Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson once said, “Every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” The Strait of Gibraltar is the gateway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Nelson’s honest comment is about the anonymity of the open sea, away from societal and familial commitments. Separated from hearth and home, sailors tend to forget about their marriage vows and became bachelors again.
In the modern world we face the Gibraltar of cyberspace. The Internet is a place where many men’s inner bachelors come to life, a place where they begin to think, feel, converse, or act emotionally unfaithful to their wives.
There are at least two significant temptations men face online: tempting images and tempting interactions.
There are literally hundreds of millions of pornographic images online. According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, 86% of men are likely to click on Internet sex sites if given the opportunity.
Beyond the obviously pornographic images, there are countless sensual images on otherwise benign Web pages. Sensual imagery can be found at every turn. There are millions of seemingly “gray areas.”
- You might regularly visit an Internet news site that contains tabloid-esque stories featuring the latest celebrity’s weight losses and makeovers, or the latest break-ups and hook-ups.
- You might be accustomed to running Google image searches, occasionally glimpsing a thumbnail of the female form.
- You might even be on YouTube when you notice a seemingly “related video” with a relatively modest, yet nonetheless attractive young woman staring back at you.
And guys, let’s be honest: How many times has your mouse either lingered over or clicked on a link just because you believed there was a good chance an image of an attractive woman was going to greet you when the page was loaded?
For many men, even Christian men, these online explorations have the appearance of innocence or normal boyishness. What, we might ask, is the problem with me noticing a beautiful woman who has come across my path? Isn’t this about as amoral as noticing other beautiful creations like rainbows or flowers or whatever?
While there are seeds of truth in these justifications, do we really buy into them? When I repeat these justifications to myself it is one thing. But when I hear other men use them, I think, “Right. You clicked on the image of the hot girl because you wanted to admire God’s handiwork. Give me a break.”
I think most of us (probably all of us) know the difference between admiring beauty and opening the doorway to lust. I, for one, notice a clear and discernible difference between my heart’s reactions to a supernova or a supermodel. Seeing the first takes my soul “higher.” I am caught up in the longing CS Lewis described as wanting to find “the place where all the beauty came from.” Seeing the second, my gut reaction is to depersonalize: to not see a human being created in God’s image, but an avatar to be cast on the stage of my fantasies. She is not a “you” to be loved. She is an “it” to be consumed.
Tempting interactions can also be found on the Internet. With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, reconnecting with old friends has never been easier. As more and more people use social networking sites it is so easy to find long lost friends, old girlfriends, old crushes, and old flings. We can also bring present offline friendships into online contexts. Chat programs and chat sites enable people to connect to strangers online, offering a whole new world of interesting people and endless possibilities.
It is easy to fantasize about the people we interact with online because avatars and online profiles are polished, two-dimensional representations. To a person thirsty for connection, the Internet can be a smorgasbord of seemingly low-risk interactions. It is easy for some men to justify long hours online interacting with others. It is easy to believe what we do online doesn’t matter as much as what we do in “real life.”
We often justify these interactions because they look so little like traditional lust. There might be very little visual sensuality involved. But covetousness comes in many forms, not just in the form of visual lust. It is easy for online interactions to approach a level of intimacy that would make our wives uneasy. It is easy for our hearts to be engulfed in a longing for more intimacy with the people behind the avatars.
The Heart of Online Temptations
On the Internet we find the lures of novelty, variety, and fantasy. The Internet is filled with sensual novelty: at every turn is a face, a body, an expression, a demeanor that is new to us. The Internet is filled with variety: we can click through literally thousands of images of women as if we were shopping on Amazon; we are trained to see the feminine form as an asset to be bought, sold, and traded in a consumer culture. The Internet is also filled with fantasy: my computer is a digital canvas where anything is possible.
Sailing through our Internet Gibraltar can be an eye-opening experience. It is here God can show us what really motivates us. Knowing we are in a place of relative anonymity, we may feel our bachelor tendencies awaken. They float like scum to the surface of our souls, and we are reminded that there are corners of our heart that are in further need of God’s transforming grace.
On this side of Christ’s risen glory the Internet-using guy will always feel the pull of tempting images and tempting interactions. But our hope is living and real. We live in the long-awaited age of the Holy Spirit, and by keeping in step with Him we not only avoid fleshly indulgence (and thus marital unfaithfulness), but we can cut off lust’s power at the source.
It is every Christian’s duty to not only repent of sinful behavior, but to repent of sinful motivations. And in the Bible the question of motivation is never just, “What desire is driving me?” but “Who is the master of this pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior?”* Is it the Creator God, or is it an idol? We are not just men with needs. We are men with masters, lords, and gods.
Easily giving into tempting images or interactions is only the fruit of our “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:1-8).
- Our idol might be ourselves: the belief that our happiness or comfort or importance is central. This leads us to want to draw our own moral lines and define our own terms, a.k.a. rebellion and pride.
- Our idol might be others: the belief that the approval of others means everything. This leads to a constant sense of failure of insecurity, to which the Internet provides a formidable escape, an online world of fantasy where the women never say no.
- Our idols might be the images of women themselves: a fascination with the female form that compels us to take the second, third, and fourth glances.
And it is never just one idol at the root. The Bible does not show sinful man content in choosing merely one god. We fight the lusts (plural) of the flesh.
Fighting Sin in Community
This is why Christian community and accountability is so important. Accountability to other members of the Body of Christ is not just a way to shatter the anonymity of our private lives (be they online or otherwise). Accountability is about helping one another see the hidden idols of the heart.
We are commanded by God to engage in daily, mutual, fervent encouragement so “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). God has given us one another as His tool to expose the idols of the heart we cannot see in ourselves. This means we must all become committed to daily community. We must learn the art of loving, probative conversation and pray to become “men of understanding” who can draw out the hidden motives of each others’ hearts (Proverbs 20:5).
Bear in mind the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. We know the tale of his lust, his adultery, and his conspiracy to murder. We know the fallout from his sin. But upon reflection, David saw the heart of his problem: not only was he born in iniquity with a heart bent on evil, he also lacked “wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6).
While your Internet temptations may never materialize into sin as monstrous as David’s, we all need to fight our tendency to deal with sin only on the surface level. And we need one another to do that.
. . . .