Among the more puritanically-minded Christians, and especially among the more conservative denominations of which I’m a member, there seems to be this notion that every bad thing is sinful and must be avoided at all costs. It seems that every form of disobedience to God’s Rules is assumed to stem from sinful desire instead of human appetite. This is basically the Gnostic doctrine of the first century, which teaches that everything physical is corrupt and therefore sinful, while only that which is spiritual is good.
This doesn’t really distinguish sinful desires from human desires, and so it leads to a shallow doctrine where all human impulses are treated as sinful impulses, requiring that all impulses be suppressed. This leads to doctrines like wearing bikinis is sinful, and looking at girls is bad. While this may or may not be true in some instances, it is simply too shallow of an approach to discerning good and evil to be of much use.
The truth is that young women like to be admired by young men, and that young men like to look at young women. This is the nature of humanity as God created it, and there is nothing wrong with this. Young men should not feel guilty for liking pretty girls, nor should they feel guilty for looking at them. Nor should young women feel guilty for desiring the attention of young men. Again, this is how humanity was created by God.
Likewise, husbands shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to lead and rule over (in a benevolent sense, it must be noted) their wives. Wives shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to submit to their husbands. Women, contra the careerist feminists, should feel guilty for desiring to bear and raise children. Men should not feel guilty for wanting to please God and serve him. This is our human nature, as designed by God.
Human nature, though, is not always perfect. It is often short-sighted and selfish, and is prone to mistakes. This doesn’t make human nature immoral; it makes human nature Human.
In contrast, Sinful nature is intrinsically rebellious. It constantly desires to undermine God and rebel against his authority. Everything that stems from sinful nature is sinful, since it is intrinsically opposed to God. Everything Satanic is sinful, since Satan is at war with God. Those who are his foot soldiers must be suppressed because everything they do is in opposition to God, and intentionally so.
The difference, then, between Human Nature and Sinful Nature is this: Human Nature must be channeled but Sinful Nature must be suppressed.
A young man has a natural appetite for sex. This is well-established by thousands of years of human history, to the point where this observation is so cliché that it is almost insulting to even mention it. At any rate, the appropriate way for a young man to deal with his natural appetite is not to suppress it, as some of the more Puritanical Christians claim, but to channel it effectively.
To put it in more practical terms, if a young man wishes to have sex, the proper way for him to channel this desire is for him to find a suitable wife. This basically means looking at women and trying to discern which ones can a) be married and b) are worth marrying. This doesn’t mean that he should feel guilty about being attracted to pretty young women, and thus seek to suppress his natural urges completely.
Incidentally, if you do assume that human desires are intrinsically sinful, the only logical way to deal with sexual desire is neutering. Perhaps that why so many young Christian men seem emasculated and why so many young Christian women are destined for a future as frumpy cat ladies.
That problem that arises, though, is that mastering one’s Human Nature is a bit messy at times, and often prone to mistakes. Or, to state it another way, a young man that embraces his sexual desires is going to prone to fornication. Of course, the upside of emasculation is that this option is largely taken off the table. So the options for churches, when they set about to write their doctrines is to weigh the problems of fornication against the problems of emasculation. At first blush, it might seem that emasculation is the less sinful route, but it should be remembered that emasculation doesn’t generally have much of a future.
The truth is that Human Nature is a vibrant and wonderful thing, but that it is prone to mistakes and imperfections. While emasculating Humanity may solve the problem of corrupted sexual desire that solution comes with a fairly steep price.
To get back to the original point of the post, it is my contention that the church, and the leaders thereof, need to do a better job discerning and understanding the difference between human nature and sinful nature. The church and its leaders also need to do a better job of deciding when people should suppress their desires instead of channeling or controlling them as best they can.
For an example of this, consider the matter of modesty. Per the writings of Paul in I Timothy 2:8-12, it is generally accepted in the church and among religious leaders that women should dress modestly. Depending on what denomination one is a member of, and which specific leader one is following, there are usually a couple of very specific rules for what modest dress entails. In my specific denomination and among my specific church leaders, modesty entails ensuring that one’s body is completely covered from shoulder to knees. It is assumed, naturally, that modesty refers to what is revealed and what message is conveyed by one’s dress, so conservatism is generally recommended when it comes to clothing choice. One point that is often made when arguing for these specific rules is that young women don’t want to be guilty of inducing lust among (young) men.
But is this actually what God desires from Mankind? To be concerned about hem lengths and conservative attire? Is he that much of a stickler? And can it really be said that wearing a skirt that is two inches too short automatically means you’re playing for team Satan?
This is where a deeper understanding of scriptures and theology would come in handy, at least for my particular denomination, for Paul’s command for modest dress is actually, per a proper understanding of the original Greek, a call for orderly dress. Additionally, Paul is talking about the spiritual roles of men and women (Men are to pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands; women are learn in silence and submission). At the very least, it should be clear that Paul is not talking about young men and women who are in the act of seeking mates. In fact, it appears that he is talking about the collective assembly.
As such, the command for women to dress modestly should be understood as a command for women to know their place in the church. Their modest dress is an extension of this understanding. The assembly is no place for women to seek male attention. It is disorderly. The assembly is a place for men to seek God’s attention and approval, and to instruct one another about God’s word. As such, women who seek to receive attention from men and in doing so distract men from worshiping God and studying from his word are subverting the natural and acting sinfully. In this particular instance, women who dress in distracting clothes are on team Satan.
But this is an entirely different scenario from a woman dressing somewhat provocatively so as to ensure that they have a man’s attention while out on a date. A date is not a worship assembly (though if it is, something is undoubtedly wrong), and therefore the attire for a date can, and perhaps even should, be different from the attire one wears to the worship assembly. What is appropriate for one setting is not always appropriate for another setting.
To state the distinction in starker terms, a woman who wishes to have a man’s attention at a point in time when it belongs to God is sinful whereas a woman who wishes to have a man’s attention when he is looking to give it to some girl is being human. The former desire needs to be suppressed, the latter desire needs to be channeled wisely. An application to be drawn from this is that when it comes to the matter of dress and appearance, there are some times when it needs to be discussed in terms of right and wrong, and there are some times when it needs to be discussed in terms of wise and foolish. It should be remembered, though, that just because something is foolish doesn’t mean that it is wrong.
To wrap all this together, I think it wise to consider Rahab. Per Hebrews 11, there is no doubt that Rahab was on team God. There’s also no doubt that she was a hooker. In like manner, King David was also unequivocally on team God, and was even called a man after God’s own heart. David was also a polygamist. You can say that Rahab’s and David’s decisions in the sexual realm were less than wise, but given that they are both paragons of faith according to God, it is exceedingly dangerous to call their decisions sinful.
Thus, the lesson to draw from this is to consider matters in the proper light. Calling something sinful when it is merely foolish is a category error, and the prescription that accompanies it is likely to be wrong. Calling something merely foolish when it is sinful is also category error, and the prescription that accompanies it is also likely to be wrong. Therefore, it would be best, when addressing various personal and spiritual matters, to first ask whether the matter concerns Human Nature or Sinful Nature, and then ask whether one must channel their desires or suppress their desires. We won’t get the right answers unless we first ask the right questions.