“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!
Matthew 5:27-30 HCSB
This familiar passage came to mind this morning as I was reflecting on a quote from C.S. Lewis.
“You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” – C.S. Lewis
I think these two insights share a connection. Just as an iceberg is mostly underwater, most (if not nearly all) of us is invisible. Jesus made a remarkable statement in his comments about adultery and I think that perhaps our tendency to focus on the body and not the soul is the reason for this statement.
You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery (with your body). But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her (with their soul) has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In other words, don’t comfort yourself by thinking that your private thoughts of adultery (or other sexual sins) don’t affect your soul just because they weren’t enacted by your body. The corruption wrought by sin has already taken place in your soul when your chooser (will) makes the choice to entertain adulterous thoughts. When your feeler (emotions) acts like a child and wants to feel (whatever that feeling is that adulterous thoughts provide) and your thinker decides that such feelings are harmless because of a technicality (they aren’t enacted), Jesus warns you that corruption is taking place in the soul.
Jesus then goes on to make dramatic statements about gouging your eye out or cutting off your hand. Most theologians understand these statements to be hyperbole (A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect). In other words, Jesus is not commending actual amputation of body parts to prevent sinning. Perhaps what Jesus is suggesting is that sin corrupts your soul the same way that gangrene corrupts your flesh.
Gangrene is caused primarily by a lack of circulation to the affected area. When the blood stops flowing cellular necrosis (death) of the tissue occurs. Once this happens, if the dead tissue is not removed bacterial infections will eventually lead to death of the body. During the US Civil War, death from cases of Gangrene were reported to be as high as 45%. This explains why they were so quick to amputate limbs when a soldier have a severe wound.
There is one curious treatment that shows remarkable promise for dealing Gangrene… maggots. More than 1000 years ago people figured out that if you put maggots into gangrenous tissue that the maggots would eat only the dead tissue and spare the living tissue thus saving the life of the patient. Middleton Goldsmith, a Union Army surgeon during the Civil War applied this treatment to over 300 cases with the mortality rate dropping to just 3%.
Do you suppose that sinful thoughts which corrupt the soul are the equivalent of Gangrene of the soul? Perhaps none of us will emerge from this life with an intact soul, even those who are saved and go to heaven will arrive with a soul shaped by the corruption of earth. Why do I think this? Because Jesus did not say “Go ahead and think your adulterous thoughts because you will be forgiven in the end and it won’t matter.” No, rather Jesus seems to be saying “Do whatever you have to do to fight your adulterous thoughts, don’t make peace with them at any price.”
There are disagreements among bible scholars as to whether or not a saved person can lose their salvation. Could Gangrene of the soul eventually lead to death of the soul? I’m not sure honestly but we should take Jesus warning seriously and take appropriate action. Even if Gangrene doesn’t lead to death of the soul, it will most certainly take a piece of it. Will God in his mercy restore the lost portions of our soul eventually? Perhaps… but if this process was easy and automatic I don’t think that Jesus would have given such a stern warning.
If adultery of the heart was a problem in Jesus’ day, it most certainly must be rampant today. Any one with an internet connection can access a mountain of pornography for free. This corrupting influence has begun to take its toll on a generation of children born since the creation of the internet. I believe it has also taken an extraordinary toll on the lives of believers no matter what generation.
Some of us have simply decided to accept adultery of the heart as a normal part of living in the modern world. Things that were once considered shameful are now joked about with uncomfortable laughter. I believe the Spirit of God wants to warn us about soul gangrene