The glory of young men is their strength
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong
1 John 2:14b
Ηusbands, [show] honor to the woman as the weaker vessel
1 Pet. 3:7a
Having encouraged the young women to resist the temptation to be more than God intended, I now want to exhort the young men to resist the equally destructive temptation to be less than God intended.
I’m going to assume something, then proceed merrily along without apology:
God created men strong, and on purpose.
As per usual, the devil and a handful of minions are in the details, such as “strong compared to what?” “in what way?” and “for what purpose?” My plan is to tackle the “for what purpose?” and hopefully the other things will sort themselves out.
God created man, and after suffering approximately three minutes with a man with nothing to do, God assigned him a job that would require six millennia, and counting: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). My paraphrase: Get married, love it up, make kids, conquer the world.
Of course God had a spiritual dimension behind his creation of humanity, but it is worth noticing that the purpose given here in Genesis is an explicitly earthy one. An unfilled and unsubdued earth, to be more precise. Technically a little bit of it was subdued – Eden. While all earthy creatures are in some way “fruitful and multiplying,” none of them are in the subduing business like humans.
“Subdue” here means something like “transform from its present form into a better, more useful one.” If we wanted to use more philosophical terms, we could say “enter the chaos and bring order.” The Garden was the pattern of order, and man’s task was to press the borders of chaos, leaving the resultant ordered space filled with new people in the process.
So from the beginning humanity lived in this two-toned world: an ordered place already subdued, and a chaotic place not yet subdued. It’s not terribly unlike leaving the safety and order of the house in the morning, heading down to some metaphoric salt mine, busting tail all day working on some little section of a big world, completing what was incomplete, making it just a little bit better, then returning home to one’s personal place of order, where babies get made and raised to take up their own position on the frontiers of chaos.
Let’s give humanity some props, because all things considered, we’ve come a long way from a naked couple in an orchard. We’ve taken what we found, and manipulated it in such a way to be able live in unfriendly climates, talk to just about anyone around the globe at any given time, and until the last two weeks, have just about any conceivable product delivered to our doorstep in two days. Not too shabby.
But it’s not all happy news, because sin has made a bloody chaotic mess of things, and man is strictly to blame for it. Sin’s curse was four-fold for humanity (Gen 3:16-19):
First, the “filling” part of God’s command would be a lot more painful. Childbirth is a miserable, chaotic process, and often deadly. And not just in childbirth but in general it seems women experience more pain than men, because men don’t generally feel pain of any kind as deeply, or as long.
Second, the relationship between man and woman would become terribly strained. I feel no compunction to offer any evidence to support the biblical implication that women would be terribly unhappy until they were doing what men do and telling them how to do it, or the subsequent one that even when they got what they wanted they’d be unhappy.
Third, the chaos would keep popping back up in places a man just ordered. That is to say, a man would till weeds and plant a field, but the weeds would pop up again and wreck the crop. Maintenance, that great evidence of a cursed world, was invented. Build a machine to make your life easier, and it breaks. One step ahead, 0.99 steps back.
Fourth, everybody dies. Dirt we were, dirt we shall be. Woohoo.
Sin’s curse notwithstanding, God left the “fill and subdue order” in place (Gen 9:1). Still, the reality that God made men strong and fundamentally wired them to leave the garden of order and enter chaos remained unchanged. It’s just that now the progress would be painfully hard and frustratingly slow, and they’d all die in the process, in any number of creative and often miserable ways.
Son, this world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it he’s gotta be tough.Johnny Cash
This world is rough, and it really does take a certain toughness to survive in it. It seems Jesus didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the soft-clothed exceptions who live in palaces because of someone else’s backbreaking labor (Matt 11:8). Roughness is manly, and even a man’s clothes often reflect that.
Read Melville’s description of the sea, Dickens’ description of the city, Josephus’ accounts of war, or Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs of a society given to “equality,” and small wonder we don’t live very long. No shock to me that some read Genesis 5 and think “what a silly book this is, all these people living for nine-hundred years!” Eighty is a ripe old age; after nine-hundred years we are long overripe.
Humans have long believed that if there’s a significant threat to their existence, they should throw the best and strongest at the thing first. Sending Mrs. Johnson and her second grade class into the Battle of the Bulge first so the Germans would burn up some artillery shells and aircraft fuel taking them out was, I suppose, a military option, and perhaps when the young men arrived afterwards they’d have a somewhat easier time of it, but that’s not how we roll. If you couldn’t get the pickle jar open, you probably didn’t loosen it.
So if the ship goes down, the plan is to fill the little boats with women and children first so they’ll live safer, longer. If anybody’s swimming for it, the men are. Or if something goes bump in the night and a man kicks his wife out of bed to go see what’s lurking in the kitchen. . . well, he didn’t deserve her anyway.
And that’s exactly as it should be.
So when it comes to taming the chaos of the world, especially dangerous and deadly chaos, we employ the strongest we got first – men. The consequences of failure are too great; if the fields aren’t plowed we’ll starve, and if the thorns and thistles take over the fields we just made, we die from that too. And that’s true no matter the field. We should be keenly aware in these COVID days that really nasty thorns and thistles can pop up really fast, and in many fields at once. Overcrowded hospitals and under crowded factories are both significant problems.
We rightly make men the tip of the spear in the fight against chaos: make them wrestle the ox and plow the field, make them fix the cars, plumb the pipes, dig the mines, pour the concrete, stand hundreds of feet off the ground and rivet the skyscrape together. Send the boys off to stare down the barrel of the enemy’s rifle, because I guarantee you he’s not sending the ballet club. Make the men stay up all night finishing it, inventing it, manufacturing it, solving it, fixing it, and make them be the first to pay the penalty if they fail. Men possess the broader shoulders, and no sense piling the heaviest burdens anywhere else until we run out of space.
A man’s part in “filling” the earth is famously and laughably minor compared to a woman’s. Men are utterly incompetent at bearing children, and almost as incompetent to take care of them the first few years, for somewhat different reasons. Generally speaking, if a man could tend either an infant that might cry or a box that might explode, he’ll choose the box. If, after three minutes, there’s no explosion, he’ll poke it with a stick.
Men are wired to subdue, because chaos is the domain of men. Every man’s heart beats with a little excitement at the prospect of facing real danger at the risk of a heroic death, perhaps best expressed in these immortal words:
Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?Gimli the Dwarf
Men are creatures of risk. Sometimes they risk badly, sometimes stupidly, but they firmly and happily believe “no pain, no gain,” and are quite eager to bleed if they can push the boundaries of chaos back just an inch. It’s thrilling.
Women tend to thrive best in ordered spaces, preferring nurture to conquest, so no big surprise they’re better at tending and teaching children, making better nurses and secretaries.
In a brilliant maneuver by the Almighty, when he gave the “fill and subdue” order, he created men itching to subdue chaos and create order, and women desirous of living in and filling ordered spaces, which probably ranges from filling empty cribs with babies, empty windows with curtains. When Paul encouraged young women to be “keepers at home,” it was probably less like asking a lion to go vegan and more like asking a retired guy to buy a big RV and play more golf. His commands are not burdensome.
I need not tell men to be strong – they are. What they need is encouragement to put their strength to work, and that without apology. Fill and subdue, you strong young men. Enter the chaos, create an ordered space for your woman, and, by the by, make sure you keep it ordered (1 Sam 3:13, 1 Tim 3:4). Work until your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional brow drips with sweat.
Fight, bleed, and die like a man, which, in all likelihood, you will a few years before she does. Load yourself up with responsibility until you’re almost crushed, then when you’ve gained the strength to bear it up, pile more on. What’s cool is that you probably want to. I’m just telling you to do it. Rejoice in your strength, and don’t let this world despise it, because it will. Strong men aren’t cool these days. Soft, palace-dwelling men are. But the palaces are crumbling fast, and old fashioned strong men will be in short supply and high demand again real soon.
Don’t yield to the pressure to be less than God intended.