It’s Thursday. Time for some theology.
A couple days ago I posted about the difference between boys and girls, and how yes, we observe a difference, and so does Scripture, and no, the difference is not bad. Despite what our culture often tries to impress upon us, men and women are not “equals” in the sense that whatever one can do, so can the other. They are, however, equals in the sense that God has made salvation and eternal life free to all people, regardless of gender. But that’s about where the equality stops.
We are differently gifted to carry out different functions in the family, in the church, and to a certain extent in society. While all that is very important, that’s not what I want to focus on today. What I want to focus on is what Christian masculinity actually looks like.
First, I think we should eliminate some notions about what it means to be a Christian man that have, unfortunately, dominated much of Christianity for some years.
Being a Christian man means always being nice – There’s nothing wrong with being nice. I think of myself as a nice guy, for the most part. But there is a paradigm that has arisen in Christianity that says that being a nice Christian man means being naturally soft-spoken, smiling a lot, always being clean cut and being okay with wearing purple. The biker guy, the grungy day laborer, the unkempt college student, and the grizzly beard guy are welcome to show up, but they’ll never be called “nice Christian men” until they clean up their act.
Real Christian men aren’t afraid to cry and share their feelings – Once again, I have no problem with guys who can cry and who don’t mind sharing with the circle. And there is definitely some truth to the notion that being able to show emotion and be transparent takes some guts, since doing so means getting over that fear we feel that someone will mock us mercilessly for it. But some guys just don’t cry. I rarely shed tears, except maybe over my kids. Some guys prefer to let their actions speak, rather than express emotion. Yet, in our paradigm those people have “a lot to learn about life” and we sigh and wonder how to get them into a small group where we can crack that shell.
We need to be romantic for Jesus – When a man talks about his father, his brother, or his best friend, he will rarely use phrases like, “I’m lost without you” or “I’m desperate for you” or “You are the air I breathe”. Those are phrases we reserve for when we want to make a woman melt. Or, apparently, when we’re talking about Jesus. An overwhelming number of contemporary Christian songs rely on this kind of romance language when talking about Jesus. I’m not saying that kind of thing is all bad all the time, or that there isn’t some value to humbly expressing our total reliance on him. That’s healthy. But many guys struggle with a bit of discomfort at those words, and only in recent years have we started to see songs for worship that really emphasize facing challenges and being courageous.
I guess I should say that I feel we’re fortunate at St. Paul’s that we don’t struggle as much with any of those paradigms. We have plenty of blue collar shift workers, farmers and farmhands, and construction crew workers, and even the shirt-and-tie professionals have ties to the land around them and know how to drive a tractor. And maybe you’re thinking the same thing of your congregation, and that’s great. But that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every magazine I get from companies and organizations that cater to churches and church members has on the front a guy with gelled hair, stylish glasses, and a really nice and hip button down shirt. And whether we realize it or not, we are being told – and sometimes buying it – that the guy on the cover is the ideal of a Christian man.
Part of the issue I have with the “Christian nice guy” image is how it begins – when the boy is very young. I’ve seen moms frown in disapproval at boys on the playground who are roughhousing. I often have to remind my wife that wrestling is a natural part of having a brother close in age, so that she doesn’t intervene when our boys do it on a daily basis.
See, what boys are doing when they roughhouse, wrestle, play cops and robbers (or in my house it is good jedi and dark jedi), is playing out the God given adventurous spirit that will someday allow them to face danger to protect the weak, or to rise to challenges to provide for their families, or take risks for great rewards. In short, when boys act like boys and someone steps in and says, “Stop that! Control yourself! Be nice!”, it only represses a good thing God has made. As a father of two little boys, that kinda breaks my heart.
It doesn’t help that a lot of our artwork of Jesus reinforces this idea. He has the nicely trimmed beard, the shoulder length hair with just that little bit of waviness, and the nice clean robe. He has blue eyes and smiles a lot, and look at those teeth! He could be in a toothpaste commercial!
All sarcasm aside, these images of our Savior do just honor to his person, and I have no doubt that that’s the intent of the artist. But they are probably completely inaccurate. Given the fact that Jesus was on the dusty roads of the middle east most of the time, he likely didn’t look all that presentable much of the time. In fact, Isaiah even prophecies to that extent, when he says that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). While we can’t say for certain what Isaiah meant by that, it probably doesn’t mean that Jesus cut the handsome countenance pictured above.
So, if we want to be truly Christ-like, should we all stop shaving and washing our hair? Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying either.
What I’m suggesting is that we rethink our concept of what it means to be manly in the Christian sense. But before we do so, we should also be clear that manly in the Christian sense does not mean the same thing as manly in the worldly sense.
It does not mean being uncouth, rude, and offensive in manner.
It does not mean hooting and hollering as we consume mass quantities of alcohol.
It does not mean taking advantage of women and treating them as sex objects.
It does not mean demanding our way through intimidation and force.
It does not mean stepping on the backs of others to rise to the top.
It does not mean any other legitimately sinful activity that the world around you tries to tell you is what it means to be a man.
What does it mean?
When Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland, Abraham didn’t count the cost. He went.
When Jacob wrestled with God in the night, he hung onto him, even when his hip went out of joint, so that he could receive the Lord’s blessing.
When Joseph was challenged with solving a food crisis in Egypt, he sought wisdom from God and rose to the challenge.
Joshua was told by God “Be strong and courageous! Be very courageous!”, and he in turn handed those same words to the men of Israel as they claimed the promised land.
Gideon led an army of three hundred men against an army of thousands.
Ehud, the left handed judge, pulled off a spy maneuver worthy of Hollywood and slew the wicked, obese king Eglon.
Samson brought a temple down on his own head to decapitate the leadership of the Philistines.
David was known as “The Warrior King of Israel”.
Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, quietly obeyed regardless of the sacrifices asked of him by the Lord.
Stephen, the apostles, and many others faced torture and death for the name of Christ.
Christ, our leader, carried our sins on the cross, and sacrificed his life for us all, for his bride, the Church.
What does it mean to be a Christian man?
It means humility – being able to admit that as strong as we are, we are also totally weak.
It means resting our hope for salvation not on our own strength but on the strength of the strongest man who ever lived.
It means drawing on that strength to heft up the crosses we have been given to carry and dragging them down our dusty roads.
It means courage. It means dedication. It means doing what is right no matter the cost. It means rising to challenges, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. It means carrying the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and going into battle day after day.
It means having a job to do… and doing it.
It means having a woman to love… and loving her well.
It means having a way of living… and living it to the fullest.
It means trusting in and following the example of the most manly man who ever lived – the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Even if he doesn’t have really great teeth.