You know the guy I’m talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he’s a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting. What we too often don’t recognize, though, is why.
Recent research indicates that millions of men are debilitatingly hooked on leisure. Some economists and social scientists are even voicing concern that the amount of men who play games instead of work is a real threat to economic growth. Additionally, the epidemic of pornography is so pervasive in our culture that Time Magazine recently devoted an entire cover story to the testimonies of men whose lives had been harmed by their addiction.
In their book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say we may lose an entire generation of men to pornography and video gaming addictions. Their concern isn’t about morality, but instead about the nature of these addictions in reshaping the patten of desires necessary for community.
If you’re addicted to sugar or tequila or heroin you want more and more of that substance. But porn and video games both are built on novelty, on the quest for newer and different experiences. That’s why you rarely find a man addicted to a single pornographic image. He’s entrapped in an ever-expanding kaleidoscope.
There’s a key difference between porn and gaming. Pornography can’t be consumed in moderation because it is, by definition, immoral. A video game can be a harmless diversion along the lines of a low-stakes athletic competition. But the compulsive form of gaming shares a key element with porn: both are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.
Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.
Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.
The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves.
When these drives are directed toward the illusion of ever-expanding novelty, they kill joy. The search for a mate is good, but blessedness isn’t in the parade of novelty before Adam. It is in finding the one who is fitted for him, and living with her in the mission of cultivating the next generation. When necessary, it is right to fight. But God’s warfare isn’t forever novel. It ends in a supper, and in a perpetual peace.
Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.
Zimbardo and Duncan are right, this is a generation mired in fake love and fake war, and that is dangerous. A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.
The answer to both addictions is to fight arousal with arousal. Set forth the gospel vision of a Christ who loves his bride and who fights to save her. And then let’s train our young men to follow Christ by learning to love a real woman, sometimes by fighting his own desires and the spirit beings who would eat him up. Let’s teach our men to make love, and to make war... for real.
A version of this article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org.
Publication date: September 14, 2016
Several years ago, I quipped before an audience, “Election years make people crazy.” And that was before I had any idea what was coming in 2016. For families with children, this election year brings unique challenges, since the campaign this year feels often like a reality show that breaks only for the Olympics. How do we talk to our children about what they are seeing all around them?
The most important step is to combat fear. That’s true in any election year, due to the way that partisans—and, sadly, especially Christians—speak in apocalyptic terms every four years. “If Barack Obama is elected, we won’t have a country left in four years,” was said many times in 2008. “Our country can’t survive the reelection of George W. Bush,” others said in 2004. Elections have consequences, yes. Elections are important, yes. But elections are not the pinnacle of history—for either good or for bad.
Our children should see that we are concerned about our country, but not that we are wringing our hands over the election. As Christians, we have an Apocalypse revealed to us. This isn’t it.
The second is to avoid tribalism. Many Americans see political candidates the same way they see their sports teams. They reflect in the glory of the winners, and despair with the losers. My side is all-good; your side is stupid and evil. If you have a candidate in this year’s election, explain to your children why you support that candidate. But also explain why other people would support one of the other candidates, and do so in a way that is as fair as possible to those views.
Another way to do that is to show where you and your candidate disagree. This will be true, even if your candidate is a write-in candidate of your choosing. If you agree with a political party or a political movement 100% on everything, you probably haven’t found a party platform but a new biblical canon. You want your children to see that your conscience is dictated by something (or, rather, Someone) more than the pull of whatever mob has the right bumper stickers.
Beyond that, model what it means to glean news from multiple sources. Don’t simply listen to the reassuring voices of whatever media outlet will tell you your candidate (again, if you have one) will win.
The third is to educate about the issues. Talk to your children not just about the issues that are raised in the debates and in the television ads, but also about the issues that aren’t raised at all. Ask why candidates might not want to talk about some pressing questions. That will teach your children not just about citizenship, but about human nature. Don’t just talk about issues that your child will see immediately affect you. Look at how public decisions affect those without much power—the unborn, the immigrant, the indebted, the elderly, the refugee.
Finally, keep the gospel the gospel. Show your children what matters most to you, and that’s the kingship of Jesus that is not of this world. When you see faith used cynically by politicians, point it out to your children as what it is. There will come a day when your children will wonder whether the gospel is just a cover for some cultural or political agenda. Make sure they see from you that you know that, while the gospel has social and political implications, politics is not the gospel.
Moreover, make sure they see that you are not enmeshed psychologically with your candidate or your party. You are united to Christ Jesus, and you don’t need some other would-be messiah. Sometimes that means that after you’ve talked about the blessings of living in a democratic republic, after you’ve discussed the implications of the election on various issues, that you smile and shrug and say, “But it’s only the presidency.” Your children should see that while you respect the office of President, you do not see it as ultimate. They should see that your greatest hope for one of them is not that he or she would be president of the United States. It’s that he or she would be a ruler of the universe, as a joint-heir of Christ Jesus, sharing in his inheritance, reconciled by the blood of his cross.
Publication date: September 8, 2016
In my early twenties, I was without a job for a few months, and was shaken by that. Up until then, I had worked every day since I was fifteen, and had always thought of myself as an “overachiever.” Here I was, newly married and a seminary student, with no work. Every month, until I was back on my feet, a check would arrive from my home church, from an anonymous donor, sending me money. I later found out who the checks came from–an older couple I had known all my life. They never said a word. The checks were, for me, about more than making ends meet. They were a sign that someone believed in me; someone thought I had a future, and they were just holding the rope for me until then.
I thought about those checks when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the shocking numbers of unemployed men, greater by some estimates than even during the Depression. It occurred to me how my little time of unemployment had been so trivial in comparison. My wife had a job. We did not yet have children to support. I was young, and able to bounce back quickly. How different the situation would have been had I been unemployed at middle age, with no prospects ahead and a mortgage to pay? More importantly, would I have had the same community around me, to quietly help me and to cheer me on?
With rates of male unemployment the way they are, your church has a spoken or unspoken specter over the men in your congregation and your community. Some are without jobs. Some have jobs, but are insecure in them, fearful of losing those jobs in the next round of layoffs. Here are some suggestions for serving these men, and their families.
Acknowledge Unemployment. Sometimes pastors and teachers and leaders underestimate the signals sent in our illustrations and applications. When we apply the Christian vision to the workplace, or give illustrations about how to live out the Christian life in our work, we are often careful to speak of a range of vocations—from the most modest service job to the most exalted profession. We often don’t speak of those who are unemployed, or whose employment is insecure. Take this into account, and speak directly to those who have lost their jobs, or who fear they may very soon. This doesn’t “solve” the problem, but it communicates that this is a burden for the whole Body to bear together.
Deal with Identity. Unemployment hurts everyone—men and women alike. Men in our culture sometimes face this in unique ways. Men often tie their entire identities to their jobs. Some of this is part of the creation design. God creates humanity—male and female—in his image, and immediately speaks of their cultivating the world around them (Gen. 1:27). The man’s very name is tied to the ground—his source of origin and the vocation he is called to till. And much of it is rooted in cultural expectation. Today we ask both boys and girls, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But boys have been asked this for generations. Often a man who is unemployed feels not only economic stress but a sense of confusion about who he even is. That’s especially true if he’s spent most of his life seeing himself as “John the Plumber” or “Eric the Store Manager or “Dwight the Paper Salesman.”
Many of us are driven to our work out of a desire for an approval, a word from a parent that says “I am proud of you.” Many never hear that, and clamor for it all their lives without knowing it. The gospel addresses that identity crisis, and we must constantly remind ourselves of this. If we are in Christ, then our identity is seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). God is pleased with Jesus. He announces that at Jesus’ baptism—before his ministry begins. Jesus works, and this work is patterned after his Father’s (Jn. 10:37). But Jesus’ work flows from his identity, not the other way around. And so must ours.
Equip Men—and Women—for Spiritual Warfare. Unemployment can sometimes bring a sustained time of temptation. The crisis itself does not create this temptation, but it can highlight points of vulnerability. A man who sees his masculinity tied up with his paycheck or his work title may find, when it’s gone, that he seeks to find masculinity in other places. He may be tempted toward pornography or an affair that might promise the illusion of his carefree youth. He might be given over to despair, and retreat into a dark place in isolation. In our teaching and preaching and ministry, we must speak to him, to tell him we will have resources available for this fight. We must speak also to the wives of unemployed men, who often are suddenly shouldering a burden for the family that can be terrifying when it is sudden and unexpected.
Provide Economic Support. The New Testament gives us different ways to respond to economic crisis among the people of God (see Paul’s directions for the younger and older widows). But the Bible never allows us to close our eyes to those who are suffering economically. In some cases, that means direct help. Maybe your church puts together people with means who can short-term help bear the grocery or car payment of a family suddenly in unemployment. Often the solution is more in terms of putting people with resources that are not necessarily monetary. Some churches have those with jobs in newer, emerging fields to provide tips for job training or job searching for those in industries that are sick or dying. In most cases, the most important thing here is putting people together. When people know the burdens faced by their brothers and sisters, they are better able to show hospitality and mercy.
Open Up Opportunities for Ministry. Sometimes unemployment is a pivotal time for unexpected growth. A person may realize that he has gifts or callings he never knew he had, or never felt the freedom to explore. Our message to those facing unemployment is that the lack of a job need not mean idleness. Think through ways that those facing unemployment may be able to serve the rest of the body in ways you hadn’t seen before. Maybe the laid-off mechanic really needs to be put to work in leading your ministry to single mothers without reliable transportation. Even if you don’t know where the various gifts and needs are, keep the focus on the fact that the unemployed—as are all parts of the body—are needed. One does not need a job to be needed to lead and serve.
The anonymous couple who helped me through my time without a job didn’t stay anonymous to me for long, and they were never anonymous to God. The man died a few years ago of cancer, and the woman has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years. I saw her not long ago at a funeral. She had trouble remembering names, but she recognized me and came up and kissed me on the cheek. I immediately thought of how she and her husband came to my rescue years before. And I thought of how those checks were about more than getting us by. They were signs of hope, and signs that I had a family watching out for me, a family that loved me so much they didn’t even want me to know who they were, so that I wouldn’t feel indebted to them. But I was—and am—indebted to them. As I walked away from her, I realized that she probably doesn’t even remember sending me that help. But I do.
Publication date: September 6, 2016
Once, as my wife and I were walking down the aisle at a Whole Foods grocery store with our five kids, a lady scowled at us. I’ve acclimated a bit to this, since that many children seems to many to be not just freakish to some but selfish, a critical using up of the earth’s resources. I just shrugged and whispered, “We use organic birth control,” and walked on. I was joking, of course, but my quip wouldn’t have ended the conversation for some ethicists and scientisst who argue that we should have fewer, if any, children, to save the earth.
A recent National Public Radio feature highlighted a growing movement to encourage people to have fewer or no children, as a move to protect the ecosystem. This is, as one put it, a “moral obligation.” As one professor told NPR, “Maybe we should protect our children by not having them.”
This idea is hardly new. The twentieth century was filled with warnings that the earth was populating at such a pace that we would be out of food and water by 1970 or 1990 or 2010 or pick your date for apocalyptic destruction. And those of us who care about environmental protection are often frustrated by finding a lack of allies, due to many parts of the movement insisting on population control. We’ve seen, over the years, the ways that depopulation has been just as hazardous for communities and landscapes as “overpopulation.”
For some, this sort of call to limit children would be easily dismissed, along with the rest of the project of caring for the earth. These people would simply laugh at the entire project of stewarding the earth. That’s not an option for people who believe that the universe is not an accidental fluke but a creation deemed by God to be “good.” I am not a “quiver-full” type who insists on the maximum number of children possible per family. Still, we should see how an aversion to children isn’t the answer to stewarding the earth.
For Christians, the material creation around us is not some temporary staging ground for heaven, despite what caricatures from our critics might say. All of the creation around us signals the glory of God (Rom. 1:20), and is encoded with something the Apostle Paul calls “the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). All things are to be “summed up” in Christ; that is, he will unite everything on heaven and earth in him (Eph. 1:10). The physical creation, then, is to be, like our bodies, ultimately a temple of the Holy spirit and a dwelling place for the reigning Christ Jesus. The original mandate of our ancestors to care for and to cultivate the earth does not just point us to the past (Gen. 1-2) but also to the future (Rev. 21-22).
In a Christian view of the world, the creation is to be safeguarded by human beings, the image-bearers of God. We are not trespassers or parasites on the earth. The call to “dominion” is not, biblically, a call to exploit the creation, but, just the contrary, to cultivate it safely for the future. This is a responsibility uniquely given to human beings.
At some level, we all recognize this. We do not hold dogs or coyotes or eagles morally accountable for their eco-systems. We do hold human beings morally accountable, and rightly so.
The rearing of children is, at the most primal level, the same impulse that should drive humanity to check a reckless, selfish form of “dominion.” Our connection to future generations, cultivated in a love for children, is one that is to spark an other-directed, future-directed domino, one that preserves and protects eco-systems for generations to come. Procreation is pro-creation.
The principle is made clear in God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), and in the command to steward the earth. The care of creation is motivated, at least in part, by our concern for future generations. Mistreating the land or the waters or the air is to assert that one is the alpha and omega of one’s own existence. That is a denial of the future. When we welcome children among us, we are reminded that we are not self-creating gods, and that our generation is not the only one that matters.
That’s why one of the most important concepts for caring for the creation, biblically, is that of inheritance. I don’t overrun my plot of land or my part of the water system or the air around me, due to my devotion both to God and to neighbor, including neighbors who will walk the earth long after I’m gone.
It’s true that many are dismissive of the challenges we face in safeguarding the eco-systems around us. But the answer is not turning against the blessing of children and future generations. To do so would harm not only the family, but the earth too.
Publication date: August 30, 2016