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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

Biblical Manhood: What should men expect of themselves?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Biblical Manhood: What should men expect of themselves?

I imagine the air was thick and still as he stood and unfolded the parchment that contained his speech. Here, in England’s parliament on May 12th, 1789, William Wilberforce would take his stand, formally and publicly, against the slave trade,

“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House…it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task…yet…I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out…the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade”.

 As a result of his position he would face fierce condemnation from those who relied on slave labor for business, yet Wilberforce knew in his heart what was right, and as a Christian he could not remain silent. Wilberforce was a giant among men, not because of his stature or size (in fact he stood at 5 foot, 3 inches) but because he exemplified those characteristics that make a man. He was, as C.S. Lewis describes, a man with a chest, not of those without who hold no principles and espouse no morals.

A man’s hands are ruled by his head and fueled by his chest. The hands represent our actions, they are the visible representation of the fire within us. The head is a powerful tool, both of deception and of creative ingenuity, as such it is a force for both good and evil. Its role is to turn the drive in our chest into coordinated effort. The chest are those principles that guide us, those things that cause us to rise when we are knocked down. While the head helps us recognize that our rising to a challenge may result in pain, even in the death of our body and mind, the chest causes us to rise regardless; not because it is pleasant but because it is right.

Wilberforce is a hero of mine, what he stood for: the value of life and humans as made imago dei (in God’s image), fighting for the oppressed though it could cost him his reputation, career and even his life, and a pursuit of becoming more like Christ are ideals I strive (though fail to reach) daily. Men need these figures. They show us how it looks to transform an internal fire into purposeful action.

This type of change in the hearts and minds of men requires right expectations. As a society we expect extraordinarily little of men. From depictions on television to some of the highest levels of leadership we have vacillated between allowing men to misuse and abuse power to promoting the distracted laziness that comes with pursuing fruitless things. What I argue men need today is leadership and purpose. A return to pursuit of honor, integrity, and morality that extends from homes and communities across this country and globe to the echelons of power. We need a new fire placed in our chests and a right mindset through which to turn it into action. Because society has learned to accept so little of men, we men must begin to expect something different of ourselves. In pursuit of this, I propose two things we may expect of ourselves:

Expect to rise before the call. George Washington was called to serve as our fledgling nation’s first President. He had proved himself a gifted general and now would serve as its commander-in-chief. Today, it has become rarer to receive this call. Instead you may need to rise before you are asked. Like Wilberforce who stood before his colleagues and proclaimed the injustice of slavery, you may have placed deep within you a conviction of something happening around you as very wrong. Though it may mean you are vilified by your colleagues, accused by outsiders, dismissed by leadership, part of being a man means standing when no one else will, of rising before being asked. In so doing you do a great service to your communities and country but more than that, you advance your principles.

Expect to rise through failure. Teddy Roosevelt gave an impassioned speech now named the “Man in the Arena”. It is worth reproducing here.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

In pursuit of authentic manhood we should anticipate to fall. In standing for something we make ourselves vulnerable, exposing ourselves to scrutiny and the possibility of failing publicly. In addition, there is always a risk of finding we are standing for the wrong thing. When this happens, when you look up and are bloodied and have found it to be true that there “is no effort without error” it is true manhood to admit the fall and stand again. Today many try and fail, never to try again. It is a great loss that they do not. Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, Billy Graham had a fear of public speaking, Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. When we stop trying after failing, we secure our failure; when we keep trying after failure, we make it a stepping stone to our success. It is not a possibility that we fail, it is an assurance, but when we do fail, let us do so “daring greatly”.

Practically this takes time, once we begin to expect more from ourselves, we will naturally begin to ponder what things are good and right and how to turn those things into real world change. Anticipating what things we might pursue and what we might stand against is the task of another article. For now, suffice to say, if we can learn to expect more, we will find ourselves in the center of the arena. Next, we must learn what opponents face us and what we might use to defeat them.

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