"Eric, what you said does make me curious. Is it possible for a man to look upon beauty and not lust? I have a general concern that in conservative evangelical culture, this area of lust is not much examined but in the denial of any possible temptation (like the prohibitionists over alcohol or the vow of poverty against money). And sexual misconduct in said subculture is also the most egregious of all sins, which only amplifies the shame and prohibits the exploration and meaning of it. Because of this, “lust” is rarely defined in the circles where I hear the discussions. And when I do hear it defined, it is often conflated with pleasure, desire, and a range of other things that are not the classical Christian definitions: the predatory covetousness to have intercourse with the person who is not your own. Admiration is not lust. Marvel is not lust. And extra-sensitivity about “lust”seems to draw from a general anti-pleasure and anti-beauty undercurrents with many issues conservative evangelicals deal with. Are all artists lusting who paint beautiful form? Are not Christians capable of going into professional theatre and or dance because costume changes are sometimes revealing back stage? I know Christians in the arts who are puzzled by these questions because, while they seek to honor God, they also see life from different angles, even of Scripture, that we may benefit from.
VS shows aside, is it possible for a man, without having to look away, able to admire a woman for her humanity and beauty without wanting to bed her? And is it possible for a man to learn the virtue of self-control and proper arrangement of things in his own mind and heart? Is it possible for a man (or woman!) not to compare? Is it possible for a man to be glad for others and not covet? Can he admire his neighbors car without lusting after it? Or his wife? I would certainly hope that is what Jesus is doing in us… not forcing us to simple abstinence but to see things for what they really are, parsing good from bad, healthy from unhealthy, light from darkness. The image bearing qualities of God in every man and every woman is beautiful, if not always culturally attractive. And even beautiful as God intended even if she is culturally attractive. If we we do not admire beauty, what do we do with it? Disdain it? Be ungrateful for it? What other options are available to us? That there is beauty “over there” but that all are too weak to behold it? And if we limit admiring beauty to only our spouses, what message are we sending to all who are still single who somehow have “permission to admire” while the married do not? I would think the same virtue would apply to both marrieds and unmarrieds.
Abstinence rarely cultivates strength. We don’t develop courage by avoiding the battlefield. And we don’t develop perseverance by giving up. And we don’t develop chastity by avoiding all scenarios in which we would be tempted to be unchaste. The virtuous man endures temptation to the very end and grows stronger so that the next confrontation has less power on him. And when he fails, he examines why he failed and gets up again with wiser tools in his bag.
This kind of soul formation is rarely talked about in the church. "
As my FB friend Lynne Tait put it: "there is a big difference between celebrating another's loveliness and the lustful demand that it only exists for my own gratification."