Why is lust a sin? And why do bad things happen to good people?
I understand that everything you do is to glorify the Lord, and I understand that you shouldn’t drink or smoke because your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, but I don’t understand why lust is a sin. Also, I’ve heard two different theories of why bad things happen to good people. One is that God doesn’t make them happen but sometimes He allows them to, but then turns the situation into a learning experience or a blessing in some way. The other theory is that He does make them happen but He has a reason for doing so and will turn it into a blessing somehow.
It’s understandable why you have been feeling confused, because the topics that you are asking about are some of the greatest mysteries in this life. Let’s tackle these questions one at a time:
Why is lust a sin?
Lust is a disordered desire for sexual pleasure. Desiring sexual pleasure is not a sin – we were all created as souls that live within bodies, and our bodies naturally desire sexual union because we were created to keep the human race going (check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2331-2392). These feelings become sinful, though, when they become disordered, meaning when we engage in them outside the proper context. The proper context for sexual expression is within marriage. God created sex to strengthen marriages – so husbands and wives would become fully unified and create new life.
That becomes disordered when we engage in sexual expression outside marriage. That can mean a million different things: a person who is married wanting to sleep with someone other than their spouse, an unmarried person engaging in sexual activity, anyone using pornography, and so many other things. The virtue of chastity helps us to combat the sin of lust, because chastity is about respecting sex and all sexual things so much that they are held in a place of honor and respect – marriage.
Chastity also helps us maintain purity of not just our bodies, but our hearts, minds, and souls as well, because chastity is about more than just the physical. Chastity helps us be more loving people, because we don’t see others as objects for our sexual pleasure, but as people created to be loved and respected. You mentioned that our every action should glorify the Lord, and you’re right. When we live out the virtue of chastity, the purity of our love for them brings glory to God. It also keeps our bodies – temples of the Holy Spirit – pure and clean.
Perhaps the biggest reason that lust is a sin is because it destroys love. We were all created to love, and we all seek love. St. Pope John Paul II said that the opposite of love is not hate, but use – i.e. to use another person. When we engage in lust, of any kind, we are using another person for our own sexual pleasure. Lust can look a lot like love, especially in our culture where sex outside of marriage is no big deal and pornography is common. But our culture is full of lies. Lust destroys our ability to love by making us selfish. Love is about giving yourself to another person. Lust is about taking from another for self-satisfaction.
In Matthew 15, a group of Pharisees is trying to get Jesus in trouble because he ate some food that was considered ritually ‘unclean.’ He responded by saying that it’s not what enters a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out, because evil thoughts, blasphemy, unchastity, and so many other sins come from our hearts. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said that ‘whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Just as chastity purifies our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls, lust contaminates our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. And so the sin of lust causes us to use other people and damage our own souls.
This is pretty serious stuff – in the New Testament book of James, he writes that ‘each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death’ (James 1:14). Like all sins, lust leads to death and is a serious roadblock on our path to heaven. By choosing the virtue of chastity, living it the best we can, and confessing our sins of lust whenever we commit them, we are better able to love others and grow in holiness.
For more on the Church’s teachings on sexuality, you can check out the Catechism, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (they make editions of this for teens which are awesome), or another book that JPII wrote on this topic called Love and Responsibility.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
This is one of the most common – and hardest to answer – questions that exists. And while no one really knows the answer, there are a few things we can say for sure. First, you offered two possible explanations: that God doesn’t cause suffering, but allows it and turns our suffering into a learning experience or a blessing, or that God does cause suffering because He wants us to have a learning experience or a blessing. Of these two explanations, the first is closer to the truth. We know from the Bible that God is love, and all He can do is love us. He cannot do anything that would cause us harm, because if He did, He would be denying His own identity as our loving Creator.
One of the tricky things about love is that it cannot be demanded. It can only be freely given. Therefore, God gave us free will, and it is up to us to freely choose to love Him. As we all know, not everyone makes this choice. And even those of us who choose to love God fail to do so perfectly, because we are human. Our humanity is certainly a contributing factor to some – not all – of the suffering in this world. The world is broken. God never intended for there to be sin or death in the world. But when we read the first chapters of Genesis, we learn from the story of Adam and Eve that our choices have consequences. Romans 6:8 says that the consequence of sin is death. It is our own choice to turn away from God that leads to some of our suffering.
That can help explain some of the suffering in the world, but not all of it. When a person smokes cigarettes for thirty years and develops lung cancer, we are saddened, but not surprised. Some of our suffering is related to our choices, and yet some of it has nothing to do with decisions we make – like someone who never smokes a cigarette in their life and gets lung cancer, or when a city is devastated by a natural disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake. So how do we reconcile the idea of a loving God with a suffering world?
One thing to remember is that when we suffer, we are never alone. When Jesus suffered on the cross, he went through the most painful, most shameful, most horrible death a person could go through in the first century. There is no pain we go through in this life that God doesn’t understand, because of the agony He experienced in His Passion and death. Our suffering connects us to Christ.
It is also true that our suffering can be redemptive. Christ’s suffering on the cross was for our ultimate redemption. It opened the gates of heaven to us and saved us from death. And when we unite our sufferings on earth to Christ, we can learn from them. If we accept our own sufferings with courage, we can also help others to carry their own crosses (Galatians 6:2 – ‘Bear one another’s burdens’). Our suffering is not pointless, unless we choose for it to be. God can also certainly bring blessings out of them. When someone is not chosen for a job, that may be God keeping a door open for another opportunity. When a woman becomes pregnant but cannot raise her child, that child becomes a blessing for another family that cannot have children on their own. Sometimes, we can’t see the light because our situation seems so dark, but there is always, always, always hope.
When bad things do happen, we can turn to Him, knowing that He hears our hearts. The Psalms are full of laments – cries to God, asking for His help and His mercy. When Jesus begins telling his disciples that he will suffer and die (John 16), he makes an analogy about a pregnant woman. The pain of childbirth is excruciating, but when the labor is over, the joy of having a new baby helps her to forget the pain. The same is true of our suffering on this earth: it is excruciating. But when we get to the joy of heaven, we will no longer remember it, and no one will be able to take God’s joy away from us.
In that same chapter, verse 33, Jesus makes a promise to all of us: ‘In this world, you will have trouble. But take courage – I have overcome the world.’ Suffering is inevitable. The ‘why’ of suffering is not something we will ever be able to totally answer, but the ‘what do we do with it’ is a little easier: we give it to God. We know that He hears our cries, we know that He understands our pain, we know that He can overcome all of it, and we hope for heaven, where indescribable joy defeats suffering and pain forever.