SOURCE: John Piper
LETTER TO A WOULD-BE ADULTERER
You may think I am ill-suited to counsel a young man on how to be faithful to his wife, because, in almost fifty years with my wife, I have never felt enticed to be romantic or to have sex with another woman. However, it might be worth probing whether this (perhaps unusual) fact has causes which are transferable to you.
Let me clarify. It’s not as good as it sounds. My eyes are as magnetized toward excessive female skin as most men’s. I am not designed for beach evangelism. I find airports to be problematic enough. I have zero tolerance for nudity in films — or even suggestiveness (which rules out almost all of them). One reason (among many) is that any sexually charged image lodges itself in my mind, with regrettable effects.
One more clarification: I have enjoyed a life of sexual intimacy with my wife, that is, I think, as intense as any can reasonably hope for. In other words, I don’t think my disinterest in sex with other women is owing to deficient hormones.
So, back to the point that needs some explanation: I am 71 years old and have been sexually attracted to Noël for 51 years. For 48 of those years (since we married), that attraction has been gratified with joy. During those 51 years, I have never been attracted to another woman romantically. I have never desired sexual relations with another woman. When I fell in love with Noël in the summer of 1966, a focused sexual longing exploded into being. That peculiar desire to be intimate with Noël has never shifted onto another woman.
Are there any discernible causes for this that might be shareable?
1. Plead with God to take away illicit desires.
“God worked a miracle to make adulterous touching not just morally wrong, but physically revolting.”
The first thing to say is that I consider this disinterest in sex with other women a pure gift of God’s sovereign grace. It does not feel like a reward for some virtuous discipline. It’s as if God said, “I have other sorrows you will have to deal with in your family. But I will spare you this one.” I have not felt like a valiant sailor lashed to the mast while the Siren voice of alien sex sang her seductive song. I didn’t need to be lashed, because the song was not attractive.
So, the first transferrable thing I would say is this: “Ask God for it.” Don’t just ask him to keep you from giving into temptation. Ask him to take away any desire for any woman other than your wife. Plead for this.
2. Feel how revolting and disgusting adultery truly is.
The second thing I would say is probably going to sound strange, maybe even questionable. One way God protected me from adultery is by making it feel revolting to me. Ever since I fell in love with Noël and I knew we would spend a lifetime being intimate, the very thought of touching another woman sexually became disgusting, sickening. This may sound weird. I have not talked about it with many people. But I have said to myself often, with amazement, “The thought of having sex with any other woman besides Noël feels as nauseating to me as the prospect of having sex with a man.”
I mean this quite literally. I am not merely raising the moral stakes by using physically strong language. I mean God worked a miracle to make adulterous touching not just morally wrong, but physically revolting. That is one of the greatest works of divine grace I have ever experienced.
Now let me speculate about the origin of this gift. When Jesus wanted to help us deal with adultery and lust, he said,
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)
He might have said, innocuously, “If your eye causes you to sin, turn the other way, because giving in to temptation can only be harmful.”
Why did he gross us out with the revolting image of digging our eyeball out of our head and throwing it like a slimy egg yolk into the garbage? Maybe it was to awaken in us something more than mere moral disapproval — something visceral, something like a gag reflex in our throat.
“Ask God to take away any desire for any woman other than your wife. Plead for this.”
I have been reading and believing my Bible since I was a child. The realities of God, Christ, heaven, hell, faith, and holiness have been ever-present realities to me — sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible. They are not add-ons to who I am. They are baked in. They’re part of me, shaping what I love and what makes me want to throw up.
So, my speculation is that somewhere along the way in my life, God took the reality of his massive disapproval of lust and adultery, and the threat of indescribable suffering in hell (Matthew 5:29), and created a connection between the physical terror of eternal burning and the moral outrage of cheating on my wife. The form that this connection took was physical revulsion at marital unfaithfulness. It may be way more complicated than that. But that’s the best I can do for now.
However this happened, it seems biblically fitting to me, and I thank God for it. It has freed me wonderfully to focus on other things. Whether it is transferrable to you depends on God’s free grace. But my suggestion is that you saturate your life thoroughly with the realities of Scripture, and pray for their profoundest effects in transforming what you find desirable and what you find disgusting.
3. Don’t trade permanent pleasures for temporary trysts.
I’ll mention one other thing that seems to me to be part of the explanation for why adultery has felt not just wrong to me, but also nauseating. When I was a junior in high school, something awakened in me that I could call poetic, or spiritual, or aesthetic, or otherworldly. It was a sense that there is something stupendously wonderful and joyful to be experienced beyond the sensuous pleasures of the body.
If I weren’t a Christian, I would call it the “numinous” or the “Other” or “Beauty.” In other words, many people have this sort of awakening, not just Christians. But for me, it was distinctively Christian. The wonder and beauty and greatness were in God, through Jesus. Since those days, I have experienced a kind of ache for a Pleasure beyond the pleasures of the body.
But here’s the link with nauseous adultery. At the same time as this longing for the ultimate heavenly Pleasure was awakened, I discovered that sexual sin (like lust and its mistress, masturbation) caused my soul to plummet from any heights of joy they attained. It seemed to me that I was faced with the choice of wallowing in the mire of brief physical sensations (called pleasures) or soaring in my heart where something much more substantial and lasting and satisfying was offered.
“Sexual immorality cuts off the wings that lift us toward the highest, richest, most durable Joy.”
This built into me the visceral conviction: Sexual sin and spectacular satisfaction are utterly at odds. As Jesus put it, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
I now see this as God’s existential gift of Colossians 3:1–5:
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above. . . . Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality . . .
In other words, sexual immorality cuts off the wings that lift us toward the highest, richest, most durable Joy.
But I wanted this Joy with a vengeance. And as this desire grew, so did my opposition to anything in me that stood in the way. And Colossians 3:5 put sexual sin at the head of the list. I believe God turned this opposition into physical revulsion in proportion as the desire for real Pleasure in God grew stronger.
Keep Asking God for Help
Well, that’s my effort to interpret my experience in the light of Scripture. I hope there are lessons to be learned here that are transferrable to you:
- Ask God that he would make sin sickening to you, not just morally wrong.
- Ask him to make biblical realities, like hell and heaven, terribly and wonderfully real to you — real enough to taste and feel.
- Ask him to open your eyes to the glory of the spiritual world “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
- Ask him to give you a massive desire for ultimate Pleasure in God that is so strong that it makes sinful pleasures nauseous.
- Ask him to transpose the pleasures of intimacy with your wife into foretastes of the unending ecstasies of heaven.
When you have prayed, lift up your eyes. Lift them up to the deep, blue sky. Lift them up to the brilliant whiteness of the billowing clouds. Lift them up to the unfathomable star-filled darkness of the night. Lift them up to misty mountain ranges, and to the rivers that have run for a thousand years, and to the mighty trees that took their time to become strong imperceptibly, and to the orange day-lilies and purple vines and the yellow-souled daisies, and to the ripple-free lakes at dusk, and the great bow of the ocean horizon.
Take your eyes off your computer, off your mirror, off your pain, off your dead dream, off your self-pitying lust. God is speaking to you. He is waving a thousand flags to get your attention. He has more to give you than you have ever tasted or felt or dreamed. The price he paid to satisfy his people, with never-dying joy and ever-new beauties, was great. Don’t push him away.