I got busted. “You’re checking that girl out!” cried a (female) friend.
“Am not! We were chatting…” The inner child in me immediately retorted.
This was a little while after the event so I thought I’d fall back on a hazy memory even though she was citing pictorial evidence: “Well maybe, I guess it does look like that, but I’m sure I wasn’t, I can’t remember”.
“It’s totally fine for you to check out girls.”
Really? This was news to me, a Christian female friend was giving me permission to check out girls. And my world was rocked.
I’d long heard that to look once was fine, but to take a second glance was where it started to become sinful. I was also told to make sure then that the first look was a long one.
If I’d been a bit quicker, and perhaps not quite so relieved to be allowed to do what I thought was forbidden, I’d have quoted Matthew 5 v 27-30 which begins: “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
What I was being told went against everything I knew to be right and proper. You’re not supposed to look at girls like that. But what does ‘like that’ even mean? It means to look lustfully. To be driven by lust, which is described as an intense or unrestrained sexual craving.
And this is where Christians get things horrifically confused. Young people are taught that sex is disgusting so save it for marriage (I think I stole that from Katherine Hill from Care for the Family).
And we conflate any appreciation for beauty with lust. This is peculiar to physical human beauty. We can stare at a beautiful sunset and not be accused of lusting after it. We can refer to someone’s beautiful personality and it not carry the same implication as if we were to compliment their eyes or smile.
This is not a manifesto for leering, catcalling and losing the ability to retain eye contact. And a person is different to a sunset, our relationship is different, it is about a person and that means we have a responsibility to treat them as a person and not as an object. There is a kind of looking that is wrong.
But that doesn’t mean that all looking is wrong. This is a prompt to rethink physical beauty. Otherwise we put something which is good off limits, we place an artificial wall between things that we are allowed to view as good, and others that we are supposed to ignore. Until we’re married. Yes, we’re supposed to ignore our physical attraction towards someone until we’re married even though it is likely that will be one of the ways we know whether we want to be married to them.
Is the wedding night the first time you are allowed to tell your bride that she is beautiful, she is not allowed to know how you feel for fear that you might have lustful desires?
When we think of sexuality and physical attraction like this we put barriers in the way of fruitful relationship. We need to be able to understand attraction, appreciate it, and where appropriate, act on it.