During a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, robbers held several hostages for six long days. During this time a curious thing began to happen: the hostages began to show signs of sympathy for their captors. Even after the ordeal was over, one of the hostages later became good friends with one of the robbers.
The criminologist assigned to help police with the case coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” While there is considerable discussion surrounding the exact nature of this phenomenon, there have been several reported cases of the syndrome; some hostages seem to form powerful emotional attachments to their victimizers as an internal defense mechanism.
Israel Longs for Egypt
By way of analogy, we can see Stockholm-like symptoms in the attitudes of the Israelites during their wilderness years. Only weeks after they watched God open the Red Sea, they were murmuring against God when they ran out of provisions. They thought about their life back in Egypt—the bread, the pots of meat (Exodus 16:1-3)—nothing like the scorching wilderness. Even after the revelation of God at Sinai, they said, “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-4).
Wasn’t this the same group of people who groaned because of their slavery (Exodus 2:23)? Why, instead of remembering the cruelty of Egypt—the task masters, the heavy burdens, the centuries of toil making bricks under the hot sun, the ruthless slaughter of their children—did they remember pots of meat?
My Longing for Porn
I have been just as guilty of the same lunacy when it comes to my own habitual sins—like my love affair with pornography. Yes, in my sober moments I could see the ugliness of porn for what it was. But there were many times I rushed back to porn like a dog to its vomit. In the moment of indulgence, I was blind to the shame and oppressiveness of my addiction—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I saw the shame of it, but it somehow seemed less ugly to me.
Something in me wanted to be addicted, wanted the slavery. Over the years, I’ve pondered why this is, and here are my observations…
Who Do You Trust?
God made Israel many promises of deliverance. If they trusted God, He would bring them out of slavery into a land of blessing. But “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2).
That generation died in the wilderness because they did not trust in God.
It wasn’t that Egypt was better than the wilderness; rather, trusting the Egyptian slave masters was somehow easier than trusting God. Sure, Egypt was a cruel place, but at least it was a predictable place.
For me, it wasn’t that slavery to porn was all that desirable, but it was easier for me than trusting God. Sure, I knew the cruelty of the slave master’s rod, but at least in front of my computer screen he delivered predictable rations. In the wilderness of trust, however, I would be asked to die to my selfish demands and enter the unpredictability of following God’s Spirit.
In order to finally overcome my addiction to porn, I needed to confess my sin of unbelief.
Trusting God on My Way to the Promised Land
When I felt totally inadequate and rejected in life, it was easy to long for the “pots of meat” offered by pornography. There, in that fantasy world, I was never rejected. But God was calling me to repent of needing the approval of others, pursue His glory above all (1 Corinthians 10:31), and anticipate the glory He promises to those who trust Him (John 5:44). His approval is far better than the approval of women made of pixels on a screen.
When I was felt pathetically lonely, sitting at home while all my friends were out on dates with their beautiful wives, I longed for the rations porn would deliver, the temporary illusion of intimacy. But God was calling me to the trust Him as I entered the risk of godly intimacy with a real person. God can and will take all my relationships—even my failed ones—and use them to conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
There were nights I felt genuinely angry at God for not giving me the spouse I so clearly “deserved” and the life I so desperately wanted. I would run back to the slavery of Egypt as my way of throwing a tantrum at God for not catering to my desires. “Fine, God, you won’t give me what I want. I’ll take it however I can get it.” But like a loving Father, God called me to stop acting like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29-31), acting like God “owed” me something. In the wilderness, God taught me that He does not relate to His children this way. As a Father, He knows me better than I know myself. He knows exactly what blessings are best for me in His perfect timing. And like a loving Father, He spoke tenderly into my spirit, saying, “Everything I have is yours.”
Longing for the Promised Land
The only thing that cures a longing for Egypt is a longing for the Promised Land. I need to begin believing that what God offers me, even in the unpredictability of following Him, was far better than the false promises of porn.
I know until I get to that land, Egypt will still be in my blood. I still bear the scars of my former slave master’s whips. In my foggiest moment I will naturally be drawn to the memory of the pots of meat. But God feeds me with the heavenly manna of Christ’s broken body. He has given me a taste for milk and honey. And He has given me traveling companions that constantly remind me that we are on our way home.