A Covenant With My Eyes (Job 31).
Ok, here goes. I’m going to write a blog-post about purity. Not because I’m pure. But because I’m not. I’ve hesitated long to write about something so intensely personal, but I can no longer avoid the issue. It came up in my reading of Job and I was deeply challenged by what Job said at the beginning of chapter 31:
“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (v. 1)
Why does Job say this? He’s conducting a self-examination, reviewing his life and deeds to see if he’s sinned. 30 chapters after being struck with disaster and affliction by the malign attentions of Satan he still doesn’t know the reasons why. Ever since he’s had unhelpful friends around him determined to prove that it’s because he’s sinned, eventually cataloguing examples for him (Job 22:4-9). Yet these instances prove to be false, unless both Job is lying in this personal introspection and God was mistaken in his appraisal of Job as a righteous man at the beginning of the book (Job 1:8).
Job’s examination comes up with nothing. Has he lusted? No. Has he mistreated his servants or tenants? No. Has he been greedy or committed idolatry? No. Has he ignored the poor or denied help to the oppressed? No. Has he been miserly or, in fact, sinned in any way? No. He is, as he himself proclaims, blameless. That’s not to say that he’s perfect – he’s no more perfect than any human being (my previous post looked at how the question of perfection for humans was entirely rhetorical before Jesus) – but he hasn’t sinned in any major way. Certainly nothing to warrant what he’s been through. The fact that he’s prepared to face destitution (31:8), betrayal (31:10) and even dismemberment (31:22) if he’s proved wrong shows his sincerity.
As an aside, this kind of personal reflection is no bad thing. In fact it’s a pretty good exercise for anyone who wants to be spiritually healthy. Although Jesus has graciously paid for our sins, it’s still necessary for us to acknowledge our sins, confess them and repent of them. It’s not about beating ourselves up, it’s about being real with ourselves and with God. It’s good to know where we’re doing well and what areas we can improve in.
But the real point of this post is purity. You could write posts about social justice or generosity based on what Job’s said in chapter 31, but that’s not what I want to focus on here. No, what stood out to me was his very first statement in verse 1, that covenant with his eyes. I think it’s significant that that’s the thing Job starts with, because I believe it’s one of the major issues facing men, especially Christian men, today. There’s a reason why a book I read recently was entitled ‘Every Man’s Battle’. This is a serious, near-universal issue that blokes wrestle with. Any man who says lust and impurity isn’t an issue for them is either kidding themselves or wired very differently to most of us.
Men are wired for visual stimulation, get turned on very quickly and find it all too easy to think about sex in purely physical terms. This is not just anecdotal or based on observed tendencies or my own personal experience, there is robust science underlying this and good evidence for fundamental differences between men and women in this area. That doesn’t mean women don’t struggle with purity issues, but for them I think the struggle is very different.
Not only are men biologically predisposed towards rapid physical stimulation but we live in a world and in a Western culture which seems determined to exploit this. Like never before, this is a sexually-saturated society where sexual appeal has been hyper-commercialised. It’s everywhere. So many adverts rely on it to sell products, so many billboards and magazines use it to grab attention. It’s everywhere on social media, despite efforts to censor inappropriate content. TV shows and films harness its power to pull in the audiences and music videos keep getting raunchier every year. There’s a massive industry in pornography that’s worth ludicrous sums of money and which has very effectively infiltrated most guys’ heads and even wallets at one point or another.
In short, you can’t avoid it. Wherever you look, it’s there. As you go through each and every day it can feel like an impossible task to avoid, block out or fend off tempting sights. I’ve not even mentioned actual women yet, but that’s certainly a factor. There are beautiful women everywhere, and most guys have a naturally fine-tuned radar for noticing and then repeatedly re-noticing them. The vast majority of the time those women have done nothing wrong and are probably blissfully ignorant of the effect they’re having, but sometimes it’s deliberate and that just exacerbates what media of all types are already doing. Whether it’s the opposite sex around you, your smartphone, tablet, TV, radio, cinema or any other channel, temptation is all around you. So too are the endless invitations to impurity.
None of this means guys are sick or perverted. Excluding the undeniably warped minority, most guys are just normal people living life and doing their best to be good people. A natural struggle with sexual temptation is made worse by its being misunderstood by people around them, especially other halves and female friends. This is an issue that should be better understood by everyone, seen for what it is, talked about and destigmatised. Trust me, guys struggling with this already feel enough shame without being labelled as lecherous or sex-mad by others.
Unfortunately I have my share of personal experience to draw upon in this area. I struggled with pornography throughout my teenage years and early twenties, ever since first being exposed to it when doing paper-rounds aged 13. It was a more or less constant struggle where my efforts to close down certain points of access are always one step behind my ability to find them in the first place. Make no mistake, pornography for guys is no less of an addiction than things like alcohol and drugs. Once you’ve stumbled upon it, often inadvertently, it’s very difficult to let go. For years I’ve taken great comfort in what Paul says in Romans 7. I can definitely identify with the concept of ‘For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’
There have been ups and downs, but now I’m grateful now that it’s less of a problem than ever. That doesn’t mean temptation isn’t still an issue – I have to be constantly vigilant – whether it’s dodgy feeds on Instagram or the sex scene in the latest Game of Thrones episode – but through God’s grace I’ve gradually been able to win the battle. Throughout the struggles, I always managed to find a way to cling to God, resisting the lies from the enemy that told me to give up the fight or resign myself to being condemned as a sinner. God’s Word leaves no room for such lies. As it says clearly in Romans 8:1:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That’s the message I want other guys who struggle in this same area to hear. You are not, ever, condemned by God. Yes, sin is serious; yes, pornography is damaging to you and those around you, but God’s grace goes further and stretches deeper than any mistakes of yours. Don’t give up. I’ve learnt more about God’s grace on this journey than I might have otherwise, and what I hope now is that my writing and my testimony might encourage others.
So what can we do about it? I’ve neither time nor room here to pen an exhaustive battle-strategy, but that’s what this is, a battle. A war. As Peter says, sinful desires ‘wage war against your soul’ (1 Peter 2:11). You have to fight back, armed with God’s weapons (Ephesians 6:10-17). Job takes it so seriously that he made a ‘covenant with his eyes’, with all the weighty connotations that word has of sacred and binding Old Testament agreements.
It all starts with the eyes. What we see our minds take advantage of. I’d thoroughly recommend on this subject the book I mentioned earlier, Every Man’s Battle, as it really helps formulate practical ways to avoid temptation in the first place. One technique it introduces is that of ‘bouncing the eyes’, not letting your eyes linger on a tempting sight long enough to cross over into sin. Another is based on Paul’s teaching when he says ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ (2 Cor. 10:5). Don’t let those fantasies take hold in your head till they become irresistible. Take them captive, give them to God.
There’s other help out there as well. XXX Church might sound dodgy but it’s actually a site dedicated to helping guys tackle this issue and live pure lives. It’s full of great resources, including accountability software for that foremost battleground, your computer/phone/tablet. Accountability is crucial, whatever form it takes. I’ve been accountable to others for many years now, and it really helps make things easier.
So there you go, a post on purity. Part of me can’t believe I’m actually going to publish it. But I hope you’ve found it helpful, that you’ve been encouraged. If you’re struggling in this area – take heart. You’re not alone. You’re not doomed. God’s grace wins.