Among Those Shadowy Brides

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Pastor and author John Piper has said the closest he ever came to being fired from his long tenure as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church was when he wrote an article entitled “Missions and Masturbation.”

Provocative title, huh?

The article was birthed out of the sadness he felt over so many people, young people especially, who “were being lost in the cause of Christ’s mission because they were not taught how to deal with the guilt of sexual failure.”

Piper’s article was published in 1984, which was 34 years ago! A lot has changed since then.

But at the same time, a lot hasn’t changed. Piper’s concern that many people were being lost to the mission of Christ because they didn’t know how to deal with the guilt and shame that came from their sexual failure is still relevant. Sexual sin, and its associated guilt and shame, are just as prevalent, if not more so.

Nearly 30 years before Piper wrote his article, C. S. Lewis wrote about the topic of masturbation in a letter to a friend, which must have been very taboo at the time. In fact, it seems the recipient of the letter, Keith Masson, had asked Lewis about several matters related to sexual ethics, believing that a frank discussion would be helpful to young people. And I agree; being frank, without being crass, is what is needed.  

Here’s what C. S. Lewis wrote,

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.

And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination. (C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950–1963, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 758–59.

Notice the severe contrast Lewis sets forth between the biblical vision of sexuality and the distorted one that occurs in masturbation: not self-less giving but selfish taking; not loving another but lusting for one’s self; not a place of life-giving effort but the lazy way of ease. Lewis calls this life of the imagination “among these shadowy brides” a thing that leads a man “into the prison of himself.” This, at least in part, is the slavery from which Piper wanted to protect young men and women. Indeed, it is the slavery from which Jesus wants to save us.

In pastoral ministry I’ve seen too many men locked inside this prison. This is why I’ve spent the last two years laboring to write a book that marshals every God-given resource available to help men struggle against sexual sin. Just yesterday I sent an edited copy of the book back to the publisher. Soon they will send me a preview draft of the interior layout. After that comes the cover design. And after that, it will be available to the world.

Please pray for me. Pray for all of us.


* Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash