Does God care whether or not we masturbate?
Wait, before you stone me on a Sunday morning all dressed up to go to Church, here is my defence. I took my cue from a wise man. He is a Nobel Laureate in Economics. But he is no economist. He is a psychologist. He recently wrote a book to much critical acclaim.
I dare say that no one understands human nature and behavior better than him. Of course, he would disclaim that honor. But the proof is in the pudding and here is what professor Steven Pinker said about him: "(He) is among the most influential psychologists in history and certainly the most important psychologist alive today. He has a gift for uncovering remarkable features of the human mind."
Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Black Swan, wrote this about his book: "This is a landmark book in social thought, in the same league as The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud."
Lastly, Steven D. Levitt, the renowned economist who wrote the Freakonomics series, said: "There may be no other person on the planet who better understands how and why we make the choices we make."
So, that's the background of the man, here's his name: Professor Daniel Kahneman (Princeton University). His book is entitled "Thinking fast and slow". And here's my defence I told you earlier in the words of Michael Lewis (author of "The Undoing Project"):-
"Danny (Professor Kahneman) made his final decision about God. "I still remember where I was - the street in Jerusalem. I remember thinking that I could imagine there was a God, but not one who cares whether or not I masturbate. I reached the conclusion that there was no God. That was the end of my religious life." (Page 60).
Now, before any die-hard believer of the faith shakes his head at Professor Kahneman's most candid admission about God (or his disbelief), he is not a man to be dismissed so easily. He once said this: "My interest in psychology was as a way to do philosophy. To understand the world by understanding why people, especially me, see it as they do. By then the question of whether God exists left me cold. But the question of why people believe God exists I found really fascinating. I was not really interested in right and wrong. But I was very interested in indignation. Now that's a psychologist!"
Notwithstanding his atheistic stand, Professor Kahneman’s lifelong inquiry is strictly empirical as he leaves the issue of God and his existence exclusively in the hands of others.
This brings me back to the question I started with in this post: Does God care whether or not we masturbate? I can safely say that Professor Kahneman's answer to that question is in the negative. In the first place, to him, who doesn’t subscribe to omnipotence in any form, it is a personal matter.
However, in the Bible, the one who was struck dead for an act that comes closest to masturbation is Onan (Genesis 38). His refusal to pass on his semen to his sister-in-law (whose husband, Er, had died) to continue Er's lineage was a grave act of disobedience.
But then, Onan's offence was not masturbation as it is defined, but coitus interruptus, that is, it is a form of birth control. Theologians will say that he had broken a covenantal law for his failure to complete the orgasmic package. But whatever it is, Onan's hardness (of heart) cost him his life.
Now, when it comes to what the Scripture has to say about masturbation, Dr James Dobson wrote: “Christian people have different opinions about how God view this act. Unfortunately, I can’t speak directly for God on this subject, since His Holy Word, the Bible, is silent on this point. The Bible says nothing about masturbation, so we don’t really know what God thinks about it. My opinion is that He doesn’t make a big issue of it.”
And as discussed above, Onan is not specifically on point. Further, the scriptures about sexual immorality and corruption are too broad to be helpful to address the issue fully. The best guide we have is what Jesus said about adultery in the heart in Mathew 5:27-28. Although the verse does not specifically refer to masturbation, it does to some extent.
Jesus was talking about covetousness here, that is, lust developing in the heart or the appetite to satisfy lust. This appetite has to be consciously and deliberately fed. It is a process, and not just one or two looks of the eye. What our eye thus sees is not lust, but what our heart feeds on is.
So, this form of corruptible lust (or appetite) must be distinguished from sexual desires and its development, without which the commandment to go forth and multiply (in the context of marriage) would be a non-starter. Lust and covetousness thus go together and they are categorically different from sexual desires and marital intimacy.
Therefore, when Jesus talks about lust in the heart, I believe He is indirectly talking about masturbation, but to what end. In other words, I believe it is not the act that is condemned. It is the ultimate object (purpose) of the act that we as believers ought to be concerned with. It’s not so much concerned with the how but the why.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant puts it aptly when he wrote that “its (masturbation) immorality lay in the fact that a man gives up his personality…when he uses himself merely as means for the gratification of an animal drive (lust).” So, lust always demands. It is insatiable. However, love unfailingly devotes. It deeply satisfies.
While different religions view masturbation differently, with Catholicism reserving the highest condemnation for it, and Protestantism and Anglicanism refraining from calling it sin outright, the consensus here is that when masturbation becomes obsessive, chronic and self-directed, it becomes self-destructive, pathological or sin.
When masturbation makes an addict out of you or turns you into someone who looks at another lustfully in order to fuel your fantasies, you know you have crossed the morality or sanity line. By then, your heart will be inextricably entangled with the appetites of the flesh.
Coming back full circle, does God care whether or not we masturbate? I think the answer to that is not whether God makes a big or small issue out of it (aka Dr James Dobson). On this, I take my lead from Jesus.
Of course, apart from adultery of the heart, Jesus made no mention of masturbation in his ministry. As such, I will have to understand the issue at hand by looking at the totality of his life and teachings on earth.
But first, let me say this: Jesus did not come to eradicate masturbation per se. He did not come to stop us from enjoying the gift that our sexuality offers. More importantly, Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to redeem us. He came so that we may live fully and to live fully in Him. In other words, Jesus did not come to minus from life, but he came to add to it and all the pleasures that come with it – be it sexual, physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual.
It is thus not a religious life of do’s and don’ts. Nobody is keeping scores here. The freedom that comes from Him is not a freedom within regimented or religious boundary. You cross it and you will be morally electrocuted. No. It is a freedom that transforms all man-made boundaries, all rules and laws. It changes our perspective from how we keep His commandments to why. And Calvary, His sacrifice and His grace that pours out from them is the why. So, when it is said that knowing the truth shall set us free, this freedom is one that transforms us from the inside out, and not just from the outside.
Ultimately, we cannot understand our spiritual growth without understanding that it is something we grow into progressively, taking one day at a time. It is therefore not a sudden, blind sprint to the finishing line. The kingdom of God is always about something growing like a seed, and how that seed blooms over a lifetime into a canopy of outreaching leaves. Our walk in faith and discipline grows through all seasons with the usual stumbles and falls, rising and overcoming.
The late Dallas Willard once wrote that, “Life in all its forms permits distortion within limits, of not becoming what it was meant to be. But in the nature of the case, one who really understands who Jesus is sees their own situation in a realistic light and wants to take measures to remedy their condition by staying as close to Jesus as possible. Discipleship is a natural part of confidence in Jesus as he really is.” And this confidence takes time to take shape, to spread her wings, and take flight.
So, God cares more than we think about masturbation, but He cares even more about how we grow in Him, how we overcome in our own unique ways and season, how we fall and rise again in faith and hope, and how we persevere to complete the race meant for a lifetime - notwithstanding the repeated struggles, the biting remorse, and the moments of broken humanity.
It is said that the heart of the law is love and love is the fulfillment of the law. Conversely, the law of the heart is sin and sin is the defilement of the heart. While the old covenant aims to prevent us from transgressions, the new covenant seeks to empower us to transformation. Calvary therefore reverses the order of submission from form to substance, from appearances to enduring growth, and from the law to love.
At the end of the day, love will see us through. Love will make a way to keep our eyes always on Calvary. Love will cajoled us back to Him when we fail to live up in thoughts and deeds. And love will gradually replace the perversions of our heart with the perfection of His Spirit.
By which time, masturbation will no longer have an addictive hold over us. We will be able to turn from the pleasure that it once brings to the pleasure that the pursuit of His Spirit brings. The rising of a new dawn in our walk in Him will then be the rising of a new devotion that satisfies our heart adequately and fills us with inexplicable joy. It will be a “hedonic mill” of a different kind. It will be the kind that makes us crave eagerly for the pleasurable things that find favor with our loving Savior. Cheerz.