Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
In the past couple of years I have read several books written for men to address the issue of sexual purity. I have found these books useful to varying degrees. The solutions that authors suggest to deal with this issue – which, as far as I know, is common to all men – vary greatly. Some books forbid men to engage in even a single look at an attractive woman to whom a man is not married. Some books teach a process of "bouncing" the eyes whereby men learn to avert their gaze from any feminine beauty other than the one to whom they are married. Some teach what is little more than the repetition of mantras – a Bible verse a man can repeat when he sees an attractive woman. Hedges, by Jerry Jenkins, does not fit any of those categories.
Jenkins, best known as half of the writing team which brought the world the Left Behind series, is a gifted writer. His book is fun, easy-to-read and will connect with the average man. The book is premised on Paul’s admonition to Timothy, found in 2 Timothy 2:22 that he "flee youthful lusts." Jenkins tells us that this verse teaches that "We are to run. To flee. To get out. To get away" (page 45). He believes that God does not give victory over lust in the same way he allows victory over other sins, such as temper, greed and pride. While we can learn to avoid stealing, gossip and lying, he contends that no man will avoid a peek at pornography if he was convinced that no one would find out.
And this is where his book varies from the rest of the seventy or eighty titles on the bookstore shelves that share this theme. All the other books (or at least all the ones that I have read) teach that men can gain a victory over this sin. The problem is, that many of them teach technique that in reality tries to convince us that we can win the victory if only we repeat the proper Bible verses and learn to bounce our eyes.
Jenkins’ solution to sexual temptation is to realize that we cannot avoid being tempted, to learn to appreciate beauty, and to plant hedges around us to guard against sexual sin. He teaches that the first look is not sinful. There is nothing inherently evil in a man looking at a woman and appreciating her beauty. "I know that some people may laugh at my notion of looking at women to appreciate God’s creativity and would accuse me of inventing a spiritual reason to leer. I maintain that after years of steeling myself to avert my eyes from something made attractive by God, developing an appreciation for it is far healthier. Clearly it would be wrong to gawk and dwell upon some stranger’s beauty, especially when I have vowed before God and man to put my wife ahead of all others. Dianna knows that I am attracted to pretty women (she is one, after all). She also knows that I know they are off-limits and that even entertaining a lustful thought is wrong…My gaze doesn’t linger and my thoughts stay in check" (page 50).
Thus the first look, a glance which appreciates a form God made deliberately to appeal to men, is fine. It is the second look, designed to soak in details and provoke lustful thoughts, that is forbidden.
Jenkins goes on to suggest the importance of hedges, which are boundaries we put in place to safeguard ourselves from sexual sin. He describes each of the six hedges he has planted in his life, but is careful to point out that each man will have different hedges appropriate to his situation. A man who travels will need to guard himself in ways different than a man who rarely leaves the house. Here are the author’s hedges:
- When he meets, dines or travels with an unrelated woman, he always adds a third person to the group. When this is impossible, he is always the first to tell his wife.
- He is careful about touching women. He embraces only relatives or close friends, and only in the company of others.
- If he pays a woman a compliment, it is on clothes or hair, not the woman herself.
- He avoids flirtation and suggestive conversations, even in jest.
- He often reminds himself and his wife that he remembers their wedding vows.
- From the time he gets home to the time the children go to bed, he does no work in order that he might spend quality time with the family.
While not a hedge per se, he also promotes the importance of a man sharing his story – the story of how he and his wife met and fell in love. These stories are a powerful reminder of the love a man and wife share and it is important that these stories become a part of the family’s heritage.
Some will object that this book does not interact with other obvious passages of Scripture. In fact, the book is quite short on Scripture altogether. But I would suggest that Jenkins’ purpose in writing this book was not to produce a volume that thoroughly examined all that Scripture teaches on lust and sexual purity. Instead he sought to write a book that teaches men the safeguards that he has found successful in his own life. As such this book is not the whole story when it comes to sexual purity, but it is a good place to begin. Were a man to use the strategies in this book, and only this book, as the foundation for his pursuit of sexual purity, he would miss out on the importance of renewing our minds. Unless our minds are filled with the Word and our heart is filled with the Spirit, our pursuit of purity may just be destined to fail.
Planting hedges ought to be a priority in every man’s life. As I read this book I realized that while I had never considered the term "hedges," I had placed boundaries in my life that work in the same way. For example, shortly after my wife and I were married, I blocked many of the channels on the television that have a lot of inappropriate content or just never have any useful content whatsoever (see ya later, MTV!). I had my wife set a password which I do not know. And even now I still can’t watch MTV (or Showcase or a handful of others). And I can just see those who know me laughing as I write this, but I don’t hug or touch women (or men, for that matter – no Promise Keepers for me!). I have often been chastised by friends for not hugging enough! Of course this has more to do with an aversion to hugging than it does with sexual purity, but it functions the same.
I enjoyed this book and can recommend it. It is not the complete story of sexual purity and the author could certainly have gone into far more depth. But the suggestions he provides are valuable to those who desire to live a life of godliness and purity, and to avoid the sin and temptation that our culture provides, promotes and even condones.