Art or Pornography?

“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18)

Jesus used a kind of physical shame to describe the spiritual condition of the church in Laodicea. Even though the primary application is spiritual, it should be evident that both spiritual and physical nakedness are to be avoided. There is a difference between art and pornography, but the nakedness that is portrayed in what we sometimes call “art” is still shameful.

The difference between art and pornography is intent. If what is often said about ancient artists is true, that they wanted to celebrate the beauty of the human body, that they wanted to portray man as God sees him, then they were not trying to be provocative.

However, their intent doesn’t change the privacy of nakedness that is decreed by God. Man is not God, as one of Michelangelo’s teachers supposedly said, and the only exceptions to the privacy of nakedness that we can read about in the Bible are between a husband and a wife and parents of very young children. Medical exceptions are implied, but people who provide this kind of care know that caution must be exercised. Most countries have laws which punish caregivers who cross the line between medical care and sexual privacy.

Pornography is lewd. It communicates in words and pictures what God intended to remain in the privacy of the marriage bed. We suspect that most people who would not consider themselves religious still don’t want their family and their community to see what goes on in their bedroom. Pornography intentionally spreads lewd material which makes its producers guilty of actively trying to cause others to sin.

Woe to such people! It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their necks and be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6). Now, don’t misunderstand. When Jesus said this He wasn’t telling us to go out and kill people who cause others to sin. He was speaking in view of spiritual priorities. It would be better for such people to die a horrifying death and be prevented from destroying souls than for them to go on living and have to stand before God to answer for all of the souls they helped destroy.

Of course, many people involved in pornography have been blinded and trapped by the devil themselves. They know not what they do. Pray for them. Perhaps the Lord may grant them an opportunity to repent through us.

The point of this is not to begin a campaign to destroy any ancient works of art that depict nudity. The point is to say that art doesn’t justify pornography or any other behavior that would intentionally reveal what God decreed to be private. There is a difference. Still, if it would be inappropriate for people to go out naked in public or if it would be inappropriate to display nude photos in public, is there any reason why nakedness in art shouldn’t be kept private? Most ancient artists have a huge collection of works that do not contain nakedness.

We won’t hold our breath while we wait for the society that we live in to put this into practice. If we care about what God says, let us be careful to protect what God intended to be private in our words, our speech, and in how we present our bodies to the world. While we’re trying to be careful to respect the privacy of nakedness we can continue to argue for consistent application of the privacy of nakedness that most people already believe in to some degree.