Struggling with Intellectual Masturbation

By Dr James Cobb
President & Founder
Family Fundamentals

Most men struggle at some time in their lives with intellectual thoughts. Contrary to popular perception, even women can become ensnared by intelligent thinking. We all go through that phase where we suddenly discover we have brains and we can think! From there we can be tempted to entertain all kinds of philosophical questions, and some even begin to think seriously about exegetical issues.

First, let me say, it is normal to have a brain and to want to think intellectual thoughts. God gave us a brain. The danger is when we start thinking for ourselves and using that intellectual power to seriously consider big questions about life and God, or (worse) when we start applying that intellect to our study of the Bible. So here's some advice for anyone struggling with this.

1. Don't be on your own in front of the TV. You know what it's like -- you're flicking channels late at night and on Discovery is some documentary or other. You justify it to yourself, saying you're just naturally curious, but pretty soon you are having rational thoughts from which you just can't get away.

2. Try to avoid walking through parts of town where you might have to pass bookstores or libraries. I remember as a teenager the lure of commentaries and concordances. Walking home from work or school, try a route that takes you past a fundamentalist church instead, even if it takes five minutes longer. It's worth it!

3. Have a block on all junk mail in your email account. I have lost track of the number of young men I have counselled who were first drawn into these practices by an innocent-looking e-mail inviting them to subscribe to a theology forum or visit a website containing "reviews" and "articles" by "scholars".

4. Be accountable. If you are feeling a strong desire to think through a given topic (e.g. a doctrine) sensibly and rationally (first thing in the morning and last thing at night are the most common times), talk to someone. Have them recite prooftexts to you. 1 Corinthians 2 is the most helpful.

5. Don't let yourself be exposed to material of a scholarly nature. Don't fool yourself into thinking that just one quick look at a Bible commentary won't hurt, or that a peek at a book by a liberal will be harmless. Often it just becomes a stepping stone onto other, far worse material that may draw on tradition, philosophy and, at times, common sense. It may begin with a seemingly inoccuous trip to a secular bookstore, but it rarely ends there.

You may experience nocturnal "intellectualisms". You may awake in the morning to find you have unwittingly had thoughts of a theological or even philosophical nature during the night. This is a normal occurrence, and ought not to be feared. Alas, we are part of a fallen world where these things happen.

For parents who suspect their children may be involved in intellectual activity, do not panic. It is a normal part of growing up. They may discover at a young age that their intellect can be stimulated through the use of books and the like. They may try to engage friends in mutual debate or conversation. I still remember my natural fatherly concern on finding my six-year-old son playing "Doctors and Professors" with the girl nextdoor -- by the grace of God I interrupted their game just as they were about to examine each other's presuppositions.

Speak lovingly, yet sternly, to your child, and let them know that God loves them no matter what, but that all thinking and intellectual reflection outside of the God-ordained context of a loving Sunday School is wrong, no matter what form it may take. Explain to them compassionately and clearly where such thinking might lead (i.e. eternal punishment). Lastly, if you love your child, spare not the rod. If after your persistent counsel he is still not being wooed by the calm, grace-filled influences of the Holy Spirit, give him a damned good thrashing.

(thanks David L. Rattigan)

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