Why do we need men, especially fathers? What can men contribute to the family, to our Church, to our communities, that is important and unique?
I want to begin my response to these questions by focusing on the challenging, adventurous aspect of faith. For several decades now, men have been encouraged to develop their softer side, to “get in touch with their emotions,” to be more collaborative rather than competitive, and so on. There is merit to all that. However, what might have happened at the same time in this process is that our concept of faith has also gotten softer. We tend to think of God and of Jesus in softer, less-demanding terms. The image of Jesus as accepting everyone’s behavior, of being inclusive and tolerant without almost any conditions, has become quite popular.
This image doesn’t quite match with the way Jesus is portrayed in the Bible. Jesus made a whip out of cords, drove the money-changers out of the temple, spilled their coins and turned over their tables. Jesus said He would be a cause of division among family members. People begged Him to leave their community. If He “just loved everybody,” the way that expression is commonly used nowadays, why was He crucified?
There’s a powerful passage in Hebrews 10, which describes the faith of the great patriarchs in Judaism, Abraham, Moses and so on. About these great men of faith, the author says that “some were tortured…others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted and tormented …They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices of the earth.”
A great spiritual writer, Anthony Bloom, has this to say about the challenging aspect of faith:
“To meet God means to enter into the ‘cave of a tiger’ – it is not a pussy cat you meet – it’s a tiger. The realm of God is dangerous.”
What Anthony Bloom is referring to is that, for Christians, God’s power is strongest and our union with Him is the most intense when we, like Christ, are rejected and persecuted. Our Christian life, lived to the fullest, brings us to Gethsemane and the Cross.
Saint Peter was told by Jesus in their last conversation that someone would put a belt around his waist and take him where he did not want to go, a reference to the manner in which Peter would die.
The main characters of the Bible were all challenged, all deprived of earthly security, so that they learned to depend on God and to trust in His grace. While we need warmth, affection and a strong sense of community in our families and churches, we also need a sense of adventure, of being open to God’s will regardless of what that might mean or what it might cost.
The life of faith is not soft. It is not secure in the earthly sense. Faith is an adventure in which God is going to take us out of our comfort zones and learn to be dependent on him. Men need to be leading their families and their church communities in this aspect of faith.
It’s important to note that the call to accept the challenging, adventurous aspect of faith is not exclusive to men. However, I do believe that the adventurous aspect of faith should be a primary component of faith for men, that men are wired for this.
To put it simply and more personally, I can summarize my own experience this way: my wife is the glue in our family, and I’m the reason we need the glue. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
In our next blog, we’ll look at some specific ways that God’s challenging call to men can be lived out in our homes and churches.