This post is an edited version of part of a reply I wrote to a comment by a reader named Boluwade Kujero on the article, “Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?” My full comment responds to a few more of Mr. Kujero’s points, and applies the ideas presented here specifically to the issue of fantasizing while masturbating.
In this material world we are often hindered from acting on our goals and intentions by many external circumstances. We can therefore fool ourselves into thinking that we are morally clean when in fact it is only social pressures or practical concerns that keep us from acting in very immoral ways.
But according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), after we die, when we are living in the spiritual world, those social bonds and external hindrances are gradually taken away. When this happens, unlike in the material world, whatever we think and intend, that is exactly what we say and do. If we think something, we just go ahead and say it. If we want to do something, we just go ahead and do it.
Our intention is the reality behind our actions
That’s because the inner reality and source of our actions is our intention or will to act. And though our intentions and actions often get separated here on earth, in the spiritual world that separation is erased. There, our intentions flow seamlessly into our actions, and our thoughts flow seamlessly into our words. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:2–3)
That’s how it would be here on earth, too, if all social rules and practical restrictions were removed. Everything hidden inside of us would be out in the open. We would all act upon everything we intended or desired.
But that is not the case here on earth. And the reason it’s not the case is to make it possible for us to go through the process of spiritual rebirth that Jesus spoke about in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1–21, in which he said:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
And because in the end—in the spiritual world if not here on earth—we will act upon whatever we desire and intend, it is our inner intention to act upon a particular thought or desire that is critical.
When we are merely fantasizing, we have no such intention.
But when we have the sort of burning lust or “coveting” that the Bible condemns in the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17), we do have the intention to act upon those wrong thoughts and desires. And we will act upon them if we think we can get away with it. That’s why the Bible forbids coveting: because coveting is the sort of desire and intention that leads us to do things that are evil and wrong.
Imagination and fantasy are necessary for our spiritual growth
But as I just said, when we are merely fantasizing or engaging our imagination, we have no intention of actually doing what’s running through our mind.
And we need this ability to imagine, think about, and fantasize things that would be evil if we acted upon them.
This ability is necessary so that we can mull over in our mind the moral rights and wrongs, and the likely effects, of actually saying or doing particular things. This is part of our spiritual rebirth or “regeneration” process. God gave us a thinking, discerning mind and an active, creative imagination so that we would have the ability to consider and evaluate within ourselves various things we might say, and various courses of action we might take, before we actually say or do them.
- The ideal is for us to recognize in our mind and imagination that something is wrong so that we don’t have to learn the hard way by acting upon it and reaping the painful consequences.
- And the ideal is for us to recognize in our mind and imagination that something is right so that we can direct ourselves to speak and act based on it.
That’s why the idea that every fantasy about something that would be evil and damaging if we acted upon it is bad as a fantasy is mistaken and counterproductive.
God gave us the ability to imagine and fantasize both good and evil situations and behaviors so that we could turn these things over in our mind, evaluate them in our head and in our heart, and decide within ourselves what we believe to be good and evil, and what we will and won’t speak and act upon.
It takes time to change our desires, thoughts, and actions
This is not a simple process of fantasizing about killing our boss or about having sex with a married man or woman, saying, “That’s bad,” and then never thinking about it again. Rather, it is an ongoing process in which our inner desires, both good and bad, continually present themselves for view in our thoughts and fantasies, and we evaluate them over an extended period of time.
We humans do not change instantly. Our process of being spiritually born again is an extended one. It takes place over our entire lifetime.
It is unrealistic to think that we are going to quickly overcome and defeat every unworthy thought and desire, and become instantly pure and clean. We must face our true thoughts and desires over and over again, examine them multiple times from every angle, and yes, sometimes go ahead and act upon them in order to fully comprehend why some thoughts, desires, words, and actions are evil, and why some thoughts, desires, words, and actions are good—and then make an informed choice for the good over the evil.
Fantasy is where we face our inner self
Attempting to suppress every illicit fantasy the moment it occurs to us is not merely unrealistic. It is actually damaging to our spiritual health and our emotional life.
Our fantasies don’t just spring up out of nowhere. They come from deeply held thoughts and desires that are part of our unreformed, unregenerate self. And we can never face and deal with those parts of ourselves if we continually suppress any awareness of them, and pretend that they are not there.
Facing them in our minds in the form of imagination and fantasy is how we let them out far enough for us to see them for what they are and evaluate them without actually saying or doing them.
We choose good or evil within our mind and heart
The inner life of our imagination and fantasy is precisely where we make the decisions that determine the direction of our life.
- If we condone our illicit fantasies and foster the intention to actually act upon them, we have made our choice to go in an evil direction. Sooner or later we will go ahead and do the evil and destructive things we have fantasized about.
- If recognize within our mind and heart that acting upon them would be wrong, and forbid ourselves from acting upon them, we have made our choice to go in a good direction. If we stick with that resolve, those fantasies will gradually lose their appeal for us, and will fade toward the periphery of our mind.
These are the greater issues involved in our fantasy life.
Acting something out in fantasy or imagination within our minds simply is not the same as acting upon it in real life. One is theoretical. The other is actual. One has effects only within our mind. The other can have far-reaching and highly damaging consequences for the rest of our life, and even to eternity.
The bridge between the two—if we build that bridge—is our intention to act.
If we intend to act upon some imagination or fantasy if and when the opportunity arises, then spiritually it is tantamount to actually acting upon it, even if the opportunity never does arise. That’s because in the spiritual world, there will be no disconnect between our intentions and our actions as there often is here on earth. There, whatever we intend, we do.
That is precisely why coveting and lust are condemned in the Bible as evil. They are condemned because they are an intention to act upon the evil things we desire. Coveting and lust are not mere fantasy. They are a burning desire to do the evil things that we desire in our heart.
God’s gift of imagination and fantasy
But fantasy and imagination by themselves, without any intention to act upon them, are a good and healthy way for us to see and recognize the desires of our heart, both good and bad, spin out scenarios of what they would lead to and result in, and make a choice and a decision not to act upon the evil ones, and to act upon the good ones.
At least, that’s what God wants us to do.
And if that is what we do, then even our illicit and wrong imaginations and fantasies have done their job. That job is to show us what is truly inside us, and give us the opportunity to progressively reject and root out those parts of ourselves without the damage and destruction that would result from actually saying and doing them.
This, in a nutshell, is why God has created us with the ability to imagine and fantasize about all sorts of things, both good and bad.
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