Saturday, May 27, 2006

Thoughts on Proverbs 5 for Young Men

Proverbs 5 gives strong warnings to young men on the dangers of seductive women. These warnings should be understood in the broadest possible terms. When we are told to “remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house,” (5:8), this is more than simply an injunction not to frequent the town’s red light district or to fornicate. Of course, we can draw these obvious applications and I don’t want to minimize the importance of that. But we also need to be aware that these principles can be applied in a far broader way. In particular, we need to understand that “[removing] your way far from her” involves the rejection of all seductive material and images from our environment.

Our society has numerous sexual temptations that never existed in the Ancient Near East when the Proverbs were written. In those days, the vehicle for sexual temptation would have been specific women acting in a seductive manner. We still have that, to be sure, but we now have the added situation where seductive images and stimuli reach us, against our will, through hundreds of additional means: advertising, entertainment, billboards, shop windows, magazine racks, the internet, etc.

When viewing this wider plethora of temptations, the danger is for Christians to miss the most relevant point. It is easy to think that seductive images are harmful because they might lead to a liking or addiction for such things, or that the libido might be charged up, or that one’s sexual appetite might be stimulated, or something like that. These are all areas of possible danger and should not be treated lightly. But the real hazard such things pose is more subtle and, therefore, hardly ever recognized.

The greatest danger is that after constant exposure - often against our will - to seductive images, we cease to find such things seductive. With the class of temptations I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the more seductive something is, the more of a danger it presents. But with this temptation I am now talking about – the tendency to stop finding things seductive - it is usually the mildly seductive images that are the most hazardesss. It is the borderline cases we will be most willing to consider benign, which means that a new set of borders will have to be drawn until the same process repeats itself (see my article How Worldviews Change). But this is exactly what we should expect, seeing that seductive images give the message about dress and behaviour that advertising gives about a product: this is good, this is okay, this is normal.

Worldliness has made it seem normal for women to be seductive and strange for them to be modest. The principle here is that which applies to any kind of sin. David Wells has pointed out that “worldliness…is that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange."

The protection from the seductive woman of Proverbs 5, and from the corresponding temptations of our own day, is Proverbs 1. Here we are warned not to be simple, but to love knowledge (see my sermon Sermon on Romans 12:2-3). A young man who is simple, in the sense of being naïve, will be unaware of the qualifying undercurrents that saturate the contemporary world. In his naiveté, he will act as if he alone is insulated from the evaluative overtones that permeate the advertising, media and entertainment industries of today - overtones which tell us, in thousands of subtle ways, ‘This is the good life, this is what is normal.’ Such a person will only sit up and take heed of the most direct assault on his value system, not realizing that all the while his values are constantly eroding at the edges through subliminal messages.

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