Biblical Manhood and the Manhood of the World

I don’t have much time to write this because I’ll be having class shortly, but I’ll jot down some quick thoughts.

Lately, there have been a lot of posts and links on Facebook regarding the fact that some people claim that adolescence doesn’t end until 25 these days.  Many, including some Christian leaders, decried this apparent development, blasting guys in the younger generation for being like boys, presumably different from the good ol’ days where men were MEN.  Back in the day, males worked at the factory at age 15, were married by 18, and were making kids soon thereafter.

I’m somewhat puzzled by this recent firestorm.  It actually isn’t THAT new of an idea that the brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25, which is not always a great thing (there is a reason why younger people are more willing to take risks, and this can be both bad and good).  But that, however, is an issue of neuroscience.  People aren’t complaining that the brain doesn’t finish developing until 25 because we don’t seem to have significant control over that.  However, it seems like they’re making this connection between that and the fact that we seem to have a lot of “grown up boys” these days.

It is no doubt true that there are many immature males in the 22-40 age range.  Some play mountains of video games or the card game Magic and that’s it.  Some continue to party and drink like they’re in college when they’re in their thirties.  Many others are so entitled that they think high paying jobs should be given to them and feel like they’re above taking other jobs that command less social status or are at locations they don’t want to go (like Maine, for instance).  They’d rather “occupy Wall Street” with their i-phones and and tablets then work a job they’re allegedly too good for.

That said, one has to ask in all of this analysis:  What exactly makes a guy a “man?”  Is it when he gets his first full-time job?  When he’s married?  When he stops playing video games?  The first time he has sex?  The fact that he likes cars and sports?  When he’s “financially secure?”  The culture gives us all sorts of guidelines, many of them conflicting and changing, and many Christians have bought into at least part of it.  This leads some older Christian men to rail against guys playing video games as being “childish” when they’re perfectly okay plopping down on the couch for hours and watching TV.  Or they sit around and play cards and drink with their buddies.  How is this objectively more “manly,” exactly?

Some Asian men work their butts off to make money but then neglect their kids, leading to a common disconnect between first generation Asian men and their second generation offspring.  Is that manly?  Some men are athletic, stay in shape, and work on their trucks, but they bed all sorts of different women and try to avoid responsibility if one of them gets pregnant.  Is that manly?  Some are good at hunting and fishing, but they have tempers shorter than some eight year old girls who have their Barbie taken away.  Is that manly?  Or what of men who are good at their particular job but have no ability to think logically about issues of truth, morality, and current issues.  Is it manly to lack rationality and wisdom but have a good career?

I admit that I sometimes have these kind of preconceived ideas of what a man should be.  I have sometimes looked down on guys who are too sensitive or emotional (men are supposed to be ruled by reason), who like salad (men are supposed to consume MEAT… and kimchi), who stink at making logical arguments (again, the reason thing), who don’t like sports (what do you do, paint your toenails?), who wear extremely tight clothes (T-shirts and basketball shorts, bro), who like overly artsy things like ballet and musicals (do you also like shopping for curtains?), who can’t physically handle their own body weight (if you weigh 180 you better be able to rep 180 lbs. on bench), whose cooking isn’t primarily meaty and spicy, etc.  Those of you who know me may notice that this picture of a man looks a lot like… well, me.  I thus avoid defining a man by things I don’t do or I’m not good at, like knowing a lot about cars, knowing how to build electronic things, knowing how to start a fire with sticks, being physically powerful (I can handle my body weight relatively well but I’m only 125-130 lbs.), being well-organized, having a high-paying job (I’m a grad student), so on and so forth.  And sure, a man should like sports, especially football, but that doesn’t mean he has to be good at them (I am not).  Right?  As you can see, it’s easy to project an idea of a “man” that is most favorable to ourselves, and we try to reject those things that don’t fit us.  I honestly think many of the Christian men who have reacted to this are doing much the same thing I am:  They are blasting young men but are implicitly or explicitly giving an idea of a man that does not seriously indict them, which often means they emphasize things they do but de-emphasize their own short-comings.

For Christians, our idea of man should come primarily from Scripture.  What, exactly, does it say?  It doesn’t give a long a list of attributes a manly dude should have, but it does indicate what are expected of godly men.  One such text is in 2 Kings, when the dying King David gives a final charge to his son Solomon:

2 “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. 3 Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, 4 so that the Lord may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

Verses 3 and 4 here modify David’s instruction to be strong and “show yourself a man,” and which is basically to walk with God closely and obey him.  That is a man.  Right away a great deal of “manliness” from the world gets blown away.  David says nothing about wealth, physical prowess, sexual prowess, charisma, or other attributes we like to focus on.  Solomon actually had these other attributes and at the end failed terribly, leading to God’s punishment and the split of the monarchy.

Of course, one has to wonder what exactly are all of God’s commands concerning manhood.  For David, he referred back to the Mosaic Law, which we are no longer under.  However, from the rest of Scripture, we can piece together a basic picture of what a man should look like.  First of all, at the very least, a man should display the fruit of the Spirit, which includes things like gentleness (Galatians 5).  If he’s a husband, he should love his wife as himself and be willing to lay his life down for her (Ephesians 5), and if he is not married, it stands to reason that he should be cultivating the character traits just for that role.  If he’s a father, he should instruct his kids in the Lord (Ephesians 6), and again, if he does not have kids, he should still have the character and knowledge that would allow him to do that if he did (in other words, these texts don’t simply fly over the heads of single dudes).  When we see scriptural qualifications for elders and deacons, these should not be read as mere job descriptions such that people who have no desire to be either can just gloss over them.  They are characteristics of men fit for leading, and ideally, they should be present in all believers.  Thus, the pastoral epistles still say much to single guys or guys who aren’t in church leadership, so manly guys should be “one-woman” men (meaning either they are faithful to their current wife or, if they’re not married, they display the character of a man who is waiting for marriage and would be faithful to his future wife).  They should be slow to anger, not addicted to wine (basically, if you think it’s manly to have high tolerance for alcohol, you’re being stupid), and not greedy, among others.  As you can see, there is very little here about physical fitness or even wealth.

One may rightly wonder:  Okay, but what makes a man different than a woman, other than obvious biology?  Surely women should display good Christian qualities as well and not just dudes.  That is true.  I would say that a big difference between men and women is a strong responsibility to lead others to God.  That’s not to say women can’t ever lead anything or shouldn’t try to point people to God, but there are specific instructions for husbands to model Christ and fathers to teach their children in the Lord.  For David, there is a specific instruction for Solomon to follow God closely in order to lead the nation to likewise follow God.  I’m not saying leadership should always look the same for every guy; some guys have a “quiet leadership” while others are more at the forefront.  Either way, if they want to be true men, they should be spiritually wise enough, knowledgeable enough, and mature enough to lead people under them and around them to God, particularly their own wives and children.  They are charged with being the walking, breathing model of Christ, whether they currently have a wife or not.

This doesn’t mean that there are NO cultural considerations whatsoever.  For sure, Christians should take care not to blur gender lines unnecessarily, which can partially explain why Paul taught against men having long hair in 1 Corinthians.  Because of this, I think it’s wrong, from the view of biblical principle, for men to wear dresses or lipstick as regular attire or otherwise act in culturally obviously feminine ways.  However, such considerations are to avoid confusing either the actor or the surrounding culture on gender lines.  They do not in themselves define what a man is.  A man is a guy who takes his charge of spiritual leadership and authority with seriousness (though he need not be a boring killjoy, for sure, and can certainly have fun in life).

This can be summed up like this:  A real man, in God’s eyes, is a guy who loves him and takes his responsibility of spiritual maturity and leadership seriously.  He may be poor, but he’s not lazy in the workplace.  He may lack the opportunity or capacity to study certain things, but he is not intellectually lazy and unwise.  He may be physically small but he’s a spiritual giant.  He may be sensitive but not to the point of being weak-willed or easily angered.  And he also has the self-awareness to know that he still isn’t quite there yet and knows that he must walk with God daily.  If that’s not you, I don’t care how many girls you’ve gotten, how much money you make, how high you are up in the corporate ladder, how logical you are, or how athletic you are.  God doesn’t view you as a mature man.

This talk on the length of adolescence?  I don’t care too much about it.  I’ve met 50 year old men who make money and have societal respect, but in spiritual matters they are children, know next to zilch about the Bible, and will even get angry when they are corrected or taught.  I’ve met 24 year olds who may not have the clearest idea of what they want to do for the rest of their life, but they are dedicated to following God in whatever they do and teaching others about God.  Who’s more a man?  You tell me.

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One thought on “Biblical Manhood and the Manhood of the World

  1. As a young man, I struggle to prove my masculinity to myself and others, but really I should be pursuing God, not “toughness” or “muscles”. There is a lot of pressure now to be more ‘manly’, while at the same time true men are becoming an endangered species. I guess the best way to counteract this is to become saturated in the Bible, not the media.

    I echo everything you said, but I’m seeing that some of my goals don’t match what I believe. Thanks for the reminder of what manhood really means. I think I’ll go revise my list of goals now 🙂

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