The best known story, and it surely isn’t the only story, of lust in the Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba. Poets and prose writers, preachers, and film makers have had a field day since retelling this story.
Actually, preachers especially like this story because they can scrutinize David’s behavior, squeezing all the things that led to David’s fall from grace. I think it’s a whole lot more straight forward than all of the intricate reasons one might ascribe to David. David didn’t stop to think about the consequences. He wanted what he wanted, and being king of course, he could get it.
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” ~ II Samuel 11:1-5
We have a hard time talking about lust. We can talk rather easily about the other six deadly sins, but somehow, when we get to lust, all conversation stops. There are a couple of reasons for our discomfort. The most obvious is that since the fifth century, when the seven deadly sins were categorically introduced, lust has been the deadly sin. Someone once said to me, “I didn’t know there were seven deadly sins. What are the names of the other six?”
Historically, the church has been at its harshest and most unforgiving when dealing with the sins of lust, many times amplifying and intensifying already painful and humiliating situations. At the same time, the church has also been reticent to discuss the difficulties we humans face in dealing with our sexual natures. And then there is the whole polarizing discussion about sexuality in general. We shouldn’t be surprised then, if people are afraid or embarrassed to discuss such matters.
Because of both its power and its tenderness, it’s imperative that we look honestly as lust and deal with its effects in our lives. Lust has several definitions. Most of them involve sex, but they aren’t limited to that domain. Words like uncontrolled, illicit, overmastering, and excessive are used. We can be ambitious, but if we have a lust for power, then we have crossed into dangerous territory because our ambition has become excessive or uncontrolled.
We also find it telling that in the definitions for lust, the dictionary usually includes the word for or after, as in lust for or lust after. At its most basic level, it is a preoccupation with objects of our desire. Anytime the humanity of a person is replaced with being seen or treated as an object, we have removed ourselves from a personal, intimate relationship with that person. We saw that in David from our passage earlier.
It’s important for us to recognize how subtlety intertwined lust is with many of the other deadly sins. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether it is greed, pride, or lust that is driving people as they claw their way up the ladder of success. And the sly voice of envy, which leads us to believe we should be able to have access to and experience everything that everyone else is able to have or experience, skillfully heightens our lust for all those things we have not yet encountered or experienced. So too, if we avoid the sexual arena altogether, we will surely suffer the pain lust inevitably leaves in its wake.
Many mistake Don Juan for a romantic hero rather than the tragic figure he really is. Continually searching for the elusive experience of complete satisfaction, the character of Don Juan pursues woman after woman, acting out fantasy after fantasy. Yet, regardless of how sensuously satisfying the sexual experience might be, he remains unfulfilled. Focusing only on his sexual needs, Don Juan is left empty and alone.
A major contrast between love and lust, then is that love implies a personal commitment. It requires effort and involvement. We will never be totally fulfilled in our sexual life until we have made the commitment to know deeply the one whom we desire. Conversely, we turn others into objects when we desire them sexually but have no interest in developing an intimate knowledge of them. Lust is not interested in being involved or in the effort required for personal commitment.
We like to think that love is the necessary ingredient for marriage or a committed relationship, but it’s really the other way around. Commitment is the necessary ingredient for lasting love. Love, especially in the beginning, can be hard to distinguish from lust. Love can be strong and overpowering. Love can also be ephemeral, disappearing as quickly as it came. But for love to develop and last, for its roots to grow deep and secure, it needs commitment. Immediate response to lust may satisfy an immediate desire, but only love can satisfy the need of every human being.
As with every sin we’ve been looking at in the sin cycle series, we must take an honest assessment of ourselves. The problem is we don’t spend anytime thinking about theses situations prior to finding ourselves in them. It’s not that we have to conceive of every possible situation we could possibly ever encounter. It goes much deeper than that.
It’s really about our character. What really motivates us? What do we really think about? How do we think about people? How do we really treat people? Who are we when no one’s looking?
It’s an inside out job. If we take time and care with our hearts and minds, we’re more likely to be better equipped to handle the challenge or temptation when it arises…and it will. We make commitments in our love lives. Why not make a commitment to ourselves.