The past several weeks have led to a lot of introspection. As someone who has struggled with pornography addiction and has found a measure of liberty (and someone who is also given to endless navel-gazing) I’ve asked a lot of difficult questions about real freedom and the nature of addiction and bondage. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
I remember the late nights laying in bed wondering if I could sneak downstairs, unseen by roommates, to feed my addiction. I remember finding those quiet corners of the public library, convincing myself that I was only there to check my email. I remember the late night drives to video rental places hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. I also remember when the desire to view pornography got so bad that I stopped worrying if I would run into anyone.
About five years ago I wrote in my prayer journal about Job 31 and how the text was a sort of inspiration to me: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman.” (Job 31:1, NLT). Job said this in the midst of defending himself against three friends who didn’t believe in his innocence. Surely with the level of suffering Job had encountered (losing nearly all his family, property, and health), he had to have done something sinful to incur such judgment from God. Job defends his integrity at every point, and in his final appeal mentions the covenant he made with his eyes. Job is innocent of lust.
What hit me about this text is that when God speaks in the book He still proclaims Job an innocent man: none of Job’s sufferings were a judgment for sin. God says of Job, “He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” (Job 1:8). So this whole bit about Job making a covenant with his eyes is true, not just an empty boast.
How can I make a covenant with my eyes like Job? I found Job’s speech quite inspiring. Read on . . .
1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
2 What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?
5 If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit;
6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!)
7 if my step has turned aside from the way
and my heart has gone after my eyes,
and if any spot has stuck to my hands,
8 then let me sow, and another eat,
and let what grows for me be rooted out.
9 If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.”
– Job 31:1-12 (ESV) -
As someone who struggled so deeply with sexual addiction, I knew that Job’s perspective needed to become my own if I was going to find freedom. Here are some observations:
1. Job knows that nothing escapes God’s view: “Does not He see my ways and number all my steps?” (v.4). The Hebrew term translated “number” gives the idea of numbering something exactly, and could be translated “rehearse”—as if God can run a play-by-play of every action we’ve ever taken. He sees not just the results of our actions nor just the steps visible to other people: He sees every small detail and never misses a beat.
2. Job understands the heart of God’s desire about sexuality; he says, “how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (v.1). The word “virgin” is bĕthuwlah, and comes from a root word meaning “separate.” The word can refer to a literal virgin woman or man, or a woman newly married. Job’s thought is that women were separate: he does not have the right to lustfully look upon a woman, to covet her, because the woman’s body does not belong to him. As Paul would later write, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4). So true with the woman or man not yet pledged to be married: their sexuality is not for anyone to covet but for a future husband or wife to have.
3. Job understands the nature of sexual desire. His promise to himself is to not “gaze” upon a young woman (v.1). Other translations say, “look intently” (GLT), “look lustfully” (NIV), “stare with desire” (CEV), or “undress a girl with my eyes” (Message). The word carries the idea of marking something in the mind, thinking intently on something. These are no momentary glances or simple appreciations of beauty: this is a bold stare that allows the mind and heart to be engaged in concentration. This is the first step of lust. The second step is mentioned in verse 7: Job says, “if . . . my heart has gone after my eyes,” or as the NIV says, “if my heart has been led by my eyes.” It is not God’s design for our eyes to lead our heart—to simply rush after all that we see—yet the power of the eye is amazing. Current research estimates that the human retina can transmit visual input at about the same rate as an Ethernet connection. The heart that is led by the eyes is trapped in the habit of letting the eyes roam free and putting no filter on what thoughts of the heart will consider. The last step of lust is the heart being “enticed toward a woman” (v.9). This word, “entice,” can be translated “seduce” (HCSB, NLT) and means “to make gullible” or be “simple-minded.” When the heart is enticed it means that it now sees things only through the lens of what is in front of the eye: the pleasure of seeing a beautiful woman, the gratification her image offers. The simple heart no longer sees the big picture, no longer sees God’s viewpoint.
4. Job understands that God does not remain silent when it comes to sexual sin. “What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high?” (v.2) he asks. What does Job expect from the God who sees all? If Job allows lust to take hold, he expects “calamity;” (other translations say “disaster,” “ruin,” “destruction”). Job says he expects “someone else [to] harvest the crops I have planted, . . . all that I have planted [will] be uprooted” (v.8, NLT). This was one of the curses for disobedience to God’s covenant in Leviticus 26:16 and Deuteronomy 28:33. What’s striking about Job’s expectation is that he not only thinks that God will discipline him for his sin, but he agrees with God’s justice on this matter. Listen to the way he phrases things, “let me sow, and another eat, and let what grows for me be rooted out. . . . let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her.” LET this be my just punishment, he says. Job sees how lust that leads to adultery is a “heinous crime” (v.11) and he wholeheartedly agrees with God’s justice on those who turn to that way of life.
5. Understanding all this, Job makes a covenant with his eyes. A covenant is a solemn vow, a pledge, like a constitution drawn up between parties. There was a former time in Job’s life where he saw how easily his eyes could lead his heart to sin, and he made a formal agreement with his eyes that they were never to lock on to the image of a woman. He made a formal agreement with his mind to never dwell on the mental images of a woman.
What would it look like to make a covenant like this today?
- Start by understanding one’s own limitations. Job understood that the human body has its urges. The eyes will take in any information placed in front of them. Even for the Christian who has the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is a power of sin that still dwells in the physical members of our body (Romans 7:23). This will be a fact until the day our bodies are raised in glory like Jesus.
- Next, understand and wholeheartedly agree with God’s design for sexuality. Sexual desire is one of the most powerful urges in the human body. It is like a fire. Kept in a fire-pit or fireplace, a fire is productive, warming, and a great blessing. Let loose it is a raging, destructive force, or as Job says, “a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon [destruction].” As we cultivate a healthy respect for our sexual urges, we must decide to channel them in the direction they were meant to go, towards building healthy, godly relationships, and eventually consummating a special covenant made with a husband or wife.
- In light of these inherent weaknesses, I admit the need for an eye-covenant, a radical act and declaration of obedience. Usually the first step in making a covenant like this involves real repentance, turning away from our own deficient understanding and practice of sexuality and embracing what the Maker of sexuality says about it.
- When God made a covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai, He wrote the terms of the covenant on two tablets of stone; like a lawyer drafting a contract, God makes two copies (one for Himself, one for Israel). So it helps for us in our battle with sexual sin to put it into writing. Look at the areas where we find our eyes wandering (at the gym, on the internet, etc.) and write down specifically what we are deciding to do and not do.
What is so unique about Job’s testimony is that he is not simply talking about rule-keeping; he knows that the potential problem of sexual temptation lies in his heart. He knows that it is his heart that must be guarded from following his wandering eyes. Job’s eye-covenant is not merely what Paul calls “will worship” (Colossians 2:23, KJV), where we just “try harder” to be pure, promoting our own “self-made religion and asceticism.” No. This is not the covenant Job made. Job’s covenant was one of the heart.
Ultimately, Job’s heart was captured by something greater than rule-keeping or moral freedom. His heart was captured with the one he calls “the Almighty” (v.2), the great and powerful God. Job is a man who knows “the fear of the Almighty” (6:14). He speaks of “the wrath of the Almighty” (21:20) against wickedness and sin. And in Job’s final defense he speaks tenderly of his former days, “as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me” (29:4-5). Imagine that: the friendship of God, friendship with the Almighty. The word “friendship” is a Hebrew word that refers to an intimate circle of friends that share deep secrets and converse with familiarity. It is the kind of friendship that David knew when he wrote, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14), or as The Message puts it, “God-friendship is for God-worshipers; They are the ones He confides in.”
As those who pursue sexual wholeness, we must pursue first spiritual wholeness; we must pursue friendship with the Almighty as Job did. This is the paradox of paradoxes: that the Almighty might befriend us. Look to the face of Jesus, the one who brings God near, and when He has truly captured your heart, fall at his feet and call Him friend.