Few topics are as uncomfortable and important to talk about as pornography.
It’s uncomfortable for obvious reasons. It’s also important for obvious reasons – especially if you’ve seen the statistics.
But for followers of Jesus, thinking rightly about a topic involves more than mere facts and figures. The purpose of this post is to explore the topic of pornography from a theological perspective.
Here’s the question: How should followers of Jesus make sense of porn?
In C. S. Lewis’s classic and brilliant book, “The Screwtape Letters,” a senior demon (Screwtape) writes a series of letters to his nephew (Wormwood) giving basic instructions in the art of tempting humans. (If you’ve never read it, stop reading right now, buy or borrow it, and read it.) In one of his letters, Screwtape writes, “There are things for humans to do all day long without [God’s] minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”
That last line brilliantly captures the nature and strategy of the kingdom of darkness. Sin is inherently unoriginal. It can only exist by taking something good, then twisting it in some way.
This is precisely what pornography does. It takes something good and beautiful and twists it. As a cheap imitation, its power is not intrinsic but derivative. Porn is appealing NOT because of what it is but because of the power and beauty of the thing it pretends to be. So what exactly does pornography twist?
GOD’S GOOD GIFT
Unfortunately, Christians have acquired a reputation for having a negative view of sex. And while that reputation is probably well-deserved for some Christians, it is not so for God. Beg to differ? Read Song of Songs. (Or just watch this.)
But before talking about God’s good gift of sex, we must briefly talk about the grander context into which sex properly fits. In one of the best contemporary statements on a Biblical vision for marriage, N. T. Wright argues that the purpose of that beautiful union wherein “the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2v24) is to point beyond itself toward something much bigger and grander: God’s redemptive purposes for all creation. In his words, “Marriage is a sign of all things in heaven and on earth coming together in Christ.” This vision paints marriage as an incredibly high calling, one designed to reflect God’s unrelenting love and faithfulness.
Within this larger Biblical framework, sex is a good and powerful expression of the “oneness” designed to create life and strengthen marriages and families. And when it’s enjoyed within the protective confines of a covenant relationship marked by mutual consent, love, commitment, and delight – it’s easy to see it for what it is: a gift from God.
And this is why porn is so tragic. It seizes God’s good and beautiful gift of sex and twists it, malforming it into something cheap, fake, performative, monetized, voyeuristic, objectifying, exploitative, often violent, and totally other than God’s design. It promises intimacy, fulfillment, and freedom; but it delivers isolation, emptiness, and addiction – all while fueling unspeakable acts of injustice and evil around the world (read this or this for more on the connection between porn and human-trafficking).
As with all sin, porn use produces shame which, when coupled with secrecy, devolves into a spiral of addiction and despair. Which is no way to live.
There is a better way, the way of hope, the way of Jesus. Only by naming it for what it is (the twisting of a good thing) and risking the discomfort of talking about it (which includes confession in the context of community) will porn be emptied of its power.
If you’re struggling with porn and don’t know what to do, find someone you trust and talk with them. If you don’t know who to talk to, I know a pastor who would love to talk with you. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace and Peace,
Michael Carlson is the lead pastor of Park Church. When not leading and teaching, he also the co-leader of the Shrewsbury Community Group
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