Aspirations and the Problem of Purity

Aspiring to excellence, or at least goal setting, is a good thing but like every good can be distorted to cause harm. My present job is with the most aspirational group of people I have ever known: we want HBU to give our students the best education possible. We think about it every day and no system is safe from being challenged. If I am not careful, this great good will end up discouraging the people who work with me.

I cannot love the perfect so much that it becomes the enemy of the aspirational person, because the man or woman striving for betterment will always fail. We have confused this failure with hypocrisy and used it to deny the goal. As a young man, I agonized over my desires . . . I wanted to view my women friends as people and not as prospective “dates.” That was an obvious good. I wanted to be pure of heart, mind, and deed towards all people, but especially when I found the beloved.

I have never, not for one day, succeeded fully in living the dream and yet the dream is still good. There is a godly sorrow for failing, but there is also an agony that is arrogance. It demands of God perfection in my life now and growth without pain, but such mushroom growth would be fragile and not growth in me. When God grafts holiness in my soul holiness takes time to become fully part of me. 

Yet when it comes to a good idea, a beautiful aspiration such as purity, Satan stands ready to twist, kill, and destroy. We act as if “outer” purity is the goal, when inner purity is the ideal. We focus on outer purity, because a few can manage to achieve the goal and so feel “completed” or superior to the rest of us. Progress toward inner purity is possible by the gift of God’s grace, but we will not send the end of the learning, change, and repentance until Paradise.

Justification by rationalization takes two turns: either it pretends the goal is no goal at all or it multiplies senseless agony hoping self-punishment can achieve the forgiveness of sin. The first is the young man who decides his porn problem is no problem, the second the young man who practices psychological flagellation  to punish himself. What God forgives, we punish. Oddly, the second error often leads to the first.

Worse we focus on the sin of the “other.” Men might condemn “impurity” in women, witness the disturbing cases of purity balls and chastity rings. Those without same-sex desires judge those who have those desires. As Music Man reminds us, however, there is also the exploitation of mothers and others hoping for “pure boys” to avoid all trouble in River City. We need purity, but we often act as if anyone other than Christ and a few select saints have achieved it. Nobody  can look at anybody else and say anything other than: I am in progress. My goal is to look at every person as a person and to have appropriate love for each one of them: enemies, friends, wife, family. The hypocrite can claim triumph, a few of us can claim some progress.

And this brings us to the final point: the aspiration to purity does not condemn desires. Desires can be induced by chemistry, genes, or the weather! We are not fully in control of our desires, but though we have our desires, and should report them to ourselves and our pastor honestly we are not our desires. No man who wishes to love is a lover! Between now and the hour of our death urges and what I should do will never perfectly match. The problem is not the urge, I should waste little time worrying about this, but my mental and physical behavior must be the focus. I accept my desires, I modify my behavior by the power of God.

God make me pure. God make me content with what you are doing in my life, though never complacent about my sin. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Better still may I live in every area, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, with high aspirations to holiness, but with trust in God to bring me there.

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