Sunday, December 19, 2010

Masculinity: Such a Hated Thing?

     It's shocking really, the number of men my age who I have heard speak of the word "man" with disdain in their voice, myself included.  With women, you might expect a negative connotation of the word "man" (due to the way most women are treated by most men), but why in the world would it be so with men?  It seems rather rare to find a Christian man my age who will refer to himself as such in a sincere, emotionally-connected way with positivity.  Many seem to prefer the word "guy".  Now, I won't say that this is a vast majority of men, but I would easily say half of them.

     Seeing this over and over again in talking with different guys, I have sincerely wondered why it is so and what to do about it?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Where does it come from? Is it a rejection of some set of traits that should be rejected but the name "man" should not be discarded?   As in all things, how is it related to our relationship with God?  To our relationship with yourself?  Or to other men or to women?  What can men do to help each other out with this?  What can women do to help men out with this?  How should we pray?

     I by no means have some complete answer, though hopefully one day I will have much more.  However, I definitely have a few conviction-based understandings.  First of all, it seems that many men associate the word man in some real way with sin, actual sin.  This is rather varied.  It may be associated with unemotional hardness/callousedness (the opposite of tenderness, gentleness, and love).  It may be associated with abusiveness, taking advantage of women or bullying men.  It may be associated with chauvinistic attitudes or money/work obsession.

     It is very important to say that, quite frankly, these are sins of men.  I do not say this in a misandrist way .  Men and women are prone to certain sinful behaviors based off of the specific curse of Adam and the specific curse of Eve, which produced, in some ways, different sin natures.  Nearly all Christians look at the Fall in Genesis 3 as the source of the human sin nature.  However, very few people can show you in the story where the sin nature actually came from.  Was it simply because Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden that they developed an ontological transformation of desires that now naturally wanted sin?  I think there is great credence to the idea, but I do not think it is entire.  Was it because the awareness given to them in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil caused them to sin?  I give less credence to this idea, and definitely believe it is not entire.  Or did it have something to do with the curses?  About this, I would make a big point, at least for discussing masculinity.

      In Genesis 3, God curses four things: the serpent, the woman, the man, and the land (it is important to note that the curse was a natural byproduct of the sin, necessary in the justice of God, not an arbitrary decision of a puffed up, angry God to make the living situation of Adam and Eve worse; it broke His heart.)  These curses are, in my opinion, a part of the sin nature that human kind (and creation itself) now live in bondage to apart from Christ, though they also involve the prophetic declaration of how such problems will be resolved: Jesus.  Worded otherwise, I believe that these curses are substantive and relational, not shallow and only physical.

     Take the curse on the serpent for example.  It is rather straightforward.  The curse on the serpent is a rather clear reference to the reality that God will eventually birth a Seed through the bloodline of Adam and Eve that will conquer the serpent (Satan, Rev. 12:9).  God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:14-15).  However, this is not just a description of the physical state of the serpent or of the natural animosity between serpent and mankind.  Mankind now has natural enmity with most of nature.  This was a declaration from God that Satan would be placed in the lowest place of all creatures forever because of what he just did, and this was a promise that a human being (Jesus, God in the flesh) would one day accomplish this.

      Most theologians view the above verses in this way.  However, it seems less common for there to be deeper/substantive understanding of the curses on the man and the woman.  The curse on the man is, " pain you shall eat of it [the ground] all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground" (Gen. 3:17-19).  Now, we could do with this verse what we could have done with the verses about the serpent (though the Scriptures clearly indicate those verses are about Christ's conquering of Satan), but it is not just about man having trouble getting the ground to produce food, just as the one's about the serpent were not just about snakes sliding on their belly and mankind and snakes being disagreeable.

       Part of the sinful nature of men is the propensity to find all of their value and purpose in their ability to self-produce, to self-accomplish.  When the Scripture says that "in pain" men will "eat of the ground" and that it will "bring forth thorns and thistles", that men will only eat by the sweat of their face until they die, it is communicating that men will be consumed with the desire to try and perfect their situation, to make everything right via their own self and their own power. They will feel valuable and purposeful only if they are accomplishing, if they are "bringing forth food". But this self-based method of accomplishment will not work. It will only produce thorns and thistles and in the pain of it they shall live.

      There are very few people who could not see these propensities in men (or a very evident attempt to evade them).  Many of the sins that men struggle with come out of this fundamental sin nature.  The work workaholic, money-obsessed issue is rather obvious in how it relates; a man is trying to produce.  Less clear, possibly, is the propensity to be unemotional and calloused in an overly rational way.  This, however, is often related to the way men view emotions, as dangerous, unstable, and most of all, as ineffective, as a waste of time.  The seeming inefficacy of emotions verses the seeming efficacy of "reasoned" thought causes the efficacy-obsessed sin nature of a man to grab a hold of emotions rather quickly.  The propensity in men to feel like failures the longer they go through life (in their attempts at producing perfection) causes them often to seek other destructive behaviors, whether that be alcohol abuse, sexual addiction, or obsession with certain entertainment.  The sense of failure they have in categories relating to women often push them deep into these kinds of things as well.

     My point is that the specifics of the sin nature given to men as found in Genesis 3 DOES in fact produce many of the negative traits commonly viewed to entangle men.  That man who treats other men like crap and takes every opportunity to build himself up at their cost actually just feels like such a failure himself, has reaped so many thorns and thistles, that he knows not else what to do.  That man who abuses women and takes advantage of them hates himself so much for his own ineptitude that he would do anything to find 'pleasure' or 'worth' or 'purpose', even something as vile and fake as rape.  The man who sleeps with women left and right is so full of the "pain" that Genesis 3 says men will live in, that he is utterly numbed to anyone's cares.  The emotionally dead man who can do nothing but sit and watch TV learned that such deadness was preferable to that pain.  The man obsessed with his work, for now, is still trying, trying to make something that will last, something that will fill the hole cursed on the inside of him.

      The list can go on and on but the point is that many of the negative qualities we attribute to men are actually ones that men, in their sinful nature possess naturally, without being taught anything.

    The same could be said of women, though this paper is not going to focus on the sinful nature-specifics of women.  I will also briefly note that the above things described about men are not exclusive to men.  Women can do every single one.  It is simply that there is a tendency in men to sin in this way.  It is for this reason that men are told three times in Scripture to agape (love) their wives while women are told in the same three passages to honor or submit to their husbands.  It is not that men do the loving and women do the submitting, the end. The reason these verses are here is because they combat the sinful nature of both the man and the woman.  For a man to be told to unconditionally have affection for his wife, to give himself relationally in love without any demands, is so difficult for his sense of failure and so difficult for his constant attempts at trying to fix everything (his sinful nature).  The command, "Husbands, love your wives" is distinct because the sin nature of man has a distinction.  If we were to analyze the sin nature of women based on the curse in Gen. 3, we would find that the command "Wives, honor your husband" is there for similar reasons.  It is not there because of some misogyny in the Scriptures.  It is there because it combats the distinct elements of a woman's sin nature in a way that will cause her to grow closer to God when done, just as the command to the man does the man.

      So where does that leave us at this point?  'Men' truly do have many natural qualities that are negative.  At least with my generation, seeing these negative qualities all around seems to have produced a strong aversion to masculinity, to being called a man.  So what do we do?  We certainly don't give up on men; God didn't.  We acknowledge the sin nature.  I would even say we acknowledge the horribleness of it, the depth of its wickedness, how abusive and cruel it is, how severing of relationship with God and self and others it is.  But then we realize a marvelous truth: Jesus was the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).  Jesus came to be the end of the Adamic race, of a certain kind of man.  Jesus came to start a new race, to show true humanity, and true masculinity.  The primary, the eternal, definition of man is not Adam and his cursed line.  It is Jesus, the Second Man, and His new line (15:47).  

     Men, right now, as you read this blog, know this glorious truth, that there are two species of human beings walking around on this earth right now, two groups of men, ontologically different in their very substance and core, able to be totally different things. You may not be able to tell right now, but there truly are two species of human.  One is of the Adamic line, the line that was cursed to struggle and strive in worthlessness until he falls to the ground in utter sin and ruin.  The second is of Jesus, the Second Man, the man of love, goodness, mercy, nobility, meekness, might, and gentleness, the man from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47).  And you don't have to be the old man. Don't fail to acknowledge the evils that the old man committed and commits, but know that Jesus came as the Last Adam to end his line forever. There has existed on this earth a perfect man, a man who has not a single sinful thought or emotion in His whole life.  And that man made a way for us to get what's inside of Him in us.  That man made a way to destroy Adam's curse and nature.  That man made a way for us to join with Him and be like Him, utterly new, as perfect as He is perfect. It's happened.  It happened on this very earth.  Masculinity has been redeemed. Manhood has been transformed.  Rejoice, for freedom has come.  No longer do you have to be abusive. No longer do you have to be trapped.  Jesus has slain the old man, and the new is born. 

    Women, there is real value in your understanding of this, in you having this perspective.  How many times have you thought that men are "just unemotional and overly rational"?  Or how many times have you thought that we are just bigoted and chauvinistic? It is fine for you to think that 'men's' sin nature is prideful in its rationale ability, but don't let this come to mean what it means to be a man truly, for the men around you to be  men. How often have you matter-of-factly expected men to be ruled by an abusive sex drive (which is deeply related to worthlessness and purposelessness in them)? How often have you expected them to be obsessed with work or entertainment, but never love?  Change what it means to be a man in your own eyes.  Let Jesus, the most glory filled man to ever live, define what being a man means, because this is the Person all men who you will be around are moving into. And lastly, I would encourage you to tell the men in your life, and particularly the man in your life (if God's done this for you), that he can be like the Man Jesus.  Free Him to be not like the classic overly burdened, unemotional, unloving but super macho man.  Most men, whether they realize it or not, actually think on some level that most women want a man who is the classic overly macho man, even though it includes insensitivity and incommunicable hardship.  In actuality, most women don't really want this except in some confused, sinful self-protective way.    

     Lastly, I think it is very destructive for men to not use the word "man" in description of themselves.  I think a shame or total abolition of your gender is detrimental to your relationship with God, who made you as such.  Eventually, you want to be able to say to God, "God, you love that I'm a man.  You love men. I love being a man. You made me as a man and I can be like Your Son, the Example of all Men."  To do this, however, takes time.  I know I am not there, yet.  However, I can tell you that I have found substantial freedom so far and want to find more and more.  
       Oh, men, you are not made for a calloused heart.  You are not made for that sense of hopeless failure that busies itself in 'entertainment' gorging.  You are not made to abuse women and hate yourself for it.  You are not made to grow up obsessed with money and work, dead to truth and light. You were never meant to feel like your purpose is to try and produce security for you or anyone, burdened incessantly until you die (that's His job).  You were never meant to "earn" a living or procure happiness for your wife or children.  You were never made to be chauvinistic or cruel.  You were never made to have to pretend you are strong.  
       You are made to be emotional and alive, invigorated in purpose and full of joy. You are made to feel free to lean on your Father.  You are made to have the deepest conversations and love it.  You are made to view women as precious and full of worth; you will view women as precious and full of worth.  You are made to love listening to women speak, with patience and gentleness, and constant flow of awe and love; this you will do.  You are made to love listening to other men speak, to have love for them, to not be afraid to love them; this you will have.  You are made to have strength beyond imagination, that comes from the Source of all strength, to be so full of life that you could burst.  You are made to laugh out-loud in purity and wholeness, and you will; in fact, you probably do.  You are made for love, to love and be loved, to love feeling love.  You are made to be like the one you want to be like, to be like Jesus.  And you will be. Keep saying yes, and I have no doubt, you will be.