A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND?
A Man Is Hard to Find
In her well-known short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor deftly described the difficulty of finding a morally upright human being. We’re all flawed to the core, in our own way, and she knew this well.
These days, a good man is just as hard to find. But we’ve added another problem to our plight: we have trouble finding men period. That is to say, most people don’t know what it means to be a man (or a woman) anymore. When asked this question, the only answer postmodern culture offers is men have one set of genitals, and women have another. But in our gender-bending times, even that answer is beginning to look less and less helpful.
Simply put, we don’t know what it means to be a man or a woman anymore. And if we don’t know what it means to be a man or a woman, then how can we raise boys and girls to be the men and women we are called to be?
And wave after wave of statistics increasingly show the fallout from this confusion, showing effects in everything from divorce rates, to rising numbers of single-parent homes, to vastly increasing percentages of children on psycho-stimulant prescription drugs (for “behavioral problems”).
Disobedience, Death, and Despair
When we are confused about something as deeply intrinsic to our lives as our sexual identity, men and women will always be affected by this cultural confusion. None of this catches God by surprise, nor does it reflect his original design.
In the beginning God created humanity “male and female” in his image (Gen. 1:27). He then honored each sex with unique and irreversible roles, perfectly reflecting the way he designed us to live. These distinctions are seen throughout the biblical story (Gen. 2:7-25) in which men are called to lead, provide, and protect, while women are called to follow, strengthen, and support.
In fact, the very first act of disobedience (sin) followed from a reversal of roles. Instead of leading and protecting his wife, Adam deferred his responsibility to Eve and they both fell into sin. When God speaks to them in the next chapter (Gen. 3), he explains how their sin will cause the peace of God’s world to unravel. Notice, too, that at the heart of God’s explanation are sin’s effects upon men and women. Their roles would not change because of sin, but they would become harder. God said that men would now struggle to provide and protect (Gen. 3:17-19), while women would struggle to be mothers and wives who support and follow their husband’s leadership (Gen. 3:16).
History has proven God right on this point time and time again. Instead of leading, protecting, and providing for their families, many men succumb to laziness, while others become abusive and domineering. Likewise, women have increasingly begun to act like men, thinking that “freedom” will be found in doing what they want instead of being who God designed them to be.
Hope for Men and Women
What hope is there for men and women? God tells us in the same place where he describes how sin would affect our roles. He promised to send a Son who would do battle with our enemy, Satan, who entices us into fearful slavery to sin and holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14-15). This promised Son from God would crush Satan’s head, while having his own heel “bruised” in the process (Gen. 3:15). This promised Son, of course, was Jesus.
As the apostle John explains, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus accomplished this in two ways. First, he illuminated for us how things are supposed to be in God’s world. In all that he did and said, he showed us who we were created to be. Second, through his death and resurrection, Jesus reconciled us to God by forgiving our sins and giving us new life. Thus, Jesus not only shows us how we ought to live, but actually recreates men and women, giving us a new heart through the power of his Spirit, which enables us to be who God created us to be.
Manhood and Womanhood Restored
In Jesus, men can become the providers and protectors they are created and called to be. As the apostle Paul explains, this looks like the life of Jesus himself. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). To love one’s wife as Jesus loves the church means, above all, sacrifice. Men are called to sacrifice in order that others might benefit. Men sacrifice by working hard, and by using their strength to heal and protect instead of harm or destroy. Men sacrifice by taking the initiative, instead of waiting passively for others to act. Husbands sacrifice by pursuing their wives as friends and lovers, instead of making them beg for a relationship. Husbands sacrifice by guarding their eyes and their hearts from lust, thus keeping faithful to the promise they made to their wives. Husbands sacrifice by serving and helping around the home. Husbands sacrifice by being humble, patient, and kind toward their wives, remembering that they are fellow heirs to the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).
In Jesus, women can become the followers and supporters they are created and called to be. As the apostle Paul explains, this looks like the church’s response to Jesus. “As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). The idea of submission can be confusing for people in the 21st Century, especially since the word is so often abused. The meaning of the term, however, should be taken not from cultural misunderstanding but from God’s original design. As we have already seen, this means women are called to support. Far from being a denigrating term, the word used of women in Genesis 2 (“helper”) is actually a word that is used of God from time to time. This means women are called to often the kind of support that helps and strengthens those around them. This may be spiritual support, as in encouraging and building up others. For wives it includes praying for your husband, not withholding yourself from him sexually, helping around the house with the basic needs of the home, etc.
When men and women trust Christ, receive his Spirit, and listen to what he says, they are enabled to act like the men and women that God created them to be. In turn, they honor God, bless each other, and benefit the world by celebrating and embracing their distinct roles in God’s wonderful design.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.