What does a godly man look like? (You can substitute the phrase “manly man” for “godly man.” The two are the same.)
Is he broad-shouldered, self-confident, tough, successful? Is he powerful, committed to his purposes, able to keep in check emotions that might interfere with achieving his goals? Does he keep moving against all odds, never indulging the urge to panic or cry? Does his deepest enjoyment come more from what he has accomplished than from what he is like to be with?
That’s the traditional view: Real men are tough, tough enough to lead and make decisions and keep on moving. But for the last 10 or 20 years, that view has taken a beating.
From pulpits, in conferences, and through books, modern men have been encouraged (sometimes commanded) to show their gentle side, to become comfortable with vulnerability and emotional displays, to stop thinking of themselves as superior to women, to release that part of their humanity that longs to connect more than achieve.
Men who live by God’s design, so this thinking goes, are nicer, kinder, more considerate than we thought men were supposed to be. Aggression and power, those traditional “manly” qualities that have men out fighting the world while the ladies stay home, are now scorned as cultural mistakes, perversions of true masculinity.
Something has been lost. Something is wrong with men. Something good that God has placed within every male—something that comes alive only through regeneration—remains unreleased in most men.
As a way of introducing our understanding of manhood, let me encourage you to think of masculinity as an energy, a natural momentum within the heart of every man, a power and an urge to move into life in a particular way.
Men in whom masculine energy is suppressed or distorted are unmanly, ungodly men, however culture may regard them. Men are manly only when they live in the power of released masculine energy. Now, what on earth does that mean?
To develop a clearer idea of what “released manhood” looks like, it might be helpful first to take a brief look at an inauthentic man, someone whose manly energy remains dormant or is expressed in corrupted form.
If you are in relationship with an unmanly man, you likely will experience him as:
- controlling (impersonally powerful)
- destructive (or dangerous)
- selfish (committed, above all else, to feeling a certain way about himself)
An unmanly man controls conversations; he manipulates family and friends; he arranges his life to avoid whatever he is not sure he can handle. He trusts no one, not deeply. He works hard to maneuver himself into a favorable light, into a position where he comes out on top or at least unchallenged.
He is not a good listener. He rarely asks meaningful questions, preferring either to offer opinions or remain quiet. No one feels pursued by him except when their friendship might work to his advantage. When he does take an interest in you, it has the feel of a car salesman asking to see a picture of your family.
And he is destructive. His words and actions harm people, though coworkers may feel encouraged and challenged for a time (sometimes a long time). Family members feel the harm soonest and most deeply but are sometimes too scared to admit it, even to themselves.
Often the veneer of goodness and affability is so thick that the harm is felt only with a cumulative power that slowly destroys, like small traces of poison in drinking water. Sometimes he actively hurts people with sarcasm and meanness, occasionally with violence. More often the damage is done by indifference and retreat, the kind of weapons that make you feel guilty or weird for feeling attacked.
The wife of an unmanly man rarely senses that she is cherished. She may never tell him so, but she more often feels used, taken for granted, or hated. His children and friends keep their distance. They’re too angry, or scared, to get close.
When masculine energy is not released, when it is either suppressed or distorted, men:
1. Feel powerless. They compensate by committing themselves to controlling something. They become AGGRESSIVE MEN.
2. Experience rage and persuade themselves that vengeance is their due. They become ABUSIVE MEN.
3. Live with a terror for which there is no resolution or escape, only relief. They dull the terror with physical pleasure and become ADDICTED MEN.
An authentic man is very different. When the energy God has placed within a man is released:
1. The man knows he is strong, not powerless. Strong men take the initiative, even when they’re not sure what to do. Their calling to reflect God in their manner of relating compels them more than their hope for power or their fear of impotence. A manly man is not an aggressive man; he is an ACTIVE MAN, involved in offering quality relationships to others, more committed to developing a strength that others can enjoy than to achieving for himself a sense of power and control.
2. The man experiences a state of being less angry, less easily threatened. Some call it peace. For him the phrase “more than a conqueror” means something, even during life’s hard moments. A manly man’s pain doesn’t interfere with his feeling the plight of others, even when their troubles are less severe than his. He has the courage to face his experience honestly. He therefore feels the sadness of living in a fallen world, and the loneliness of living in imperfect community.
But his sadness and loneliness generate only a righteous anger, the kind that stirs compassion for people, while it remains offended by sin. A released man is not abusive; he is a GENTLE MAN, not weak, a man whose power is controlled for good purposes.
3. The man finds an answer to his terror: in FREEDOM. No matter what happens in life, manly men always find room to move. There is always something to be, even when there is nothing to do.
When their families fall apart or their businesses collapse, manly men—like unmanly men—are tempted to lash out in vengeance or to retreat into relief. But they do neither. They are drawn by the opportunity to exhibit something good, to reflect the always hopeful movement of God. They move through trials with a presence that others, more than they, notice.
Manly men are enticed by the joys of freedom, by the unhindered chance to follow the call of manhood. A manly man is not addicted; he treats his body roughly, to avoid coming under a foreign power. He fights hard against his relentless desire for pleasure. He moves according to a plan. He is a PURPOSEFUL MAN who knows what he’s about and what he can contribute to the purpose for which he is living.
Every day, we move either toward godly manhood or away from it. One of the great tragedies of our day is that so many men are walking a path that they think leads to the joys of legitimate masculinity. It may be many years before those moving in wrong directions realize that the path they have been following releases masculine energy that is more corrupt than genuine, and that this path leaves them even more powerless, bitter, and terrified. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).