This morning I woke up trying to pinpoint (not for the first time) what it is about a recent Christian movie on sex addiction that doesn’t sit right with me. The main message—that healing from addiction requires coming to realize God’s deep desire for intimate connection with us—is one I wholeheartedly believe.
So, why (in Kiwi parlance) does this movie “get up my nose”?
A Tale of Two Sinners
In Luke 18 Jesus tells “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (v. 9) a parable about two men going to the temple to pray. This is, of course, the famous parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee.
In that parable Jesus makes the point that the one who approaches God with remorse finds grace and leaves “justified before God” (v. 14). The one who approached God with the attitude of superiority did not impress Him. This demonstrates a characteristic of God that is sometimes expressed as "He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable."
I’ve recently learned through an excellent book, The Pandora Problem: Facing Narcissism in Leaders and Ourselves that there is a Hebrew word to describe the narcissist: qasheh (kaw-sheh). This adjective/adverb is translated in English bibles in a number of ways, the most common being “stiff-necked.”
The Stiff-Necked Betrayer
As I’ve worked with betrayed spouses over the years, I would say that there are both pharisaical and tax collector addicts/betrayers. That is, there are those who relatively quickly come to a place of deep remorse over their sin. Like our tax collector, they bow their head before God (impossible for those with a stiff neck) accept the shame of their sin, and the harm its caused others, experience the grief of this, and then receive His mercy.
I’m not talking about self-flagellation though. In the book I’ve just cited, the author, Jim Wilder, describes two types of narcissists (i.e., qasheh people). One is our obvious, overt narcissist who, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, simply thinks he’s better than everyone else and therefore is entitled to special status with God. The second, however, is the narcissist who is always keen to tell any audience how terrible he is. In Beyond Betrayal I explain this phenomenon by quoting John Townsend from Beyond Boundaries:
“Guilt without remorse simply punishes a person for his or her behaviour. There is no transformational experience... The offender remains alone, beating himself up with his own club. ”
Sex addicts who adopt this form of narcissism are often seen isolating (except from those who feed their ego), fail to do their recovery work, relapse, and continue to harm their victims. All the while they may be demanding grace from those same victims and God. At the end of the day, they are still the centre of their own universe and they are still qasheh, stiff-necked— despite the tears they shed around the consequences they may now be facing.
The Gift of Consequences
The above-mentioned film brings up Jesus’ treatment of the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. I’m glad it does, these are excellent examples of how God embraces sexual sinners.
Dare I point out that both of these sinners were also women. What does it matter, one might ask? Well, it mattered hugely in Jesus’ day. As women, these particular sinners were part of a vulnerable population. The dire consequences of being vulnerable and sinful meant their heads were “already bowed” (this is the opposite of being qasheh). Thus they were primed for mercy.
I don’t see any stories of Jesus showing grace to male sexual sinners of his day. Why? Did he not love them as much as these women? Of course he did. However, the consequences of their sin were… well, frequently there just weren’t any. Only the woman caught in “the act of adultery” is brought forth for stoning. Jesus has to point out to the Pharisees, in no uncertain terms, that lusting after women is a sexual sin (Matt. 5:27-28) since they’d “moved the line” to let themselves off the hook. Paul preached continually against the oh-so common sexual acting out in the Greek world… by (and in the case of the sexual/religious entertainment “for”) free men.
Today, there continues to be few consequences for the majority of male betrayers/ sex addicts… and not many for a growing number of female betrayers: though there’s still a bit more stigma for the women. This lack of consequences helps those with stiff necks (qasheh) stay that way, possibly to the demise of their souls.
In the aforementioned movie I saw some contrition (I hope it was genuine), but I also saw what may be qasheh. In any case, I didn’t get a clear message of what proceeds God’s grace: a softening of our necks and hearts that leads to a transformational experience. Considering that many of the sex addicts I know are struggling with a qasheh attitude more than with sexual acting out, I find this tragic. Considering it is the qasheh approach to relationship that is hurting their wives, families, communities and relationship with God most, I find this grievous.
So for those of you who have been harmed by your husband’s narcissism, lack of remorse, and pride… as well as by his betrayals, know that the God who loves you sees. He does rebuke the qasheh. He will be pursuing your husband to bring him to the point where he can indeed receive true grace. This is a point where he acknowledges the totality of his sin, including the costs to God, you, the family, and those he’s exploited.
For more on qasheh and how to confront (and thus help) those with this issue see The Pandora Problem.