Recently, Presbyterian Pastor Tim Bayly claimed, “Moving from son to husband and father is the essence of manhood. #manup.” The progression of son to husband and father makes up the essence of manhood according to Bayly. And actually, many Christians believe similar sentiments.
But does such a view make sense when we consider nature and Scripture? I argue that it does not. This position mistakes what we see in nature as itself possessing essential meaning. Instead, Christians should affirm that spiritual realities correspond to the order of nature.
The Order of Nature
God created marriage by creating a women from the side of a man—she organically came from him. The man, Adam, realized the woman’s perfect fit and so wrote the first love poetry existence. He then gave her the name Eve because she was the mother of all living.
The woman came from him and then returned to him. Together, they became one flesh. They are two distinct, equal, and creatures. But together they make a spiritual whole—a one flesh union. From his flesh, the woman brings her shared flesh back to him, and they together become one.
God created humans in this way in order to teach us about a spiritual reality: namely, Christ’s marriage to the church in which he unites to us and so makes a spiritual union: we are one with Christ.
The rest of Scripture also provides similar orders of nature. What God creates visibly points to an invisible reality. God baked this into nature. The tabernacle? Well, Moses modelled it after the tabernacle in heaven! The Rock in the wilderness? Christ. And so on.
And so when it comes to sonship, marriage, and fatherhood, it seems entirely unlikely that moving from one relationship to another itself makes up the essence of manhood.
Natural And Supernatural Problems
Pointedly, since essence comes from God, then to define essence as the changing of relationships implies that God’s essence includes change. But no Christian may affirm that and remain confessionally a Christian. So we should avoid this implication.
Secondly, as many have noted Jesus himself remained single. He also remained celibate. Yet he is the very image of God, the Son of the Father. So it stands to reason that transitioning from relative roles cannot make up the essence of manhood—or else Jesus was no man. And that cannot be true.
Third, human relationships cannot define essence. Only God can. Paul explains, “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:14–15). Families get their names from God the Father. We have Fathers and Sons because God is who he is.
The Father-Son relationship itself represents a natural reality that God baked into creation in order to reveal himself to us. But it does not work from us back to God. Just the opposite. We get our names from God. We must conclude that the essence of manhood then involves imitating God—not in observing how humans work.
If manhood means human relationships, then we risk affirming the notion that nature itself is everything. We lose the biblical notion of the invisible God revealing himself in visible creation so clearly taught throughout Scripture (e.g., Ps 19; Rom 1).
The essence of manhood must come from God who gave us life. The relations of God is life—abundant life that he has bestowed upon us through the breath of life and superabounded to us through the gift of the Spirit of life. Imitation of God is the essence of manhood.
Granted, male and female persons pursue God equally yet tend to flourish through their respective capacities. Only a woman can carry two souls in her body at once and mediate life through her body (pregnancy and breastfeeding). So she may flourish through nurturing and through the capacity for motherhood—something which has a Spiritual end.
What Spiritual end? Well, Spiritual motherhood. Just as Paul often claims to be a father to those whom he disciples (Onesimus, Timothy) and so spiritually fulfills the role of father despite being single, so women may do the same.
The roles of father and mother represent capacities to flourish by imitating God according to male and female sexual capacities.
So let’s put away misaligned cultural notions of family and naturalism and open our eyes to the wonders of God’s creation whose glorific function entails shouting, “God lives!” And so he does. And so we shape our lives around him from whom every family is named.
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