly he says, "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned." What? Bathsheba is knocked up; her husband murdered and against God only He has sinned? And then he gets to the root of his sin: "Surely I was sinful at birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
David says the real problem is Original Sin. The real problem is that from the moment he was conceived he was fallen, separated from God. Our sins against the 6th or any other Commandment come from being sinful. Sexual sins are the symptom; Original Sin is the disease; sexual sin is the plant; Original Sin is the root.
The 6th Commandment exposes this. In the Old Testament, everywhere fornication is mentioned it's immediately connected to idolatry (Peters, Ten Commandments, 141). The 6th Commandment is not ultimately about having men or women that don't belong to you in marriage; it's about having other gods. Right through the Middle Ages the manuals that helped people confess their sins often only expounded the 6th Commandment superficially. Rather than focus on sexuality they unfolded the 6th Commandment under the chief sin of the Latin luxuria, our luxury. I have noticed this about homosexuality. It is more about sensuality than it is about sexuality; it's about finding the be all and end all of all things in this fallen world, in the gods of this world.
What the 6th Commandment is really about is our fallenness from God. But why does it show up in our sexuality so pointedly? For the same reason my oral surgeon put me on antibiotics even thought I didn't have an infection. A doctor told me that was because the blood supply to the mouth is directly connected to the heart. You get a mouth infection and it's highway to the heart. Our fallenness is most directly connected to our sexuality. So our sexuality is quickly perverted into lust, sex before marriage, homosexuality, and adultery.
The fig leaf incident also shows this truth. The first area Adam and Eve realized their sinfulness was in their sexuality. But if you think your sexuality is the real problem, you'll do what they did. Grab for fig leaves to cover the indications of your sexuality. You'll grab for the fig leaf of celibacy like Roman Catholicism; you'll grab for the fig leaf of hiding your gender like a Puritan; you'll grab for the fig leaf of labeling sex as an evil to be put up with as Protestant Bible thumpers have. All of these identify the problem wrongly, make the real problem worse, and make sexuality itself a problem.
If only Judas' or Peter's problem was all about sex. If only the extent of their sinfulness or ours reached only to their fallen bodies. Judas evidently thought it did because he tried to undo his sin. Actually that's not quite true. He confessed it to whom he should, the church. They are the ones who said it's your problem, and he undid as much of his sin as he could. He gave back the blood money. Peter is a more sophisticated sinner. He tries repeatedly to stand even after he has fallen. Though Jesus had flat out told him he will fall, Peter keeps thinking, "I can stand; I will stand; just give me another chance." Peter does the equivalent of being sure he can stand firm in the face of pornography only to take up with a prostitute instead.
Even a dummy should see that sins against the 6th Commandment can't be dealt with by declaring all sex or sexuality evil, and they can't be dealt with by promises to do better or by excuses for what we have done. These provided no help to Judas and so he hanged himself in despair. As for Peter, and may it be so with us, with a look from Jesus he was recalled from despairing over his sins and sinfulness to the forgiveness of both.
Chesterton, after referring to Sodom as the depths of the fallen world, says such things are hideous not because they are so far from us but because they are so near to us all. In our hearts are buried things every bit as disgusting as any buried under the brimstone of Sodom. Then he concludes that if Jesus didn't come to do battle with such things, "I know not why He came." (Works, XX, 335).
You see Jesus fighting the fight in the Passion Reading. Peter saw it too; that's what led to his repentance and faith. See that when Jesus is slapped in the mouth for saying nothing wrong, He was slapped to pay for the words that come out of your mouth making sexuality dirty. He is blindfolded as if His eyes have looked at all the perverted things our eyes have. He is beaten all about the body because our bodies deserve to be beaten everywhere because there is not a part of us that we haven't used to sin against God's gift of sexuality and marriage.
The sexually pure and decent life the 6th Commandment calls us too as well as the love and honor between husband and wife are not available from some 12 step program, some self-help book, or even some marriage retreat. They are yours in the Person and Work of Jesus. In His Person He has restored that person in you who does love and honor his spouse. In His Work He has lived the sexually pure and decent life we should, paid for our not doing that, and then given us a new holy life without stain, spot, or even wrinkle.
Let me restate this reality in terms that even a dummy like me can understand. For the world sex is the major key of the music of their lives drowning out all else to the point of driving some mad. What Christ has done for us is transposed our sexually into a minor key in service to the major key of the music of our lives which is that Jesus has redeemed, rebirthed, and restored us to a sexually pure and decent life as newborn children of God. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Midweek III (20160224); 6th Commandment, Passion Reading 3