Guard the eyes, douse the flames

Man guarding his eyes
Man guarding his eyes, detail from Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross by Thomas Eakins (Wikimedia Commons)
Theatergoers will be able to break out their 3D glasses and watch Avatar again this Friday. They will be rewarded, courtesy of filmmaker James Cameron, with nine extra minutes of footage. Based on the news, it seems that much of the excitement swirls around just 20 seconds, the inclusion of a Na’vi sex scene. With this release, as USA Today put it, “Cameron lets his aliens get a little randy.”

For anyone struggling to grow in holiness, ours is a landscape fraught with troubles. Avatar is the least of them, but the enthusiasm surrounding the new footage points up the issue.

Being serious about purity and holiness requires training the eyes, especially for men. Whether it’s pornography, risqué scenes in a movie (extraterrestrial or otherwise), suggestive newspaper ads, a billboard, a coworker on whom it’s easy to fixate, the lady taking your lunch order, or just a runner going by, there are plenty of visual stimuli to tempt, to tug, to seduce. Steve Arterburn starts off his book Every Man’s Battle by mentioning the time he crashed his car while ogling an attractive jogger; the rest of the book makes it clear that without getting control of “heat-seeking eyes” men risk destroying much more than their automobiles.

The problem of course isn’t what’s seen. It’s what we do with it once we capture the image. “But granted the eye has fallen upon another,” says St. Ambrose in Concerning Repentance, Book 1, “at least let not that inward affection follow…. And if the flesh has seen the flame, let us not cherish that flame in our bosoms….” Someone attractive walks by? No problem. Going back for a second look? Problem.

The importance of holiness in this area of life has intensified for me in the last few years. I have past failures upon which to reflect and a future to protect. I am married to a wonderful and godly woman. To betray her trust, to forfeit our relationship would wreck me and my family. I’ve seen it happen to people around me, people who gave too much leeway to their eyes, people who cherished the flame and have consequently ruined, or are in the process of ruining, their lives.

When someone falls I usually hear people say in surprise, “You can lose it all in an instant.” I’m not so sure. Falls don’t really happen in an instant. They happen because of innumerable concessions and compromises with sin and the devil. Little glances, little indulgences. A man is ready to fall because he’s accustomed to tripping. It’s a case of preparedness and opportunity. Conceding to small temptations (taking the second glance, turning over images in the mind, watching forbidden things) is readying the heart and mind for sin. When an opportunity arises, the preparation for a faceplant has already been made. It may shock people on the outside, but for the fallen it’s no surprise, not really.

All sins are in their own way insidious, but lust seems particularly so. Guarding the eyes and dousing the flames are the first lines of defense.

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  • Joel, this is a courageous and insightful post. As a woman, my eyes are not the problem so much as my heart, but the principles are the same. Thank you for challenging all of us.

  • “A man is ready to fall because he’s accustomed to tripping”

    Wow, that is a powerful thought. Thanks so much for this reminder. Great post!

  • Well said and I agree. It doesn’t happen in an instant. My addiction to porn started with one scene in one movie when I was 15. I watched it over and over…then moved to another movie. And another. Then I started taking liberties with a girlfriend…on and on it went. Once the train is rolling down the tracks, you feel like you can’t stop it. If you just don’t board at the station, you’re better off.

    • I think a lot of guys are already on the train, and it’s important to say that we can stop the engine. It may take some radical steps, but getting control is both necessary and possible.

  • Wow, very well expressed! I too “have past failures upon which to reflect and a future to protect” and it is far too easy sell our great God-given future for a little bowl of lentil soup in moments of passing sensual indulgence. Thank you for writing this.

    • So true. We need to keep the cost in mind at all times — and not just the earthly, temporal costs.

  • Thanks for the post on this. I have been chewing on this passage in the book of Matthew; ‘The lamp of the body is the eye” and have reflected on how important it is to have your lamp burning the oil of a faith which perceives life as more than that which we perceive in the material world around us.

  • David

    Thanks for the reminder.

    This sentence really resonated with me, “They happen because of innumerable concessions and compromises with sin and the devil. Little glances, little indulgences.”

    • It’s sobering to remember that we can condition ourselves to sin. Little sins breed big ones.