A couple posts back, I broke the ice about masturbation. I didn’t want to start any arguments that would bring anger or division or make anyone defensive. I tried to get everyone to relax and talk about the topic more and find common ground upon which we could all agree.
I really didn’t want to make some grand declaration, then and there, about masturbation’s “sin status.” Some people have some very strong opinions about masturbation, and anything they hear or read that runs contrary to their personal beliefs can throw them into a fury of defensive outbursts and nearsighted judgments.
Masturbation is a struggle for many people to come to terms with, and not everyone is on the same page at the same time. We can learn from each other in this.
But many people are in such a hurry to be justified by their beliefs and actions, their knowledge of good and evil, all in the name of standing up for moral excellence, that they completely miss the hidden truths and joys that can be ours by embracing the struggle.
I don’t want to just give you a straight answer here about masturbation. The issue is not directly mentioned in the Bible, and I think that is a key point that we need to take note of.
There was a time when I completely glazed over that fact. I looked for anything I could tweak and stretch out of context to make it about masturbation, because I was so desperate to be justified by law. Laws were my friend. I could understand laws. They were clear and easy to apply to any issue in life.
Laws made good weapons, too, and they gave me the right to condemn others who broke them while I held myself up to a lofty moral standard. It didn’t matter if those Scriptures and laws actually addressed masturbation or not. I made them do as I desired.
I desired to be morally excellent, proven so by biblical law. Untouchable.
Yeah, I was a dick.
Then, one of my church friends recommended The Struggle by Steve Gerali. It was a relatively short book aimed at Christian teenagers, and it was all about masturbation. It presented a brief history of masturbation in Western philosophy, science, culture, and religious Christianity, all of which was really quite interesting. If you’ve never studied the history of masturbation around the world, you’re missing out on some fascinating material.
The main point that Gerali made in the book was that masturbation is a gray area — okay for some, not okay for others — and that we need to get clear guidance from God ourselves about how to handle this issue in our own lives.
I didn’t like this message at first, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So, I asked God to speak to me about masturbation.
This alone is something profound that not enough Christians do and something that they all should try. Who would have thought that God wanted to talk to us about masturbation? He’s not shy about it! Have you ever asked God to simply talk to you about masturbation?
Before, I had always tried to find God’s words about masturbation in God’s Word, the Bible, which is where he didn’t say anything about it. So, I put the words in his mouth, so to speak, and believed it was God saying them to me.
Again, yes, I know, I was a dick.
But after I read The Struggle, I asked God to speak to me about this issue, and I really just let him say whatever he wanted. He hasn’t stopped talking to me about masturbation since.
Now, when people say “God spoke” to them, they’d better be pretty blasted sure they’re right, lest they be held liable for heresy. And without a clear mention of masturbation found in the Bible, it’s hard to be sure anyone is right when they start saying that God spoke to them about masturbation.
Still, I’m going to try it here!
Let’s get right to the point. Leviticus 15:16-17 (NIV) says:
When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Any clothing or leather that has semen on it must be washed with water, and it will be unclean till evening. When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.
This “uncleanness” is not a state of being guilty of sin, but rather a ceremonial uncleanness. We know this because in other verses in this same chapter and throughout the Bible, other matters that we know are not sin, such as a woman’s monthly period or having certain skin diseases, meant the person was “unclean.”
No one accuses a woman of sinning just for getting her period, and nobody accuses a man of sinning just for having an emission of semen.
Now, how does a man emit semen? There are three ways: nocturnal emission, sexual intercourse, and masturbation. It’s not clear which of these is being addressed in verses 16-17, but sexual intercourse is singled out in verse 18 and given its own instruction. This leaves us with only nocturnal emissions and masturbation as the only other two methods of emitting semen that could be addressed in verses 16-17.
Are nocturnal emissions and masturbation different things? Yes. One is involuntary; the other is voluntary. But this passage in Leviticus makes no distinction between them in the effect they have on a man or his moral integrity.
If the Bible does not call nocturnal emissions sinful, neither than we. It appears quite clear that masturbation is lumped into the same category here as nocturnal emissions. How then can we say that masturbation is sinful? To say so would be to put words in God’s mouth that he never said.
So there, I’ve said it: I believe masturbation is not a sin.
But simply giving us the right answer on an issue like this is not all that God wants to say to us about it. His goal is not for us to just score a 100 on the “what’s sin and what isn’t” test. What he’s looking for is relationship — people who welcome him into their messy lives to live with them and they with him.
So what if masturbation is okay … or a sin? God didn’t tell us directly either way in the Bible. But it’s a part of my life! This issue matters to me and has been a long-term struggle I’ve faced most of my life, as I know it’s been for most other guys, too! And God said nothing directly about it when he knew he could have.
It took me a while to understand — I’ve only come to this realization in the last several months — that sometimes God hides the answers so that we’ll have to seek him, so that he can answer us in a special way, at just the right time, in an intimate relationship with him.
By the time we find the answers we’re looking for, we won’t care so much, because in the process of searching, we will have found deeper intimacy with God himself.
Now, I know a lot of people reading this are going to want to talk about lust and the terrors of porn and what safeguards we should implement to keep ourselves pure. I’m going to address all of that stuff in future posts.
Let’s just understand right now that we could argue about masturbation till our fingers fall off, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing in the Bible that gives any clear answer about it. We’d be better off spending our time pursuing a deeper relationship with God, letting him speak to us about masturbation, and patiently loving each other no matter what page they’re on in their struggle with it.
Have you ever asked God to speak to you about masturbation? How does it feel to imagine that God actually wants to talk to you and help you deal with an issue rather than just check your answers to see if you’re right? What conclusions have you reached about masturbation?
* Photo courtesy screendmon, Creative Commons.