Behind Sex Addiction

In their book The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge describe God’s wild, passionate pursuit of our hearts. We are God’s beloved, designed for intimacy with Him. He whispers of His great love and longing for us, but the world’s pain, travail and chaos drown out the voice. Although life separates us from our true destiny – a deep, satisfying relationship with God – our hearts yearn on. Even while we are frustrated by our earthly journey fraught with failure and disappointment, we know we are made for something more. We seek an aliveness of soul, a magical moment of romance.

Somewhere along life’s bumpy road, we begin to resign ourselves that we will never find the romance we desire. We disconnect, forget whose voice is whispering to us, and harden ourselves against the disappointment. But we can’t totally silence the voice, and so we compromise by taking to ourselves what Brent Curtis calls “less-wild lovers.” We seek substitutes that are less passionate, less dangerous, less potentially painful, and in short, less wild, than a love relationship with God.

In this excerpt, Curtis explains that our attempts to deaden or anesthetize ourselves to the pain can play out in two ways: by seeking competence or order, such as by keeping a spotless home or life; or by giving our heart a life on the side by losing ourselves in an affair, a fantasy life, or pornography. As Curtis shows, this pursuit of a less-wild lover is ultimately empty and leads to isolation instead of the fulfillment and communion we seek.

The Sacred Romance: Less Wild-Lovers
We put our hope in meeting a lover who will give us some form of immediate gratification, some taste of transcendence that will place a drop of water on our parched tongue. This taste of transcendence, coming as it does from a nontranscendent source, whether that be an affair, a drug, an obsession with sports, pornography, or living off of our giftedness, has the same effect on our souls as crack cocaine. Because the gratification touches us in that heart-place made for transcendent communion, without itself being transcendent, it attaches itself to our desire with chains that render us captive.

A few years ago, I was counseling with a Christian man just ending a yearlong affair. He was married to an attractive and energetic woman who was also a believer, and he knew that he really loved her. He also began to understand that whatever it was that attracted him to the affair, it was not the woman herself, but something she represented. As we talked of making his break with her final, he wept with grief, immersed in the fear that some shining, more innocent part of himself would be left behind with the affair-left behind and, perhaps, lost forever.

And this is the power of addiction. Whatever the object of our addiction is, it attaches itself to our intense desire for eternal and intimate communion with God and each other in the midst of Paradise—the desire that Jesus himself placed in us before the beginning of the world. Nothing less than this kind of unfallen communion will ever satisfy our desire or allow it to drink freely without imprisoning it and us. Once we allow our heart to drink water from these less-than-eternal wells with the goal of finding the life we were made for, it overpowers our will, and becomes, as Jonathan Edwards said, “like a viper, hissing and spitting at God” and us if we try to restrain it.

Whatever the object of our addiction is, it attaches itself to our intense desire for eternal and intimate communion with God and each other in the midst of Paradise-the desire that Jesus himself placed in us before the beginning of the world.

“Nothing is less in power than the heart and far from commanding, we are forced to obey it,” said Jean Rousseau. Our heart will carry us either to God or to addiction.

“Addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity’s desire for God,” says Gerald May in Addiction and Grace, which is no doubt why it is one of our adversary’s favorite ways to imprison us. Once taken captive, trying to free ourselves through willpower is futile. Only God’s Spirit himself can free us or even bring us to our senses.

If God’s experience of being “married” to us, who are his Beloved, is sometimes that of being tied to a legalistic controller in the ways I’ve described in the paragraphs on anesthetizing our heart, at other times it is more like that of being married to a harlot whose heart is seduced from him by every scent on the evening breeze. In our psychological age, we have come to call our affairs “addictions,” but God calls them “adultery.” Listen again to his words to the Israelites through Jeremiah:

“You are a swift she-camel running here and there, a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving- in [your] heat [how can I] restrain [you]? any males that pursue [you] need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find [you] Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry” (Jer. 2:23-25).

God is saying, “I love you and yet you betray me at the drop of a hat. I feel so much pain. Can’t you see we’re made for each other? I want you to come back to me.” And Israel’s answer, like that of any addict or adulterer, is: “It’s no use! / I love foreign gods, / and I must go after them” (Jer. 2:25).

Perhaps we can empathize with the ache God experienced as Israel’s “husband” (and ours when we are living indulgently). Having raised Israel from childhood to a woman of grace and beauty, he astonishingly cannot win her heart from her adulterous lovers. The living God of the universe cannot win the only one he loves, not due to any lack on his part, but because her heart is captured by her addictions, which is to say, her adulterous lovers.

Many of us have had the experience of not being able to bridge the distance between ourselves and others, whether they be parents, friends, or lovers. Whether the distance is caused by unhealed wounds or willful sin in our lover’s heart-or our own-we experience their rejection as our not “being enough” to win them. Unlike God, we begin to think of ourselves as having a problem with self-esteem.

Whereas God became even more wild in his love for us by sending Jesus to die for our freedom, most of us choose to both become and take on lovers that are less wild. We give up desiring to be in a relationship of heroic proportions, where we risk rejection, and settle for being heroes and heroines in the smaller stories where we have learned we can “turn someone on” through our usefulness, cleverness, or beauty (or at least turn ourselves on with a momentary taste of transcendence).

The list of our adulterous indulgences is endless: There is the exotic dancer, the religious fanatic, the alcoholic, the adrenaline freak, the prostitute with a man, the man with a prostitute, the eloquent pastor who seduces with his words, and the woman who seduces with her body. There is the indulgent lover who never really indulges physically, but spends his life in a kind of whimsy about what is lost, like Ashley in Gone with the Wind. What these indulgent lovers have in common is the pursuit of transcendence through some gratification that is under their control.

In the religions of the Fertile Crescent, access to God (transcendence) was attempted through sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes. Perhaps, as we indulge our addictions, we are doing no less than prostituting ourselves and others in this very same way. “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God,” said G. K. Chesterton.

At first glance, those of us who live by indulgence-illicit affairs of the heart-appear to have a certain passion that is superior to those who live by anesthesia. But is a passion that must be fed by the worship or use of the other and so it is a passion that does not leave us free to love. Indulgence leaves us empty and primed for the next round of thirst quenching in an endless cycle that Solomon described as “vanity of vanities.” Jimi Hendrix, one of our modern-day poets, just before his death of a drug overdose, said it this way: “There ain’t no livin’ left nowhere.”

Life on that first road where the signs promised us life would work if we just applied the right formula-the road that seemed so straight and safe when we first set out on it-gives us no wisdom as to what we’re to do with the depth of desire God has placed within us. It is desire that is meant to lead us to nothing less than communion with him. If we try to anesthetize it, we become relational islands, unavailable to those who need us; like the father who lowers his newspaper with annoyance at the family chaos going on around him, but makes no move to speak his life into it.

If we try to gain transcendence through indulgence, soon enough familiarity breeds contempt and we are driven to search for mystery elsewhere. So the man having an affair must have another and the man who is an alcoholic must drink more and more to find the window of feeling good. “There is only One Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ,” said Oswald Chambers.

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