“At the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed.” – Proverbs 5:11
It’s not a coincidence that substance abuse and sexual license like to hang out together. These two vices deceive us in similar ways. There is a promise of escape. There is an offer of relief, of joy, and perhaps most importantly, of control. Although there are unique particulars of sexually destructive behaviors, the underlying power of the temptation has wide roots. The temptation is to alter and control how you feel inside by something you can do outside. It is the hope of healing the soul through abusing the body.
In our current cultural climate, we do a much better job of identifying (usually with compassion) and decrying habits of substance abuse involving drugs, alcohol, painkillers, and even food. However, our eyesight becomes more dim and our judgment more cloudy when it comes to the deepest and most powerful substance of all – that of sexual intimacy.
In a sense, it is natural that we would overlook sex when thinking about how humans relate to substances. Sexuality is far more complex than any biological or chemical compound that our body processes and responds to. There is a rightfully specialized understanding of sexual struggles. On the other hand, we miss avenues of hope in the Bible when we fail to account for the overlap between substances and sex, which is found in the mysterious interplay of the psychosomatic, or the body-soul connection.
The Bible is not a textbook on metaphysics, but it does lay out two equally important principles which secular therapy struggles to articulate: the heart drives the habits of the body, and the habits of the body shape the heart. On both sides of this cycle, our secular world intentionally dismisses the spiritual dimension. We simultaneously give too much credit to ourselves in what we can control through self-help and habit modification, and don’t give ourselves enough credit as agents of worship and desire as opposed to victims in need of neurological re-wiring and healing from trauma.
Our failure to appreciate the complexity of our body-soul constitution spills over with disastrous results in the realm of sexuality. Sexuality is viewed as either a merely physical thing – an appetite with a chemical response, or it serves as your deepest fulfillment. Either way, within the confines of a select few parameters, the ultimate adjudicator of sexual right and wrong is the individual. You are the only one who can decide what is sexually healthy for you.
The beauty of this proverb is that it shows us that God is not interested in gathering an army of rigidly disciplined ascetics. Nor does he tell us that our bodily pleasure is our greatest good. The object of our spiritual worship (glorifying and enjoying God) determines what we do with both our minds and our bodies. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12:1), and have our minds be transformed by God (Rom 12:2) What we do with mind and body is controlled by this one relationship.
The boundaries God sets for our bodies are good for our soul. But there’s more. The boundaries God sets for our bodies are good for our body. When we abuse a substance, or abuse our sexuality, we believe we are gratifying a desire of the body. But the end result proves otherwise. We run the risk of coming to the end of our days and discovering that worshiping the desires of our bodies actually burned out our bodies. We must not believe the lie that we choose whether to benefit either soul or body – God’s commands always benefit both.