Making it’s way through the news is a story about James Knight, a dentist who fired his dental hygienist, Melissa Nelson, because she became for him an “irresistible attraction.” My initial introduction to this story came through a blog by author Dan Brennan where he offers “some Christian thoughts” about the firing.
It’s a good article, and one that had me convinced he was right.
At least for a moment.
But upon further reflection I am struggling to see what exactly is “Christian” about the article, or more precisely, about the reaction of many within the Church who appear just as shocked, outraged and befuddled by the actions of James Knight as the secular media.
Brennan, in his post, offers a stirring invitation to Christians to embrace an “ethic of delight” towards our neighbor, one that “would give both men and women grace and deep meaning to the sexual energy and beauty men experience in the presence of another woman as not something inherently lustful.”
Brennan appears to be advocating, without knowing the desires of Knight’s heart (or anyone else’s), that he (and all of us) should take delight in the “sexual energy” that exists between he and another beautiful woman with whom he spends a great amount of time with.
The problem with this is that it goes against everything Scripture would have to say on the matter.
Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman with even the intent of lust, he has committed adultery (Matt. 5:28). How seriously should a person take this? Well, far from “delighting in the sexual energy” that exists between the sexes, Jesus says,
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:29).
In other words, do not play with fire. Jesus is radical when it comes to dealing with sin in the lives of his would-be-followers. Lust is not something to toy with. And yet, what passes for much of “Christian thinking” these days would have us believe that our fallen condition isn’t really that bad, that there really isn’t any spiritual battle for our souls being waged, that sin isn’t something God hates or that holiness is no longer mandated.
As such, “Christian thinking” is no longer scriptural thinking, as even a few examples reveals…
- Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41)
- Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Cor. 6:18)
- Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)
- For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3)
- “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter. 1:16)
- Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
And if the conquest narratives of the Old Testament teach us anything, at the very least it must be the seriousness with which God takes sin and the extreme measures necessary to extricate it from our lives.
Instead of being crucified by fellow Christians for taking the stand he did, James Knight ought to be applauded for choosing to glorify God in his body, heart and mind – for that is the first commandment. The second, to love one’s neighbor – the one we tend to focus on while neglecting the first – is meaningless in God’s eyes if we are not first honoring him. These should not be mutually exclusive. Knight ought to honor his duty before God (and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the measures he has taken were necessary to resist what was for him a dangerous temptation) and honor his duty to his neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, by being sure she is well taken care of through this transition.
Mr. Brennan tries to paint Christians like James Knight as the bad guys. They are sending a message to the world that says sexual temptation cannot be resisted. As a former sex-addict, I know this to be false. It can be resisted. But for some of us it requires radical measures. Even Jesus thought so (gouge out your eye).
I wonder if this same “ethic of delight” would be applied to those who struggle with other idols? Would Mr. Brennan advise the alcoholic to develop a healthy “ethic of delight” with alcohol? Do recovering alcoholics who keep all forms of alcohol out of their homes, who never enter a bar and who navigate new routes to work to avoid familiar hang-outs send a message to the world that attraction to alcohol cannot be resisted?
Or do we applaud such people, even revere them, for their integrity and resoluteness to starve out their devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour?
Perhaps it is easier to ridicule James Knight and his striving for holiness and marital fidelity than to face the hard truth that we care more about pleasing our neighbors than God. When our Christian thinking leads us to the same conclusions as the secular world or when our standards of holiness are simply reflections of political correctness than it is safe to say we have lost our moorings along with all sight of a holy God who hated sin enough to die that we might not.
It is understandable that the secular, unbelieving world finds the actions of James Knight peculiar, even outrageous. Going to such drastic measures for the sake of honoring God and a marriage vow will naturally get the attention of the world. There is something wrong, however, when the same story is equally peculiar and outrageous among Christians of today. Watchman Nee was correct to observe,
By the time the average Christian gets his temperature up to normal, everybody thinks he has a fever.
James Knight, your fever is showing. Thank you for reminding me of Jesus’ command to be vigilant, to always be on guard, to stay awake (Mark 13:35-37).
What about you? Is your fever for God obvious to others? A redeeming quality of this news story could be that God, in his mercy, is calling you – calling us – to something deeper. Scripture exhorts us to give no foothold to the enemy, to be radical when it comes to dealing with temptations that seek to steal our hearts away from God. Christians spend a lot of time talking about picking up their cross or dying to self or taking the narrow road. James Knight, it appears, is walking the talk.
What “eyes” do you need to cut out from your life today so that you can bring glory to God tomorrow?