This week I looked up a 1976 interview that then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter gave to Playboy magazine. Carter had continued to teach Sunday school in his hometown Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, and there were lots of questions about how Carter’s faith would inform his presidency. The questions were tough, wide-ranging, and professional. Over 43 years later, the interview seems so civil compared to today’s politics that it borders on quaint.
But then Carter said this: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
And that was pretty much what everyone remembered from that interview. President Carter was widely mocked for being a prude.
This week we’re studying Matthew 5:29, the verse President Carter was referring to from the Sermon on the Mount. If you take it seriously, you’re still going to be mocked. Frankly, sometimes Christians are prudish, especially when they make known what they’re against, but can’t articulate what they’re for.
In the creation story, God lovingly created the first man and then breathed life into him. Genesis chapter two is filled with images of God’s infinite creativity, including God parading the animals before the man for the purpose of naming each one.
But the parade had another purpose, to see if one of the animals might be a “helper suitable” for the man. None were. So God put the man to sleep, pulled out a rib, and created the woman.
“Helper suitable?” Is that all?
The same Hebrew word for “help” is used of God himself. This “helper’ had a bit of God in her.
And “suitable?” A better translation would be “mirror image” or “likeness.”
The woman completed creation. Neither the man nor the woman was complete without the other, and together they reflected God’s image back to each other and to God.
We were created to marvel with the man as he got his first look at the woman: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
But then came the fall, and looking became staring, and marvel turned to lust.
Jesus is not being a prude when he warns us not to stare.
He’s not asking too much when he instead expects us to marvel.