BAD NEWS. MEN ARE IN TROUBLE. James MacDonald says the five main areas where men spend their money—electronics, sports, cars, gambling, and alcohol—are clues to a self-centered perspective on life (1). Jason Allen writes, “Not that long ago, the phrase man of God was a common and honored descriptor in the church, but today it is a largely passé reference to a bygone era of church life” (2). Lately, men fall into a pattern of spiritual shallowness. Few men take the time to consider their spiritual well-being. Rampant atheism, secularism, and moral relativism have negatively impacted morality, family, business, academia, and other aspects of life. Absolutes are rejected in the name of progress and inclusiveness. Morality is considered “relative” to person, situation, generation, culture, or society. Moreover, Christian morality is today considered old-fashioned, elitist, or narrow-minded.
As “modern society” continues to champion freedom of choice regarding one’s destiny, less concern is given to the condition of the soul—the seat of our mind, emotion, and will. Appetites allowed to run amok cause stress, angst, and disappointment whenever our needs are not met; no consideration is given to whether such appetites are appropriate or within perspective. We stuff our lives to the gills hoping our “busyness” will lead to feeling content, but when the soul is not at peace there is no sense of satisfaction no matter what we attain. Alcohol, drugs, power, money, sex, gambling, prestige, are all capable of warping normal appetites. Satisfying out-of-control desires no longer produces the same result. Instead, appetites become compulsions, and compulsions become full-blown addictions. Men tend to hold their problems inside. Resistant to working toward spiritual growth, they distract themselves through “projects” both at work and at home, often becoming workaholics. Pride and shame make it difficult for men to reach out for advice when overwhelmed.
Henri Nouwen believes spirituality is not something “before, after, or instead of everyday life.” Rather, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the joys, pains, and distractions of the here and now. He writes, “We need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit” (3). As our angst deepens, we often complain that we’re not very happy; we are not content with the way our life is going, but we are typically at a loss to know what is wrong or how things can be different. We often throw our hands up and say, “I guess I have to be realistic and accept my life as it is.” It is not possible to break free from such resignation without becoming honest about what is wrong, and courageous enough to do something about it.
Men Don’t Work on Themselves
When it comes to processing emotions, women are allowed to be sensitive and to express their feelings; but men are supposed to be strong and fearless. Accordingly, men are discouraged from outwardly expressing their emotions. Admittedly, such cultural norms and gender stereotypes have been slowly dissolving, but most men remain cautious when expressing how they truly feel. Unfortunately, suppressing emotions and feelings can be incredibly detrimental to a man’s mental health. Statistically, women are more likely to seek counseling for depression or anxiety. Research shows that men experience emotions at the same level that women do, but it’s not socially acceptable for a man to cry. Consequently, it seems like men do not experience sadness at all. In fact, men usually channel their feelings into expressions seen as more socially acceptable. For instance, a man who is experiencing sadness or depression might be more likely to act aggressively or get angry over something small, rather than cry.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2, NRSV).
It is nearly impossible to perform well as men without investing in our own spiritual and emotional well-being. Certainly, men are not expected to live life as superheros. Every man needs a place to go where he can be open and vulnerable with brothers, leaning on one another and on the LORD. Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (ESV). We all stumble and fall, and we all can benefit from the wise counsel of others. Paul tells us to walk wisely in the light and in the love of Christ, showing proper restraint, using proper conversation, and avoiding the darkness of this world (see Eph. 5:1-15). Further, we must remain upright in our dealings with one another, sensitive to the conscience of others, above board in all our interactions (see 2 Cor. 4:2). Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (see Pro. 13:20).
The Issue of Sex
In 2016 widely known evangelist Josh McDowell told CBN News, “I would personally say that from all my knowledge now, pornography is probably the greatest threat to the cause of Christ in the history of the world” (4). Jay Stringer believes sexual brokenness is not redeemable through fruitless attempts to abstain from excessive sexual acts. He writes, “Let’s take the example of pornography… the conventional wisdom is that the man who makes an unsuccessful bid to his wife for sex will go to porn because he is lusting for erotic material that allows him to release his frustration from unmet sexual needs, self-medicate stress, or escape the pain of rejection. The logic here is simple: the man is lonely and rejected and therefore seeks out porn to soothe himself.” (5) (italics mine). The question we ask is, “How serious is the struggle?” Pornography is just one level of sin—a form of visual sex, or heart adultery. Sexual addiction as a disease does not fully identify the seriousness of the problem. If the assessment of one’s struggle with pornography is a “lust problem,” the treatment plan goes something like this: get accountable with other men through talking about lust, and pursue a therapist or pastoral counselor to address the underlying pain.
It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question— Eugene Ionesco.
Harry Schaumburg says, “The real problem is hidden deep within. The least bit of lust is an indication of vast corruption in the human heart. It is an enslavement that cannot be broken through any form of behavior management, recovery program, or counseling.” First, there is the double life with late-night hookups, endless hours watching pornography, or the misuse of unaccounted time away from the office or home. This behavior is carefully hidden from view. The second level of deception is self-deception (6). According to a Cambridge University study, the compulsion to watch porn involves reacting to porn triggers in the same way that alcoholics and drug addicts react to drug and alcohol triggers. Compulsive porn users crave porn like an addict craves his or her drug of choice. This finding dovetails nicely with the current model of addiction (7). For further information on addiction to pornography and its prevalence in the church, read my blog of March 29, 2020 Sixty-Eight Percent.
A Deeper Walk With God
Scripture speaks often of one’s walk—following a certain course of life or conducting oneself in a certain way. The Greek verb translated “to walk” (na perpatáo) speaks of a prescribed course of life or conduct, referring to a continued mode of conduct or behavior. This suggests that we must be consistent in our walk. Biblically, we should lead a life that is worthy of Christ. Jesus is certainly deserving of being praised and imitated. Our walk must demonstrate a marked difference from those who do not walk in Christ. God tells us to be conformed to the image of His Son (see Rom. 8:29). In fact, as believers we are predestined to be conformed or shaped into the image of Christ. Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins (see Col. 1:13).
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important—Ambrose Redmoon.
Being conformed to the image of Christ necessarily requires not conforming to this lost and sinful world in which we live. Satan is the “god” of the present world (see 1 John 5:19; 2 Cor. 4:4). Consequently, being conformed to the world equals being conformed to the nature of Satan. Paul warns us about conforming to this world. Instead, he says, “…be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2, ESV). It takes courage to step up and act like men. And it begins with recognizing the difference between flesh and spirit. To know what a true man is, you need look no further than the life of Jesus Christ. As the Son of Man, Jesus is the epitome of manhood, the perfect example of what true maturity looks like. In part 2, I will present the characteristics of a “good man.”
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
(1) James MacDonald, Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 11.
(2) Jason K. Allen, “Where Have all the Godly Men Gone?” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary blog post, (May 13, 2020). URL: https://jasonkallen.com/2020/05/where-have-all-the-godly-men-gone-4/
(3) Henri Houwen, Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2016), 7.
(4) J.S. Shelton, Unmuzzled: Escaping Sexual Sin, Satan’s Grip on Men (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2019), 17.
(5) Jay Stringer, “Faith Leaders: When We Blame Lust, We Intensify Sexual Sin,” Covenant Eyes (December 3, 2019). URL: https://www.covenanteyes.com/2018/03/05/blaming-lust-intensifies-sexual-sin/
(6) Harry Schaumburg, “Sexual Sin in the Ministry,” Desiring God (Mar. 6, 2012). URL: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/sexual-sin-in-the-ministry#modal-581-22p1idx1
(7) “Cambridge University Study: Internet Porn Addiction Mirrors Drug addiction,” Porn on Your Brain (n.d.). URL: https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/relevant-research-and-articles-about-the-studies/porn-use-sex-addiction-studies/cambridge-university-study-internet-porn-addiction-mirrors-drug-addiction-voon-et-al-2014/