“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” – Genesis 2:7-8
In a commentary on this passage, John Eldredge writes, “Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam, if you’ll notice, was created from the earth itself, from the clay. In the record of our beginnings, the second chapter of Genesis makes it clear: man was born from the outback, from the untamed part of creation.”
Eldredge goes on to make the case that a man’s desire for adventure and exploration stem from a kind of homesickness for the “outback” he was created from. This might look like a literal outdoor adventure, but it doesn’t have to mean that; it may mean some foray into unknown territory in art, sports, theater, business, or a new level of relationship with someone (like getting married). Jordan Peterson talks about this draw to adventure in terms of the line between order and chaos. He says,
Part of proper being is not merely security, which is what order provides, but also the continual generative excitement that being on the edge allows. And the edge, which everyone knows about, is the edge between order and chaos… The rule is you have to confront chaos and make it back into order. And you must do that, because otherwise your life becomes unbearable.
For several years, our culture’s main discussion about masculinity and femininity has been about the deconstruction of stereotypes. Much of this has been very good and important. However, one side effect is that now in some circles, it’s difficult to say anything uniquely positive about either sex, and especially about men. When one person says, “Men are made to be strong,” someone immediately retorts, “So, women can’t be strong?” These are fair sorts of questions, but of course it’s always easier to deconstruct stereotypical differences than to reconstruct some positive essence of masculinity or femininity in their place.
God’s design for our bodies and sexuality is not carnal; it is not pornographic; it is good, and it is holy. From that standpoint, consider this quote from Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart:
Our sexuality offers a parable of amazing depth when it comes to being masculine and feminine. The man comes to offer his strength and the woman invites the man into herself, an act that requires courage and vulnerability and selflessness for both of them. Notice first that if the man will not rise to the occasion, nothing will happen. He must move; his strength must swell before he can enter her… The beauty of a woman arouses a man to play the man; the strength of a man, offered tenderly to his woman, allows her to be beautiful; it brings life to her and to many. This is far, far more than sex and orgasm. It is a reality that extends to every aspect of our lives.
The sexual anatomy of a man may be one the best symbolic portraits of masculinity we have available to us; and of course, it comes “built-in.” Masculinity becomes toxic not when men become powerful, but when men use their power to dominate, degrade, or manipulate. Masculinity becomes restorative when men use their power to protect, to build up, and to confront injustice. We see this sort of boldness from Jesus in Matthew 21:12-13: “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Let’s speak plainly, knowing that in discussions of sex, we’re on God’s turf: an erection is an accumulation of strength, which has the power to enter a woman and infuse her with what she needs to cultivate life. This is part of how the male body reflects God’s image and God’s work in the world. God also breaks through into human history, advancing from eternity, and he does so in order to lead us to life, and along paths of righteousness. That’s not to say that God’s work is sexual, but rather, that our sexuality is a reflection of God’s work. And ultimately God accomplished this work through the person of Jesus Christ, through whom He met his goal for us “to have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus showed us the Way of the Kingdom, and now like a pregnant woman, the church cultivates what he initiated. But because Jesus was not only fully God but also fully man, we also find important principles for masculinity in how he lived. He knew when to be bold, as we saw from him in the temple, but he also knew when to be gentle. Matthew 12:20 says about him, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Toward this goal, Jesus was utterly self-sacrificial, not only in his death, but also in his life. So, to be masculine means to be self-sacrificial.
One of the most well-known but least-considered verses is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” We’ve often heard that “real men don’t cry,” or show any emotion other than anger. But if ever there was a “real man” it was Jesus, and Jesus wept openly with his friends at the death of Lazarus. He wept over the brokenness and pain that runs rampant in this world, and how that brokenness affects all of us. And then, to borrow a line from Dylan Thomas, Jesus “raged against the dying of the light,” and brought Lazarus back from the dead.
While Eve was being tempted and deceived by the serpent, Adam is completely checked out, and utterly passive. Many men today are following in Adam’s footsteps. But Jesus, as the “new Adam,” is bold, and courageous, yet still always compassionate. Ultimately, all the attributes of Jesus’ masculinity flow out of this fundamental fact, that Jesus lived a life of moral purity. He pursued God at every stage of his human development. To be truly masculine is to do the same.
Write down any points you hope to highlight with your son/daughter. If you’d like to wait until tomorrow to read our counterpart on femininity before starting this conversation, please do so. If you are ready, ask your son (or daughter) one of these questions:
- What do you think it means to be a man?
- What are some stereotypes about being a man that you’ve heard of?
- If men modeled their lives after how Jesus lived, what would men be like?
Also, for more on this topic, check out our interview with Nancy Pearcey where she discusses her book The Toxic War on Masculinity.
“Father, thank you for the gift of masculinity. I pray you would help us cultivate that gift in our sons. Help us to affirm them in their masculinity, to show them that it is a good gift that they have been given, and to encourage them to steward it to your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.”