In summertime, families flock to the beach and church attendance flags. That’s not entirely healthy, but it’s not a total loss. The gospel is preached every day on the beach. It’s manifest in a mystery explaining why women’s breasts act like a magnet for men.
Mammary magnetism is most evident on the beach, where men often soak in the rays while “mentally undressing” attractive women. The Bible calls this lust, longing to see a female’s breasts for lurid reasons. Men often crave to see what the bikini covers. Lust however raises a question: Why just a woman’s breasts?
Breasts constitute a rather small percentage of the approximately 3,000 square inches of flesh that cover the adult human body. It’s true that one of the central struggles in life is “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes” (I Jn. 2:16), but why don’t men fixate on the rest of a woman’s body? Why not her elbows? Or her knees?
The answer is found in the gospel graphically told in our bodies. The ancient gospel is the story of God’s intention for his Son, Jesus, to “marry us.” This is why Christ launched his public ministry at a wedding and later compared the kingdom of heaven “to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt. 22). The gospel is the wedding of divinity and humanity, best told in our sexuality as male and female. It’s “a huge mystery,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “and I don’t pretend to understand it all.”1
The angels don’t pretend to understand it all either. However, the mystery of the gospel acts like a magnet for them. Peter points this out. In one letter, he describes the gospel as a mystery that “even angels long to look into” (I Pet. 1:12). Mysteries act like a magnet. What works for angels is supposed to work with people. God tells us the gospel is a mystery, hoping that we’ll long to look into it.
A mysterious gospel goes like this: Christ, the incarnate Word, shed his blood for his church. The church is to incarnate – make flesh – his Word. It’s a mystery how this happens but Peter describes the word made flesh as “pure milk” that “newborn babies” long for (I Pet. 2:2). In other words, the church turns Christ’s blood into life-giving milk for believers. That, by the way, is exactly what happens when a mother gives birth. Her mammary glands turn life-giving blood into life-giving milk.
This is admittedly a mystery. One way to wreck a good mystery is to try to fully explain it. Mysteries are mostly inexplicable but can be intuitively felt. Men feel something when they see a woman’s breasts. The magnetism comes from the mystery. This makes women’s breasts intoxicating. The porn industry “gets” the intoxicating part but not the mystery. The Bible “gets” both. It says a wife’s breasts are to intoxicate her husband and nourish her newborn. These gifts are pointers to the mystery of the gospel.
This is why in the Proverbs we read: “May her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love” (5:19). A wife’s breasts ought to give her husband a buzz. They should be delicate and beautiful to him, “like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies” (Song of Songs 4:5 & 7:3), or “like clusters of fruit” (7:7-8). A husband ought to long to climb the tree and take hold of his wife’s breasts. These desires are not bawdy. They fit the “full-body” gospel. They are holy.
The “full-body” gospel keeps desires holy, pointing True North. This gospel also explains lust. It’s desire gone south. Desires go bad when the magnetic field goes awry and no longer points people to the divine. Men become beasts. It’s called animal magnetism, men acting like animals and lusting after women, secretly trying to “mentally undress” them while pretending to read a book on the beach. Women notice.
Next time you visit a beach, catch how often attractive women check to ensure their swimsuit tops haven’t slipped. They know men are looking, although the better word is leering. Augustine called it the “look.” He describes it in The Rule of Saint Augustine, writes Dallas Willard, noting “how it alters human relationships between men and women.”<sup2 It’s an alteration that’s most evident in media. Flesh sells.
There are numerous examples but the most egregious one might be the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. It alone generates seven percent of SI’s annual advertising revenue and is the single best-selling print issue. The first Swimsuit issue was in 1964, featuring a trim and attractive Babbette March in a modest two-piece. Over the years, breasts have gotten bigger and swimsuits skimpier. It’s intoxication fueled by lust – never satisfied. It’s also abuse. In the 57 years of the magazine’s life, a woman has appeared on the cover of a non-swimsuit issue a total of only 66 times. On average, that’s just over once a year. It’s hard to imagine there are so few deserving female athletes out there in the sports world.
The bottom line is breasts are holy. Many years ago, as part of the restoration project of the Sistine Chapel, John Paul II ordered the removal of many of the loincloths that previous churchmen had ordered to cover Michelangelo’s nudes. Originally, all the figures were nude because the church viewed the human body, including women’s breasts as holy. Most Christians don’t know this. Until the church preaches the “full-body” gospel, men won’t “get” why breasts are magnetic and women won’t get the respect they deserve. If however the graphic gospel becomes the normal state of affairs, women would likely have a more enjoyable week at the beach.
1 Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Ephesians 5:32 in The Message.
2 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 345.