I think one of the biggest threats to guys today is the constant stream of faulty images of men that float around our cultural landscape compared to the scarcity of images of authentic masculine goodness and strength.
The ancient proverb, “Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a) couldn’t be more relevant to men, young and old, who have never had a vision of good, godly masculinity.
What happens when a generation grows up drinking the idea that manhood isn’t necessary (or even that manhood is bad)? What happens when their best images of manhood don’t actually reveal true manhood but something less than that?
Unfortunately, this is the experience common to guys growing up in our day. In the place of authentic and godly images of manhood, many guys grow up drinking in images like these:
The James Bond. This is the guy who can save the world by himself and is successful in all he does. He has no friends and doesn’t need or want any. He’s sexually irresistible to women, and he uses and discards them without cost to himself or them. But behind his successful veneer, the James Bond is a broken, lonely man searching for validation and significance.
The Ron Swanson. This guy is similar to the James Bond, minus any attempt or interest in saving the world. He can do everything he needs to do to take care of himself by himself, and he doesn’t have any real friends either. In general, he finds other people an irritating obstacle to his manly isolation. In reality, the Ron Swanson is only a mask, and his isolation is more self-protection than it is self-sufficiency.
The Peter Pan. This is the guy in a man’s body who relationally always remains a boy. He’s happy to live by the creed “boys will be boys,” and while he may play a man at sports, gaming, drinking, sex, and sometimes even business, but when it comes to the actual sacrifices required of manhood, he stops short. Married Peter Pans end up as bonus children taken care of by their wives.
The Everyman No-man. Perhaps because men have misused their power to abuse and oppress others, this guy attempts to avoid the wrongs of hurtful men by avoiding or abandoning manhood. Be a good person or a nice guy, but whatever you do, don’t wield your masculine strength, or at least turn the volume on it waaaay down.
Adam, the first man, set all men on a less than stellar track toward the best version of manhood. But Jesus, the second Adam, came to save that which is lost, and if you’re a man, this includes God’s good design for your manhood.
Several months ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, a college student who had recently begun reading John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and was really enjoying it. One thing he said especially caught my attention: “I grew up knowing I was supposed to be a good Christian, but until now I never got that I was made to be a good Christian man.”
The faulty images surrounding us coupled with the scarcity of godly images reminds me of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21 that were biting and killing God’s rebellious people until the people cried out to God in repentance. God’s cure? He didn’t remove the fiery serpents at first. Instead, Moses was to raise a bronze serpent high on a pole so that anyone who was bitten could look up at the bronze serpent and God would save them. (See Numbers 21:6-9.)
This is what Jesus was referring to when He told Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14, 15).
Men, as we learn to gaze on Jesus together, His strength, life, and love become ours—His strength not caving nor overpowering, but serving; His life not self-absorbed nor self-seeking, but poured out for others; His passion not sexually using and discarding, but enduring pain and death for His beloved.
We have to help each other look away from the faulty images that are killing us and up to Jesus on the Cross. He is the second Adam, our vision of real manhood.
I’d love to hear from you. What are other faulty images of manhood do you notice around us? Are there men in your life you see as positive examples of masculine goodness and strength? Leave a comment below.
And if you’re a man 18 – 25(ish) and you want to go deeper into this topic, join us on Saturday, May 5th from 6 – 9pm for FORGE | Restoring Manhood.
I’m going to have to disagree on the Ron Swanson bit. I’m married to a pretty healthy guy whose favorite character is absolutely Ron Swanson because he identifies with him so much. We jokingly call him Ron Swanson sometimes. I would argue that while yes, he is a solitary creature, he is by no means unemotional or isolated from the feelings of others. He loves his wife and her two girls and their new baby very much, he values self-reliance and independence, and mourns the loss of the American “wild at heart” kind of guy that once was. He identifies with Donna, an overweight black woman, because she can hunt and do things with him that he likes but in no way expects her to be like him. He insists that he doesn’t identify with Leslie in any way, yet she is his best friend because she cares for other people and he values her friendship. He allows himself to be humbled at times for the sake of relationship (Yoga with Chris?). While his apparent over-masculinized character may on the surface be what you describe, he is actually a very well-developed and gentle man with some pretty hilarious quirks.
I think what Josh is referring to around Ron Swanson is in relation to other men. Not his wife and children. While a wife and children are family and a great picture of community, this never is a substitute for a group of men (I call mine the Tribe) that we men should surround ourselves with.
Even in your example he is friends with women, which is not our true design nor ache. We want to be together with men. Learning to be better men, ministering to those young men around us.
At one time I would have loved to be called Ron Swanson, but now I know that is not a picture of Christ nor God and that is what our aim as men should be.
Actually, Matthew, I hadn’t thought of that, but you give a good point. Men need good men to be good men.
Hi Kelly, I’m not trying to pick on Ron Swanson. You’re right that he’s a deeper, more relational character than he seems at first glance. Plus, his character is just plain funny. It’s the over-the-top hyper-masculine stuff about him (eats only meat, holds his liquor, creates incredible woodworking pieces overnight, pulls his own teeth, never cries, etc.) that earned his name a place in my list of faulty images of manhood.
Who is Ron Swanson?
Charlie here you are – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Swanson
He is a fictionalized character on an older TV show.