Friday, December 09, 2016

Should you confide in your spouse that you lusted about someone else?

John Piper had some advice last month that's getting some buzz:

A few brief observations:

1. His discussion is terribly one-sided. He plays into the stereotype that men are sexual animals while women are nuns. But it should go without saying that just as men have an eye for good-looking women, women have an eye for good-looking men. To take that a step further, the college hook-up culture is very much a two-way street. What about sexual fantasies in Harlequin romance novels or Amish romance novels? Those are female fare. 

With that in mind, any reasonable, realistic wife should realize that her husband will notice other women–just as she will notice other men. In a way, a spouse should find it flattering that even if there are other appealing options, your husband or wife chose you. They didn't choose you because you were the last man (or woman) on earth. You're not second best. You're not the fallback option. Despite the competition, he (or she) chose you. 

2. In fairness, Piper isn't just talking about sexual attraction, but sexual fantasies about someone other than your spouse. I agree with him that that's wrong. However, fantasizing is something under our voluntary control–unlike involuntary sexual attraction. It's easy to flip the off-switch because using your visual imagination takes a bit of mental effort, whereas it's effortless to stop doing something that's a bit effortful. You have to work at mentally imagining something, whereas you don't have to work at not mentally imagining something. 

The solution isn't to confess it to your spouse, which doesn't actually solve the problem, and creates a new problem. Rather, the solution is to just stop doing it. That's easily within your power. Just think about something else. 

3. Now, it's possible that some spouses, whether husband or wife, fantasize about someone other than their spouse because their marriage isn't romantically satisfying. If that's the case, then that is something to talk about. You should talk about that rather than fantasying or confessing to sexual fantasies about someone other than your spouse.

4. Although he doesn't exactly say so, Piper seems to think spouses should be completely transparent with each other. That's a modern conceit.

There are science fiction stories in which someone becomes telepathic. As a result, he loses all his friends. There are folks he thought had fond feelings for him. But now he discovers that was a polite facade. 

There are still people with genuine affection for him. They care about him. They really do. But now that he can read their every thought, he realizes, on the one hand, that their fond feelings are mixed with less flattering feelings, while, on the other hand, he now has a lower opinion of them. They're not as admirable as he imagined. 

That's the limiting case of a transparent relationship. And that's deadly to friendship, much less marriage. 

Tact is a virtue. Not saying everything that's on your mind. We ought to keep some things to ourselves. It's inconsiderate and even cruel to give expression to your every feeling. Once words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. People remember what you said, especially if it's hurtful–even if it's well-intentioned. 

5. He quotes Mt 5:28. But I think that's probably about seduction. I incline to Don Carson's interpretation:

Klaus Haacker (“Der Rechtsatz Jesu zum Thema Ehebruch,” BZ 21 [1977]: 113-16) has convincingly argued that the second auten (“[committed adultery] with her”) is contrary to the common interpretation of this verse. In Greek it is unnecessary, especially if the sin is entirely the man’s. But it is explainable if pros to epithymesai auten, commonly understood to mean “with a view to lusting for her,” is translated “so as to get her to lust” The evidence for this interpretation is strong (see Notes). The man is therefore looking at the woman with a view to enticing her to lust. If Haacker (see above) is right in his contention that the second auten is unnecessary on the customary reading of this verse, the problem is resolved if the first auten within the expression pros to epithymesai auten functions as the accusative of reference (i.e., the quasisubject) of the infinite (as in the equivalent construction in Lk 18:1) to generate the translation “so that she lusts,” REBC 9:184-85.

6. Piper quotes Jas 5:16: "Confess your sins to one another". I'll discuss that in a moment. But that needs to be counterbalanced by something else James has to say, and that is the need to guard our tongue:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (Jas 3:6-10).

Rather than blurting out indiscreet "confessions," it's best to bite your tongue. Just imagine the effect of telling your spouse, "Honey, I've been lusting after so-and-so". Really, what was Piper thinking? 

7. Then there's the question of what Jas 5:16 means. What's the scope of that command? In context, it refers to friction within the body of Christ (cf. Jas 4:11-12). How church members can wrong each other and thereby foment resentment. One example which James talks about is wealthy church members snubbing poor church members. 

Now, although that's the immediate context, I don't mean the wisdom of his admonition is necessarily confined to church. However, in extending the principle to other situations, it needs to be reapplied to analogous situations. 

James isn't talking about secret sins. Hidden vices which no one else is in a position to suspect. Rather, he's referring to overt words and actions that alienate another person. 

That's very different than volunteering information about your mental life. That invites problems. That's like starting a fire to put it out. Many people have done things before they met their spouse which it would be imprudent to mention. There's no obligation to dredge up your entire past. Piper's appeal isn't comparable.

People don't need to know everything about us. People shouldn't know everything about us. That's what God is for–among other things. Some things we should confess to God alone. 

In addition, it's wise to be compartmentalize to some degree. Things you tell your spouse you wouldn't tell your best friend, as well as things you tell your best friend you wouldn't tell your spouse. Marriage isn't a substitute for friendships. It's a different kind of relationship. 


  1. It's hard to know what to say. At the very least, such counsel makes Piper a very dangerous man. Very sad, his influence. Even destructive. Even unbelievers have better instincts, or maybe Piper is suppressing his better instincts.

  2. I'm tired of the stuff, if you've read one article or sermon from there you've read them all.