What Does it Mean to Be a Man if You're Not a Husband?
- Bronwyn Lea
- 2020 7 Apr
A friend of ours recently won the first place trophy at “Man Camp,” an annual weekend away he and his buddies have been doing for several years. I was curious. What would one have to do to win a prize for manhood? I pictured ax throwing. Barbaric yawps. Competitive meat-eating, perhaps. I wasn’t even close. Apparently, while the challenges vary from year to year, this year it was his strategic planning at board games that scooped his victory. Man Camp is light-hearted community-building fun, but its themes have ancient and important roots.
Ancient Sparta required young boys to train to be soldiers before they could become men, and in current day Vanuatu, males only officially become men after throwing themselves off 100-foot high towers with nothing but a vine tied to their ankles to save them. Military service and bungee jumping are two ways communities past and present have initiated boys into manhood, but for a large number of western men, it’s not always clear when or how someone becomes a man. Apart from some specific rites of passage, boys lack clear markers on their journey to manhood. The question of what makes a man a man is an important one: yet many are left wondering how and when the transition occurs.
As Brett and Kate McKay write, “Rites of passage are important in delineating when a boy should start thinking of himself as a man, when he should start carrying himself as a man, when the community should start respecting him as a man, and when he should start shouldering the responsibilities of a man. Lacking these important markers, many young men today belabor their childhood, never sure of when they’ve really “manned up.'”
When do you become a man? “When you get a car/graduate from college/get a real job/ lose your virginity/get married/have a kid” are as good a marker as any, it seems. The epitome of Christian manhood, then, would seem to look a lot like a gainfully employed, middle-class college grad with his sweetheart bride. Which is definitely one way a man can be.
The problem is: if we define manhood by some kind of physical, marital, and professional attainment goals we’ve missed God’s intention for us in our sexuality. And Jesus is our prime example in this. Jesus did not own a home, wear a graduation cap, hold down a job, lose his virginity, marry, or have children – and yet we know he was fully human and fully male at that.
Our role model in humanity is Jesus himself. Jesus was–and is—a man. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t think of Jesus a little like we think about garden gnomes: male on the outside, sporting a beard, but really with no actual working parts. Yet the witness of Scripture is that Jesus was fully man, with all that entails. As a Jewish baby, he would have been circumcised on the eighth day. He had to learn to walk and talk and relieve himself like all other toddlers, and he experienced all the hormones and growth spurts that come with puberty. Jesus did not get a divine hall pass to exempt him from mad rushes of testosterone. At some point, his voice would have deepened and his facial hair began to grow. Jesus was no gnome.
Contrary to the advice of popular coming-of-age movies, Jesus didn’t miss out on a vital rite of passage into adulthood because he died a virgin. I have no doubt there were women who were deeply attracted to Jesus and made advances. I’m sure there were many mothers in Nazareth who thought Mary’s boy might make an excellent match for their daughters. The reason it’s important to think about the realities of Jesus living in a fully human, fully male, fully hormonal body is that it tells us something important about manhood and sexuality.
Jesus shows us that spirituality and sexuality can and should co-exist. God created us in His image: we are imago dei, both male and female. And he calls us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus: both male and female are to be imago Christi. Mature spirituality doesn’t call for us to suppress our sexuality, rather, it calls for us to steward our sexuality in holy and wholly appropriate ways. What Jesus’ example reminds us of is that men don’t need to jump off bridges or join the army or lose their virginity to earn their way to being men. Those created in God’s image are male and female; they don’t need to morph into one. Men are called to express their God-given manhood, they don’t need to earn it.
Jesus may not have had a wife, a house, or a six-pack of abs, but he was a man fully human and fully God. His two distinct natures did not mix though; Jesus chose to live a human life not relying on his deity to help in times of temptation. He lived a perfect human life in order to be the perfect sacrifice for you and I. Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 2:14 reinforce Jesus' identity:
"The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." - Hebrews 1:3
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—" - Hebrews 2:14
Men are made in the image of God and that makes them man enough; there's nothing left to prove.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/demaerre