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Porn is False Intimacy

Last Updated: July 27, 2021

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Drinking from the well that doesn’t run dry

by Dr. Mark Murphy

Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, knows human longings and needs perfectly. We see this on full display in the 4th chapter of the Gospel of John, which describes the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

The setting, briefly, is this: Jesus sends his disciples into the nearby town of Sychar to gather provisions, while he goes to the ancient well and enters into conversation with a woman around midday. While the timing of the encounter may appear to be an incidental detail, it is significant because it highlights the fact that she does not go to the well at the normal time with the other women of the town—early morning, typically; not in the heat of the day—likely due to shame related to her checkered past.

Jesus uses this meeting at the well as an opportunity to address a basic human need, namely water and its accompanying sensation of thirst, in terms of spiritual, eternal verities. He contrasts the unsatisfying quality of stagnant well water with the unlimited, ever-satisfying quality of spring water, that which continually flows and yields even life eternal:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Jesus was not blind to human needs. In his humanity, he shared our basic needs. For example, later in the same gospel of John, from the cross we hear him say “I am thirsty.”  (John 19:28)  His message to the Samaritan woman can be summarized thus:  “As your Creator and God incarnate, I know your every need. Just as you should look to me to supply your physical  needs, also look to me to supply your relational needs. And most  importantly, look to me  for forgiveness and that which flows from that forgiveness, life eternal. Your needs can never outpace my provisions, which are like a never ending source of water.

The well at which Jesus and the woman conversed served as an object lesson for needs fulfillment. Water is our most vital bodily need—without it, the body soon perishes. We needn’t apologize for being thirsty. It is part and parcel of being human. Against the backdrop of the well, Jesus speaks to another human need, and that is the need to be intimately connected to—in relation with—the Creator and with other human beings. After pointing to the relationship between Himself and the one who partakes of the spring of water welling up to eternal life, Jesus shifts the focus onto the interpersonal relationships in the woman’s life, namely the marital relationship.  The Lord’s assumes that she has a husband; in fact, she has had five (!) and is presently living with a man who is not her husband.

It is impossible to know for sure from the brief biblical narrative the reason(s) behind her failed marriages. Is it possible that all of her husbands died prematurely, no fault of hers, and she continued to remarry? No. The clear impression of the line of questioning by Jesus is that all was not right with her multiple relationships, including her current relationship, otherwise Jesus would not have highlighted this aspect of her personal history.

I suspect that her different relationships with these many men all had elements of false intimacy. Each relationship initially may have offered what appeared to be loving, satisfying and comforting at the time, but they did not stand the test of time, because they lacked authenticity. So she moved on, from one man to the next, in the never ending search for true intimacy (which may simply be defined as the capacity to truly know, and be known, by another person).

Regardless of the actual reasons behind her failed relationships, it is noteworthy that Jesus does not condemn her for her sin, just as he did not condemn the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Instead, the conversation proceeds to what amounts to a remarkable self-revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, in the most straightforward language found anywhere in the gospels:

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26)

We know from her immediate response of faith that this woman needed no further explanation. She knew that she was face to face with God incarnate who knew her intimately, like no other man ever had, or ever could, and that she wanted what the Messiah alone could offer her.

Bringing the story down to our time: Is the person today who pursues intimacy on the Internet via the many forms of pornography any different than the woman whom Jesus spoke to at the well? Both, it seems to me, are seeking to have relational needs fulfilled, albeit illegitimately. Recall, we are created to be relational (a la Genesis ch. 2) but due to sin, when we seek to fulfill the innate desire to be in relation (intimacy), the results often go sideways. What is sin but a perversion of God’s good gifts?

What was required for the woman at the well to find true intimacy, and to be freed of patterns of sin in her life?  In short, an encounter with the living Lord, who knows our every need, and how best to fulfill those needs. What is required for the person who is trapped in Internet pornography? The very same thing.  If you are such a person, imagine yourself in conversation with Jesus at a well outside your town. No doubt the topics of conversation would be very similar. What probing question, or command, would he give you that would allow you to see how you are missing the mark by pursuing false intimacy via pornography? Rather than standing over you in condemnation, the Messiah would open your eyes to spiritual truths. Each time you view pornography, it is like taking a drink from a tainted well, which slowly poisons the soul. (Not exactly the lesson Jesus taught the Samaritan woman, but true nonetheless.) Instead, drink from your own cistern (marital fidelity) and drink from the well of salvation (eternal life):

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.”  (Isaiah 12:3-4)

. . . .

Dr. Mark Murphy is a board-certified family medicine physician. He practices medicine at Tacoma Central Family Medicine. Dr. Murphy received his undergraduate education at Stanford University and his medical training at Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians and specializes in addiction medicine.