Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Manhood in the Shadow of Christ

What does it mean to be a man?  This probing question has been pulsing through my brain for more than a year, begging an answer.  Unable to find the answers I sought or the words to communicate my own ideas, the topic retired to the back burner of my mind.  I had read dozens of excellent blogs (http://smorgasbordom.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-is-real-man.html, http://followkostas.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-could-i-make-man-out-of-you.html?zx=4acf5531b252c337), books, and articles about what ‘true’ manhood looks like.  But I did not think I had anything to add to the fray.  I had tried to tie a few feeble fragments together, but nothing seemed to connect.  

How can I, who have experienced little to nothing of the world, make a claim about what it means to be a man?  As Elihu said in the book of Job, “I am young in years...that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.”  

But I have watched and seen men of God.  I have also seen boys in the body of men.  The little I know about manhood, I know from watching my father and other men I respect and seeing how they interact with those around them.  I also believe that the Bible lays out a framework of what it manhood means.   Therefore, I have decided to scrawl down a few of my ideas in the hopes that I may be able to help connect some dots for other people as well.

Which brings me to my first distinction.  Our culture has defines manhood much differently than I do.  Watch a few movies or The Simpsons.  Flip through the channels, taking notice of the commercials especially.  Look at the men featured on the front pages of popular magazines and in the limelight of our applause.  What are they living for?  What are they telling us about manhood?  To be completely honest, I am sick to death of what popular culture has been telling me about manhood.  This generation seems to not even live up to the standard of manhood set forth by generations before us.  As Fight Club so aptly put it, we are a “generation of men raised by women.”  Looking to men around me has proved some benefit, but we are all sinful, broken reflections of what manhood should look like.  Discontent with our cultures’ definition of manhood and searching for sort of hope for manhood, I set out to find a standard.  What should a man look like?  Is there a standard?  I turned to the Bible, my own standard for how to live a life worth living.

After searching the pages of my Bible, I found two men who were truly all that men were created to be.  Oh, I found a lot about what a man should look like.  But I was looking for standards, flesh and blood examples of true manhood.

One was Adam, before he chose to disobey God.  He was created perfect, reflecting the image of God.  He was a flawless image, a standard, of what men were made to be.  Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Adam in the days before the infamous fall.  We do know that when the moment of battle came, when he was called to defend Eve and resist the serpent’s attack, he backed down and gave in without much of a fight.  

That is the manhood I see all around me.  And I hate it.  We know we are supposed to be strong and noble and protect the beauty that still somehow exists in this crooked world.  We know that!  And we feel it burning deep within our souls.  But when the moment of conflict comes, we shrink away.  Thoughts and lies plague our minds.  Something slyly whispers that we need to watch out for number one.  We find it easier to slip into the background than sacrifice our reputations, our comforts, or our very lives.  And so beauty is trampled.  Truth is slandered.  And our own hearts begin to become numb.  

So that leaves the second man, who came to right what the first man did wrong.  Jesus.  I believe that Jesus Christ is a model for every area of life, including manhood.  He was the only one who was what men were supposed to be before sin made its entrance and desecrated manhood.  In Jesus, I find the only true hope for our broken attempts at manhood. 
In a culture where men pride themselves on their strength and straightforwardness, I believe there is something to be said in defense of gentleness.  As Jesus walked through life, he cared for those around him.  Whether it was the pious Pharisee or the prostitute from down the road, He cared enough to connect with them.  He was gentle and caring to both those who loved him and those who hated him.  I believe that part of a man’s mission in life is to reach out to the poor, the broken, the widow, and the orphan.  To care for those who cannot care for themselves.  Also, I believe man must protect and care for those God has entrusted to him, whether it is his wife, family, or co-workers.   Man has the responsibility to protect and nurture.  Which brings me to strong. 

He was strong.  Jesus was gentle and caring, but he was no pushover.  Jesus had a backbone.  He fought to defend the truth, whether it meant cracking a whip and turning tables in the temple courts or delivering a scalding rebuke to hypocritical religious leaders.  He knew the truth and he stood by it.  Even when what he said flew in the face of what everyone else was saying.  Even when every single one of his disciples abandoned, betrayed, or denied him.  In the face of adversity, pain, and death, he stood his ground and still had the guts to tell the truth to those who spat in his face.  Jesus did what it took to protect those unable to protect themselves.  He chose how he fought his battles with wisdom.  He didn’t fight with his fists or even with harsh, bitter words.  He spoke truth, asked probing questions, and didn’t outright condemn.  Far too many men I have seen around me refuse to fight to defend the truth.  It is far easier, it seems, to sit back on the couch and escape from life in the stupor of pizza and late-night football.  We are called to stand take leadership as we are lead by God.  And when the truth is attacked or morals are compromised, we are called to use our strength to fight and protect.  

Jesus was the servant of all.  Servant.  The word tends to bring the image of a whipped dog into my head.  But that’s not what Jesus was at all!  Though he of all people had the right to be proud and a bit stuck up (he was God!!!), he chose to wash the feet of his disciples and live among the poorest of the poor.  We are caught up in a culture where men are taught to be independent, proud, and a bit cocky, especially if you have got the abs, skill, money, and power.   Yes, men are called to be leaders, but not arrogant, proud, power-hungry brutes.  Jesus stated very bluntly that the leader is called to be the servant of those he is leading. 
Gentle.  Protector.  Caring.  Lover.  Leader.  Sacrificing.  Servant.  

Words not typically used, possibly, in defining manhood.  But I believe that the same words that describe Jesus Christ are excellent in setting the bar for manhood.  Want a flesh and blood example of what being a man really looks like?  Come, let me tell you more about him. 

But let me warn you..  Being a man after the heart of Christ may require far more of you than you are comfortable giving.  It will require everything you have and leave you at times sweaty and bleeding on the ground.  But I have found no path worth walking other than one of suffering.  He is the true standard of all that it means to be a man.