Matthew 5:27-28 includes the statement:
“Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Rather than debate that statement, although I am open to discussing it here, I want to focus on an underlying issue within something to which we refer frequently as the “Law of Chastity”. My primary focus is on the injunction regarding eliminating “lust” – and particularly how it can be avoided no matter one’s surroundings and exposure. This a result partly of the long, interesting discussion we had recently about “naturism” – but I don’t want to rehash that discussion here. Rather, I want to focus on one of the underlying currents that seemed to flow beneath the discussion.
Rather than being hyper-sensitive to any and all possibilities for sexual stimulation and avoiding all such exposure, I believe the godly way to avoid the type of temptation embodied in “looking upon a woman to lust after her” is found in an expansive definition of “chastity” – one that goes beyond the more limited definition of avoiding “sexual” activity, “sexual” images or sexuality that too many people assume.
First, “lust” is used in this passage as a verb – so, in this verse”to lust” appears to mean:
to express or feel uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; to have have an excessive craving for
Conversely, the definition for “chaste” that opposes this construct best is:
Pure in thought and act; innocent; free from lewdness and obscenity, or indecency in act or speech; modest (as, a chaste mind; chaste eyes).
The interesting association in this definition is the use of the word “modest” – which in context is defined as: “limited or moderate in amount, extent, etc.” In other words, taking both of these definitions in the context of the admonition in Matthew, the underlying characteristic that Jesus appears to be addressing is “moderation” or “control” – being able to see and appreciate physical beauty without going to any extreme, without including “lewdness, obscenity, indecency, lust, etc.” This is a much more comprehensive and fundamentally empowering / liberating view of “chastity” than a simple abstinence from proscribed activities – which manifests itself generally as a negative and constricting principle. Also, and this is critical, the definition highlights being “chaste” as something primarily existing within the individual.
I am reminded of a story I heard once. I don’t know if it is historically accurate, but it illustrates this characteristic in a very simple and direct way. According to this story, a woman notorious for traveling in the nude (Lady Godiva, perhaps) was passing a group of religious leaders (the Pope and some Cardinals, perhaps). One of the Cardinals told everyone to cover their eyes and look away, but the Pope did not do so. The woman saw the reaction her passing had created, including the fact that the Pope did not look away – and she asked him why he did not do so. His response was something like:
You are a daughter of God, and he has blessed you with great beauty. I appreciate that gift God has given and praise him for his gracious gift, so why would I look away?
I believe it is important to remember that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness only after Satan pointed out that they were naked and that others would see it. I mention this simply to stress that the typical restrictions we employ as a part of this mortal existence are in place NOT because physicality and sexuality are bad things, but because we do not want to place undue temptation and stimulation in the path of others – we do not want them to “look upon a (wo)man to lust after her (him)” due to our actions.
However, if all were “chaste” in their thoughts and deeds, such restrictions would not be necessary. In other words, we seek “modesty” (moderation) in dress as an attempt to strike a proper balance between the ideal of chastity we desire and the practical state of lustfulness by which we are surrounded – between where we wish we were (as individuals and/or a society) and where we actually are.
True “chastity,” therefore, includes not only conforming to reasonable societal constraints intended to avoid placing temptation in the path of others but also having our hearts changed to not be tempted no matter our surroundings – to not “lust after her” even when “looking upon a woman” cannot be avoided.
I don’t have a simple solution or suggestion for all – or even for any particular individual. I know it is neither the extreme conservatism of the Taliban in Afghanistan nor the extreme liberalism of South Beach, Florida – but I know that I must be able to walk in either world and be free of “lust” in order to fulfill the standard Jesus holds up in these verses.
In summary, my being chaste in thought and deed is MY responsibility. I can’t blame the environment around me – or those whose appearance “naturally” might tempt me – or claim the devil made me do it. I must change myself ultimately, even if I first must change my exposure and environment until I reach the point where they no longer matter. I shouldn’t dive into tempting situations recklessly, simply in order to test my control, but rather I can change my thoughts and actions until I can face such situations without temptation. If I never reach that ultimate objective, I must continue to structure my environment to reduce temptation, but eliminating all possible temptation can never be the default.
“Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
In this passage, the woman is NOT at fault for her beauty or her “seuxality” or anything else; the man is at fault for how he reacts. While I believe in modesty in dress, at the most fundamental level the one being viewed is not “guilty” of causing the viewer’s reaction. There are cases where s/he certainly bears some responsibility when acting in reckless disregard to the sensibilities of others, but at the most basic level the primary responsibility (at the very least) rests with the one “looking” to not “lust”.
At its most fundamental level, I believe “chastity” is NOT a restriction imposed externally; it is a characteristic developed internally.
Titus 1:15: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”
1) Modesty in dress should be the outward manifestation of an inner chastity, which is a desire for natural, beautiful, divine sexuality. I think that it’s closely tied in with an aesthetic sense, in that lust is a perversion of desire—we seek to fill a valid need (at some level) by doing invalid things. We often misinterpret immodesty and other related actions as simple unchastity, whereas they are in reality the manifestations of deep craving to connect with another human being (not sexually, most of the time, but emotionally).
2) You state that, “I shouldn’t dive into tempting situations recklessly, simply in order to test my control, but rather I can change my thoughts and actions until I can face such situations without temptation.”—which I agree with. However, one must be very prudent in order to not “test” one’s resolve as well.
3) And, finally—we can lust after someone, but can we chaste after them, and what would that mean?
I’m having trouble with yout premise. You’re placing too much emphasis on the way someone is dressed (or undressed) as the basis for whether others are tempted to lust after that person. It clouds the issue.
As someone who dresses modestly above-and-beyond church standards (I maintain the Plain dress of my Pennsylvania German ancestors), I remember the lessons I learned in childhood about modest dress: the purpose is not to hide one’s body in shame. One dresses modestly to assist one’s brethren in keeping chaste. Modest dress can never be separated from the issue of chastity. It is an intrinsic part of the topic.
I tend to agree with Ray’s premise. Too much focus on modesty as a means of preventing lust in others is like blaming the victim and treats women as objects (or expects them to treat themselves as sex objects to be hidden and discovered). If I am modest, it’s because of me, not to keep lechers at bay. And there’s nothing inherently shameful about our bodies, just with lustful obsessions to which some succumb.
Greg – BTW, I think you misunderstood Ray’s premise. I believe he’s saying what you are saying.
Greg, I am traveling and checking in for a few minutes while I stop for a rest, so I can’t comment at length, but . . .
What Hawkgrrrl said. *grin* I will never advocate removing all responsibility from men AND women for how they dress, and I will always teach a form of “chastity” in dress, but at the root level, it is my responsibility to be chaste in deed AND thought – and I must develop that internal chastity regardless of my surroundings and the actions of others. Ultimately, I can’t blame anyone else if I “look upon a woman to lust after her” – no matter how she is dressed or undressed. Ultimately, my thoughts are mine – and I need to own them as my own.
“lust is a strong desire for something God hasn’t given us”
An interesting definition from Sue Bohlin of Probe Ministries.
She expounds on this topic further:
“The passion your husband has for you is God-designed and God-given. Men are visual creatures, and when you combine that with the testosterone that God created to flow through his body, it means he has a strong desire for sex WITH YOU. When he directs that desire toward you and you alone, this is the safety net that marriage provides. God means for our sexuality to flow within the banks of marriage alone, and not overflow those banks into other relationships”
Okay, I’m going to take this from the top.
1. The passage from Matthew Chapter 5 is another example of how Christ’s commandments went beyond the letter-of-the-law in the Law of Moses. With Christ, it’s not enough to avoid the act of adultery. You have to control your urge to even begin going towards thoughts about committing adultery. Other concepts in that chapter include replacing “eye for an eye” with “turn the other cheek” or replacing “Thou shalt not kill” with “It’s not even permitted to be angry with your brother, let alone kill him.” You’re supposed to love your enemy. Stuff like that. We’re focusing on one thing in a long list of suggestions about “raising the bar.”
2. The example of the Pope and Cardinals sounds completely fabricated and doesn’t really express a universal, gospel principle anyway. It’s more informative to me to imagine the same situation with President Monson and other Apostles reacting to a naked woman in public. And I just can’t imagine President Monson saying the same thing to the woman. Even if I try to imagine the Savior himself with the ancient apostles, I can’t imagine that statement coming from his mouth. It sounds like, “Yes, go ahead and present your precious body to the world. Who cares?” It just doesn’t ring true for me.
3. You’re assuming that Adam and Eve made aprons because Satan told them to do so. In fact, the book of Moses doesn’t tell the story that way. You’re basing your statement on something from the endowment. But are we supposed to believe that everything portrayed in the temple is exactly as it happened in the Garden of Eden? This isn’t a documentary.
It’s a mistake to say that Satan is the one who introduced clothing in the world. Even if the endowment ceremony were a documentary, all I know is that Satan introduced aprons. God the Father introduced clothing. If that’s true, then I hesitate to assign negative motives to God’s action. You seem to imply that Adam and Eve needed clothes from the earliest moments of their obtaining knowledge because they weren’t chaste enough. You said that “if all were ‘chaste’ in their thoughts and deeds, such restrictions [Did you mean clothing?] would not be necessary.” I can’t accept that as it would apply to Adam and Eve. I don’t think you meant to slander them the way you did.
4. I had an Elders’ Quorum President who admitted to me that he was personally very tempted by pornography and similar indulgences. Because he was aware of his weakness, he knew his own limitations and he was concerned about a business trip to New Orelans. He knew well enough to just never go to “South Beach, Florida.” I don’t think the Lord would require him to go there anyway just to prove he had overcome the world. Joseph did a good job of telling Potiphar’s wife that her advances were worthless, but even with all of his righteousness, eventually he still had to run away.
This discussion seems to be very self-centered. So, sure, let’s each do a self-evaluation about this topic. But then we’ll each have to immediately return to reality, which is a world full of other people with whom we must interact. Just because I’m immune from the advances of Potiphar’s wife doesn’t mean I’m safe to walk through the house, or that I should ever require myself to do it.
Greg, you have TOTALLY misread what I am saying in the post. I apologize for not being clearer, but I just don’t know how to say it differently.
Point by point from your last comment:
1) I agree – 100%.
2) I said I don’t know if it’s historically accurate. I believe it probably is fiction. I think Jesus would have reacted similarly – then added, “Go and put some clothes on.”
3) I never said Satan introduced clothing into the world. The main reason I can’t accept “naturism” and public nudity is that I believe God introduced clothing into “the world” – as I said in the naturism thread. If you had read the thread, you would have understood that, but it appears you assumed I was arguing in favor of public nudity. I am not and never have.
4) I agree. I said so.
Last paragraph) I agree and never said otherwise.
Please read and comment without the incorrect assumption that I support public nudity. I DON’T and never have.
My definition of lust is a lot like my definition of pornography. I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it (or her).
I’m just not getting it, I guess. So I’ll gladly sit on the sidelines and read what other people are thinking about this one. I hope my comments won’t discourage others from adding to the discussion (…but I do wonder how many others have misread the start of this topic as much as I apparently did).
Greg, Let me highlight one of the paragraphs from the post and focus solely on it. Hopefully what I’m saying will be clearer:
Notice, in this paragraph, I am saying that “true chastity” INCLUDES “conforming to reasonable societal constraints” – or, in other words, following reasonable standards of modesty in dress and action. I do not believe full compliance with the Law of Chastity ever includes public nudity in a telestial existence, such as mortality here on Earth. (After all, that covenant is presented as a Terrestrial Kingdom law.) What I am saying is that “true chastity” is not restricted to simply obeying such standards – that when someone is truly and fully “chaste” s/he will be able to look upon a (wo)man and NOT “lust after her (him)” regardless of the situation, because his/her heart has been changed and is no longer “naturally lustful”.
I’m saying modest attire is an important part of the Law of Chastity, but it is not the law; it is not chastity.
Thankyou Ray.I recently met a friend for lunch,and chose to dress invisibly as i know she has a problem with body image.I don’t get out much due to illness,and would have kind of enjoyed dressing to impress,but my love for my sister prevailed.I wonder if I am finally getting to grips with the concept of modesty,that it is a principal of love.At the same time ,I love to see my sisters and daughters looking gorgeous,and wouldn’t want them to be any less than they are.Perhaps ultimately it’s a principal of generosity?
I think that the definition of lust is a floating target, depending on one’s cultural up bringing, personal psychological issues, etc.
When one lusts for power, they manipulate circumstances, plot, throw away other moral laws, etc. to get what they lust after – be that a particular job, status or whatever. I think lust is more than looking, or thinking. The lust comes into play when one’s thoughts become an obsession – i.e. to think about situations that you can put yourself into that would help cultivate a particular outcome. Sure, it starts with thoughts, so we need to be careful that we don’t entertain improper thoughts. But I think that lust is more than just thoughts.
I’m surprised no one has cited the quote form Elder Oaks from the Spring ’05 GC. “And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.”
I respectfully disagree with Comment #4. We must all be considerate in avoiding “becoming pornography.” This is especially true of women, as men are typically more visually oriented.
Regarding the apocryphal “Godiva story” I believe that Elder Packer once said the female body was the most beautiful of God’s creation (Can anyone help me with a source?) but I can’t visualize him reponding the way the Pope did. I think any man of God would look away.
On a more practical basis, how does one get from the “natural man” to the level of chastity of thought Ray implies is possible?
Ray, you said: “True “chastity,” therefore, includes not only conforming to reasonable societal constraints intended to avoid placing temptation in the path of others but also having our hearts changed to not be tempted no matter our surroundings…”
I agree with the last part, but experienced quite a bit of confusion about the first part.
True chastity (or anything else) is not dependent on conforming to anything other than that which is True. Truth stems from divinity. If one is attempting to unveil truths that are inherent in his/her being as a child of Deity, then one ought not be concerned about “reasonable societal constraints.” The concern should be focusing on understanding God, and thereby coming to understand one’s True self. As children of God, we are in essence, Gods. As we come closer and closer to God, we can come to understand more and more who we really are, and what we are capable of. If we are focused on earthly things, we are not honoring our own divinity.
True chastity has to do with recognizing our own power as immortal, divine and sexual beings. It has to do with recognizing our own inherent goodness. It has to do with honoring that within ourselves, and recognizing that within our brothers and sisters. True chastity is beautiful, it is divine.
True chastity is a principle that has nothing to do with our current (earthly) society’s attitudes surrounding sex. True chastity is a principle that has nothing to do with “avoiding evil.” True chastity is not focused on abstaining, but rather on celebrating and rejoicing within the sanctity of marriage – eternally. True chastity is a principle, it is not a rule or a law.
Those that choose to focus on rules or laws, have not yet come to understand Truth and its source. Certainly, none but One has ever had a “perfect” (which is to say complete or whole) understanding. Yet, those that choose to focus on the here and now, will likely attain that upon which they are focusing. Rules and laws are the easier path. Rules and laws are created for those who are looking for a master. If we choose to master ourselves, we will live by the principle upon which the rule is founded. To build ourselves upon the Foundation, rather than lean against the pillars of laws/rules, is recognizing our Foundation and returning to it.
If we master ourselves, our hearts may come to understand an infinitesimal amount in the way that the Father does. The Father does not see a woman and lust after her. God does not see a man or woman dressed provocatively and feel sexual urges towards that person. God loves.
Beyond that, to suggest that it is any one person’s responsibility but one’s own for what one has not yet mastered is ludicrous! To suggest that a sinner can blame another person is against the Gospel. (AofF 2, Deut 24:16) That any person in authority would teach that God’s children who have reached the age of accountability are not responsible for their own choices is hypocritical. We have to honor who we are.
We have to honor that which is within us if we hope to inherit that which has been promised. To focus on the world will bring us things of the world. To master oneself is to recognize the Truth that we are children of God. To see as God sees is the goal. To be so consumed with the rules/laws and disregard the principle is surely missing the mark.
Historically, being so consumed with rules, or laws, or conformity, or obedience to man, has not lead to enlightenment. What leads to enlightenment is honoring Him from whom we came; recognizing the seeds of divinity that are inherently ours; mastering our mortal desires and concerns while still living here in this existence, and following the Master by coming to know Him.
True chastity has nothing to do with NOT lusting after someone (regardless of his/her dress – or undress for that matter). True chastity is not about conforming to societal (which society? what era of time?) constraints. True chastity is about recognizing and honoring who we all are. It is about joyously respecting, honoring and celebrating our consecrated sexual relationships. Learn to recognize and integrate (or better yet, unveil) the True principle of Chastity into who you are, and you won’t have to be constrained by the “law” – you will be living the True meaning.
Kathy (who appreciates True chastity 🙂
Kathy, I agree with everything you just wrote – with one caveat:
We live in a mortal, “fallen” world. Therefore, chastity **in this realm** includes “coats of skins” to wear within that world – certainly as a preparatory step, and apparently as a nod to the mortal, “natural (wo)man” state of the sphere in which we live.
That’s all I meant by “reasonable societal constraints” – and I think it’s hard to argue from a scriptural standpoint that unrestricted public nudity falls within “true chastity” **in this mortal realm**. Chastity, at its core, is not about clothing, and I believe that clothing would be irrelevant in a perfectly enlightened world – but I believe chastity includes a temporary element of “covering” when we are “in the world”. Being “not of the world” is the challenge, which makes the coats of skins a concession to the communal inability to live the ideal.
As I said, I agree completely with your comment.
So, Ray, are you convinced that nudity will be the norm after mortality? If so, I wonder where you’re getting that. If not, I wonder why you keep implying it.
Good heavens. I have no idea whatsoever what we will wear in the hereafter or if we will wear anything. I have no clue. None. Zip. Blank slate. We have NO record of anything related to the topic, and I’m not going to presume to speculate. I don’t care – not in the slightest. Couldn’t be less concerned. Have no desire at all to ask for revelation about it. Totally disinterested. (Tack on any other phrasing you want.)
Adam and Eve walked around naked in the Garden. No big deal. We are told not to do so in the lone and dreary world. No big deal. The hereafter? No big deal, whatever the case may be.
Whether or not something is irrelevant often has no bearing on whether or not it exists or is practiced. Personally, I like the feel of clothing, so if I have a choice (relevant or not) to walk around however I want, I’ll choose to wear some kind of robe.
Summary: I have no clue, and I’m not some kind of closet nudist – and I’ve never said otherwise. Get off the horse; it’s dead. 🙂
Well, I can’t answer for Ray, but… Yes, Greg. Of course. Heaven will be like showering after gym.
Thanks for the laugh, LdG.
Ray, you’re absolutely right. Chastity isn’t about clothing at all. Did I mention clothes? It would seem that one of us is rather obsessed with clothes! 😉 Have you ever heard that it is the poor man who is consumed with money, while the rich man gives it very little thought? 🙂
I feel compelled to break this down again to either living by principles or rules. My recommendation is (and I try to) live by the rule only until one grows enough in understanding to incorporate (unveil) the (True) principle. Once a person understands and lives the principle, the rule is unnecessary. When a person lives by a principle, the desired outcome (of the rule) no longer has to be compelled.
However, back to the topic you brought up – there are several instances in the scriptures that discuss nudity, even public nudity, and these are mentioned as a matter of fact. Several of these have nothing to do with chastity, or modesty, or temptation, or sin. They are simply mentioned. Nudity in and of itself (public or private) is a state of being. It becomes sinful, or beautiful, or sexual, or pure, or moral or immoral not based on anything other than what is inside – the brain. It is based on perspective and heart.
If I were to look at a man and view him as sexy and lust after him, that is my responsibility and my sin. If he has (in his mind) chosen to present himself in a sexual way, intending to incite lust, then that is his responsibility and his sin. The sin lies with him (or her) who has either lusted, or intended to incite lust. Note: lust (like all sexual desire) is a function of the brain, not the body. Likewise, chastity is a function of the soul, not the body.
Public nudity (or private nudity) in and of itself has little, if anything, to do with chastity. Learning to recognize who we Truly are will help us to recognize our own fallibilities, and to have compassion for others, not to mention the ability to have a greater and truer understanding of chastity.
If we choose to limit our understanding of chastity (and modesty for that matter) to the state and/or amount of dress we will feel a lack in our soul in relation to our righteous, intimate relationship with our spouse. A higher plain of understanding exists and is within grasp for God’s children. It’s certainly easier to try to break down the principles to rules, and so often rules are created with the very best of intentions, but rules are restrictive and limiting. There is no growth where there is no room for understanding.
Kathy (who believes that chastity is a function of the soul)
Kathy, where exactly do you think we disagree?
It seems to me that those people in this discussion who keep saying that “chastity has nothing to do with clothes” are the ones who keep talking about clothes!
Very nice post. Bravo!
Great post. I’ve thought a lot myself on exactly how to define lust, just because I see a lot of women that turn me on, whether modestly clothed or not, and I have to wonder, when am I lusting, am I always lusting, and can I do anything about it, because it seems to happen so automatically?
I equate lust with covetousness. I think the two words: covet and lust are probably related in the bible translations. One thing I believe is that “lust” is not the same thing as desire. I think sexual desire is normal and natural. Coveting is different from desire in that it takes desire one step further. It takes the object of desire and preys upon it with the eyes. The woman literally becomes an object, used by the viewer to enhance the innate sexual desire naturally felt. So when I am turned on by a woman, if I find myself using her image as a way to feed a sexual thrill I am building and consuming within me, then I think it is wrong.
However, I have to think that a natural turn-on is simply unavoidable, and I might as well enjoy it. As long as I don’t build upon it, as long as I don’t keep looking to feed the fire, or keep looking back on it, then I think I’m OK. I used to feel terrible guilt whenever I got turned-on. These days, I don’t feel guilty about it. Yes, porn is a big temptation, and I have to set lots of boundaries for myself, but I’ve stopped killing myself over my natural instincts. I simply try to be honest about my instincts and draw appropriate lines so I stay out of trouble. I don’t see my sexual desires going away, no matter how spiritual I get. So even if I’m the Pope in front of Lady Godiva, she is going to turn me on. But as long as I don’t feed the fire, I think it’s OK.
It’s similar to other types of coveting. I enjoy looking at a neighbor’s beautiful big house. I might say, I’d love to live in a place like this, but I go home to my modest house and I’m still content. I haven’t coveted. I haven’t lusted. I’ve simply enjoyed the aesthetic beauty of the place, and remained content with my lot in life.
(is this thread still “live”?)
Ray, Fantastic post. Thank you. I think you have hit upon a principle often overlooked. I fear we use modest clothing as a crutch to true modesty.
“I wear modest clothing, therefor I am a modest person.”
Well, the two don’t automatically go hand in hand. It’s my belief that putting modest clothing on an immodest person modest won’t suddenly render them modest. To use an extreme to make the point, putting a full length dress on a prostitute will not make her a chaste person.
Modesty and chastity are internal principles. Instead of teaching modesty by saying, “If you don’t show too much skin, then you are a modest person”, I would prefer to teach people to BE modest on the inside by instilling a sense of self worth and of divine potential, and then let external behavior such as choices in clothing follow.
Teaching that modesty is a dress code is like teaching an oncologist to put band aids on a tumor.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. I think “becoming” over “just doing” goes MUCH deeper than many people realize.
I think that Chastity, like Charity and very closely related to it, is a spiritual gift.
It is acquired in the same gospel process that leads us to becoming like Jesus in other ways.
Those of us who have lived anything but a chaste life, may find ourselves humbled and in awe of the beauty of the gift, and that we could ever be a person in possession of it. ~
GREG #23: I do talk about clothes a lot, but I’d like to think it’s in response the almost militant stance I see too many church members taking on modest clothing. This influence from church members is something I have to constantly try and undo with my own kids. No, my ten year old daughter, you are NOT a bad person because you like to play outside in a tank top. No, my eight year old son, you are NOT a bad person because you wore flip-flops to church today.
(brag alert –>) My kids are great kids. We’ve taught them much about loving the Gospel, the scriptures, and the Lord. The teachings seem to have stuck so far. They seem to be confident and happy. Wearing a tank top or a sleeveless dress to play outside, or a tan-kini to the public pool, or flip flops to church… none of that undoes who they are on the inside, despite what some church members would have them believe.