Lust is a feeling or emotion of intense desire. Usually associated with sexual desire, lust can take many forms including lust for knowledge, money, or power. It’s corresponding virtue is Chastity. Lust is a powerful psychological force that creates an abnormal craving for an object or circumstance. When lusting we see a pleasure that is so attractive that we can be lead to adopting other disorders in the pursuit of it. This is why lust is one of the seven capital sins.
Dante’s Divine Comedy is the most notable work to explore the sin of lust, and all the deadly sins. In Inferno, the lustful are located in the upper circles of Hell along with the other sinners of indulgence (gluttony, avarice, and anger). This placement marks it as one of the least serious sins in Hell and on Earth (by Dante’s consideration). The actions of the lustful, who subordinate reason to desire, often led them and their lovers to death. Their lust was an excessive love of others that put the love of God second.
Symbolic of their passions, lustful are punished by being eternally swept around in a whirlwind. In this punishment they receive what they desired in their mortal lives, and their passions never let them rest for all eternity. In Purgatory, the second volume of Dante’s poem, the followers of the way purge themselves of lust by walking through flames.
An Unquenchable Thirst
Because of our fallen nature, we will deal with lust until we die. The roots of lust are so deep that it’s almost instinct. If we give in and fulfill our own lusts, a terrible cycle begins. Lust will lead to sin, and sin separates us from God. We are warned of this Romans chapter 1. It begins with sexual impurity. This impurity poisons the soul, leading to the degrading of bodies with one another. The truth about God is exchanged for a lie, and the lie distorts vision. Natural relations are exchanged for unnatural ones, and men and women engage in shameful relations with another:
“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” -Romans 1:28-31
These are harsh words for those who give themselves over to lust. We might not think that lust can push us down such a wicked path. But such things do not happen overnight. When we give in to lust, we become numb to lust’s impact, so we lust even more. This is the very nature of lust: an unquenchable thirst for more and more. Unless our desires are surrendered to the Lord, we will never be satisfied.
The battle against lust is fought on two fronts: external and internal; body and soul. The external lusts include wicked sexual appetites and the overindulgence in food and drink. The internal lusts include lust for power, fame, or position.
Our only hope for victory is in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, “let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t try to satisfy your selfish desires.” (Romans 13:14) This is an extremely comforting thought, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus is not a distant God who looks down on us in judgement, he is our friend, our savior, and he has endured the same trials we endure here on Earth. He is an infinite source of strength, love, and mercy. All we have to do is seek him out.
There are practical steps to seeking God and overcoming lust. We can begin by humbling ourselves and ask for help. The struggle cannot be won alone, we will always need divine assistance. When Jesus died on the cross he overcame the penalty for all sin. Similarly, we must imagine that the person we used to be was nailed to the cross with Jesus (Romans 6:5). Obviously we weren’t actually nailed to the cross, but we recognize that our old way of life died with Jesus. This is what it means to be dead to sin.
It may be that the best advice for beating lust is to flee from it and focus on God. If we look again to Romans, we read, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2) When we feel ourselves “conforming” we can stop it by removing ourselves from situations and influences that can trap us. Sometimes this might mean taking a hard look at who we consider to be our friends.
If we keep our eyes on the Lord, through him we can avoid falling into lust. It won’t be easy, but we can always turn to Christ and His word for help and inspiration.
“My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.”