The best selling author Larry Niven once got a letter from a reader upbraiding him for the beliefs and attitudes of one of the characters in a novel he wrote. Larry Niven responded this way: “We in the writing profession have a technical term for people who believe that the authors believe everything their characters believe. We call them ‘idiots.'”

I once receieved a rejection letter from an editor who told me that I obviously have a lust problem and went on about his psychoanalyzing skills in ferreting this sort of thing from the attitudes expressed by my characters. Obviously, Larry Niven’s description would fit this editor well.

And frankly, that expresses a big problem in the Christian fiction market place as a whole. There is an enormous reticence to actually embrace fiction. It is not that Christians don’t read fiction; it is just that most Christians probably don’t read Christian fiction for a very simple reason, that some editors in the Christian publishing world have admitted both one on one as well as in keynote addresses at Christian writer’s conferences: the Christian fiction mostly being published by Christian publishing houses is incredibly bad.

And why is it bad? Very simple: fear of reality. Instead of the characters in Christian books being real flesh and blood people, living real lives, with the real conflicts and problems that real people have, instead, the Christian publishing world seems enamored instead of characters that are “inspirational”. The good guys are all good, lack doubt and struggle and certainly never notice the women around them the way actual men notice the women around them, just as an example. Sorry. If you’re a man and you never entertain inappropriate thoughts about the pretty women you see every day, and never find yourself looking at their legs or cleavage or whatever skin happens to intrigue you, then you’re probably not alive.

Temptation is not sin. It seems to me that a lot of Christians seem to miss that point. They will quote, “if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as if you’ve slept with her.” If their take on that passage is correct, then when it comes to sex, temptation IS sin. And I just don’t think that’s right. It’s an absurdity. Jesus was without sin, we are told, and yet we are also told, he was tempted, just like we are.

And what is temptation? Being enticed to do something we’d really like to do. If you wave fried liver in my face, I’m never going to feel the least temptation to taste it. But if you have a nice pepperoni pizza, I will definitely want a piece.

So what did Jesus mean when he talked about lust in the heart? In context, he’s dealing with legalists who were serial adulterers, even though they were technically just divorcing and remarrying. To avoid committing adultery, they were very careful to divorce the woman they had become bored with, and to marry the woman that seemed so much better. Jesus is merely pointing out that they are a bit, well, jerk-like regardless of the legal niceties. Their motives, what was inside of them, was a bit askew, and not exactly consistent with the first two commandmenst (you know, loving God and loving people) and I think that’s Jesus’ point. Just because you avoid breaking the letter of the law, it doesn’t mean that you have avoided breaking the law anyhow. It all has to do with the inner attitude. After all, Jesus pointed out that it’s what’s inside us that causes sin, not what enters us. Sin is merely a symptom of the fact that we are sinners. But Jesus died to solve that problem. Beating people up because they feel temptation is incredibly wrong-headed I think.

Shoot, if it weren’t for the temptation, I don’t think marriage would ever happen and the species would die out. Probably not quite what God or Jesus had in mind.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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