Reason #10: To Avoid Suffering

This is a tough one to be honest about.  Some of us have done terrible things.  Strip clubs.  Exploitation.  Prostitution.  Maybe even children were involved, even if on screen (note: this doesn’t make it less destructive–for the child, or the woman for that matter).  There are drunken bachelor parties (which, by the way, are not the only kind; see #9 as motivation to have a ‘regret-free’ bachelor party), escort girls, business traveling and all the alone time that comes with it, and internet chat room and webcam filth.  These are the best, of course, because you can anonymously say whatever you want from across a wire, and no one will know.  See Reason #11 next on what to think about this.

For anyone who has dabbled in any or all of these and the many other forms of sexual perversion extolled by our culture of “freedom,” we know that feeling of total disgust when we get ‘caught,’ in whatever form that manifests itself.  The most visible example is the reality show called To Catch a Predator, on Dateline NBC, where reporters pose as 13-year old girls in chat rooms to lure potential predators to a house so they can be videotaped, humiliated, and then arrested.  I personally despise this show, for a variety of reasons, but it does have one redeeming quality.  You see firsthand accounts of people experiencing shame, possibly for the first time in their lives.  Shame sucks.  There are few feelings worse than this.  Some guys on that show are reputable members of their communities.  Afterward, I can only imagine the damage this does to their careers and families.

God uses shame, however, for a positive outcome.  It’s called godly sorrow in most translations.  Here it is in the NT Transline:

II Cor 7:10:
For the grief in accordance with God works unregretted repentance leading to salvation, but the grief of the world produces death.

Repentance without regret, and the receiving of mercy from God.  He gives us a new heart of purity and righteousness, and we stand before Him clothed in white.  This is real and it happens to the fullest measure, totally renewing our hearts and souls, when we repent in truth and faith and sincerity.  This is how God uses shame.  The world uses it, like that show I hate, to cast judgment on people and look down on them, and make itself feel superior.  “I may go to strip clubs, but at least I’m not like those sickos going after children in chatrooms on the internet.”  This show helps all the other perverts (ones like you and me!) justify our conduct as being ‘not as bad’ as the others.  The ‘not as bad’ morality runs rampant in our culture.  People use it in a multitude of contexts to justify their despicable actions.  We’ll discuss this more in a future section.

That’s not how God sees it.  Each of us is accountable for our own works.  Each of us will face Him one day.  And he won’t weigh our conduct against that of other people.  He will weigh it against His word, the only standard for moral conduct.  By that standard, we’re all in trouble, apart from His great mercy.

God uses shame to lead us to repentance, but shame is not His first tactic.  God doesn’t want to humiliate you.  He’s not waiting for a chance to let you get caught in the act of some horrific sin just to ruin your life.  He gives us many chances to reform our conduct and repent, to change our hearts, in private, between us and Him.  He provides other people we can turn to for help who won’t judge or embarrass us.

There have been just a few occasions in my life where I have been ‘caught’ in some way.  Once in college I had a relatively harmless (not as bad…see?) swimsuit video hidden in my dorm closet.  Why was it hidden?  Because I didn’t want my roommate to know I had it, of course, because then I’d look like a hypocrite.  Duh.  Ooh, wait a second.  That reasoning doesn’t really make me not a hypocrite.  It just means he doesn’t know I am.  Anyway, he was concurrently trying to quit smoking, so he had asked me to hide his lighter, I think it was.  One day, he couldn’t take it anymore, and wanted his lighter from me.  Like a good accountability partner, I said no.  Naturally, he started searching, but he didn’t find the lighter.  Instead, he found my hidden gem of 9 semi-beautiful women in various forms of undress on a so-called swimsuit video.  Only partial nudity, so it’s no big deal.

Needless to say, I was embarrassed.  But what was the source of my embarrassment?  He quickly showed it to a passing student in the hallway, who promptly declared I should get something better that shows a lot more, and thought nothing of it.  The eyes of the world.  And my roommate thought this was all hilarious.  So why be embarrassed?  Because I was hanging on to this notion that I was a witness, and that my witness had just been irreparably tarnished.

We’ll get to this later, but this is actually a tactic of the devil, our spiritual enemy.  The truth is, my witness wasn’t damaged in that moment, had I not been so compromised that I couldn’t take advantage of this opportunity to be one.  I could have destroyed the video (yes, this was back when we still had videos…), and explained to him that I too am a sinner, and that I need to repent for having this, and that I’m actually grateful he found it because this moment will help me get back on track, spiritually.  But I didn’t say any of that, because my confidence was weak, and my witness ineffective.  I blew a chance to reveal to him God’s mercy, the sinfulness of man, and the power of repentance.  (This is reason #6, in case you missed it).

Now, that was pretty minor suffering compared to what happens to some people.  Former televangelist Ted Haggard is a great example.  He lost his whole career and reputation because of his sexual appetites.  Fortunately for him, his wife forgave him, and they repaired their marriage and have tried to minister about this to people.  God doesn’t dump us when we fail, but we have to turn back to Him and truly repent.  Repentance is not a fanciful notion or a casual “I’m sorry” stated in a sincere voice to a man behind a curtain.  It is a deep-rooted decision to turn to God and away from sin–all sin–and to believe that God will change us with such power that we will be able to never return to the old way of thinking or acting.  Repentance is impossible without faith.

We don’t need to go into all the possible ways people can suffer in this life because of the kinds of sins mentioned at the outset.  Destroyed marriages, traumatized children, lost jobs, divorce, imprisonment, and tarnished reputations are just the easy examples.  But you see people go through these things regularly.  The poor guys on Dateline didn’t wake up one day and decide to go meet a 14-year old girl they talked dirty with on the internet.  Their plight started years, possibly decades ago, when they chose to put their own gratification and pleasure before the dignity and worth of another human being.  When they chose, quite innocently as a 12-year old boy, to go look at the Playboy their friend found in his father’s closet.

Sidenote: Spare me the inane idea that Playboy isn’t to blame because not everyone who looks at Playboy ends up preying after young teen girls.  If you believe this, your values and beliefs have been compromised by the world and its ‘not as bad’ code of conduct.  It’s as stupid as saying the drug dealer isn’t to blame for all the coked up addicts whose families are ruined because the mothers blow all their money to get strung out on meth.  Of course the mother made that choice.  So did the dealer.  They profit off the other’s suffering.  The Bible has something to say about this too, which we’ll return to later.

Revelation 18:11, 13, 15

The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes anymore–cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning.  (NAS)

The Bible doesn’t give people who profit off the suffering or exploitation of others a free pass.  It says they will be judged, and will weep and mourn in fear and trembling on that day.  They are at fault, and they will be held accountable by God.

Returning to the main idea, so much suffering can be averted when we avoid falling into the easy traps of sin that don’t seem that bad from an earthly perspective.  My swimsuit video was a gateway drug.  I could tell you what this eventually led to over the years that followed.  It wasn’t pretty.

Nevertheless, I avoided far more suffering than I could have easily experienced had I taken my addiction to the fullest extent.  There is a lot I never did, and now that I’m married, I am so thankful God protected me from those things.  Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.  One benefit of being close to God is that He shields us from many forms of evil and suffering.  He does the work for us, because He’s on our side.  If God is for us, who is against us?