“How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?” – Bob Dylan, Blowin’ In The Wind
When Bob Dylan penned and sang this melodious tune, I don’t think that he was questioning the issue of manhood. I don’t think that he was pondering the depths of the question, “what does it mean to be a man”, either. But when I heard this song on the radio last week, I started thinking about that. I know that Dylan was thinking and pondering the futility of life, almost singing what King Solomon spoke about in the book of Ecclesiastes.
I started to think about that opening line, and it disturbed me how accurately it describes the modern thinking about men and how we define ourselves.
“How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”
What would the answer be? One road? Two or three? What if it takes seven roads to be walked down before a man can finally be called a man? This may seem like a silly question, but this is what happens all the time. Men will gather together in the locker room in the gym or around the water cooler at work and start talking. The conversation topics may very, but inevitably someone will try to one-up someone else.
“So, you ran the 5k marathon? I did the 15k last week. Let me know when you step up to the big leagues.”
“That’s great, but that isn’t as impressive as the one that I caught last summer when I was up north. 8 foot rainbow trout, only the pros catch them that large.”
“Oh, you haven’t hunted anything until you have hunted bear with just a pocket knife and a kazoo. That’s how real men hunt.”
The constant one-upping, the jeering of one another to do more, to be a “man” is so constant and so much a part of our culture that we don’t notice it most times. Even those that have little interest in sports, hunting or such outdoor activities fall victim to this.
“You’re only running how much RAM in your computer? Buddy, I was using that much in the laptop that I built myself when I was seven. You really need to get with the times and get a computer like I have.”
“Yessir, this puppy’s putting out 750 horsepower, 590 foot pounds of torque at the wheels. The cops clocked me doing 180 mph, and I wasn’t even trying.”
“How can you believe in monogamy? It isn’t natural. A man has to sow his oats, spread his seed. You don’t know what you are missing. Every guy has to sleep with at least 5 to even figure out what he’s doing. How could you possibly be okay with one girl?”
Even in the areas of mechanics, technology and relationships, men are continually acting the same way. They create a rule and then try to establish this rule for what makes a man. Rather than Dylan’s question of number of roads walked, it changes to something else.
How many girls must a man sleep with before you can call him a man? Society is progressively telling us that it must be a large number; that men who have a monogamous relationship are freaks. They are not normal, how they behave is not right. They are not in fact real men.
How many animals must a man kill before you call him a man? Or how many drunken nights must he have under his belt? Or how many giant business deals must a man have? How many this? How many that, until you can call a man a man?
Sadly there is no number, and with an inherently competitive nature, most men will continue to try to outdo their male peers to establish a sense of manhood. Regardless of the arena, regardless of the type of man he is, he will continue to one-up those around him to establish the fact that he is indeed a man.
This is most men’s reality. This is what life looks like for the average guy. That is heartbreaking for two reasons. Actually, it is detrimental to all men’s self image for two reasons.
There is never an end.
While a man may exceed in one area, chances are good that he will not be as proficient in another. One man may be excellent at working with his hands as a mechanic or a carpenter. He may assert himself as a man in these areas. But he will feel foolish and childlike when it comes to accounting or computer sciences. Or vice versa. A man that is excellent as a white collar employee may fall short as a blue collar worker, thereby stating that he is not a man at all.
This vicious cycle is sad as some men will spend their entire lives trying to champion all areas of their lives or master one so throughly to cement the reality of their manhood that they will miss out on the rest of life.
This measuring stick of manhood doesn’t work.
While this may be the norm in our society it doesn’t mean that it is good or effective. As I have already illustrated this kind of one-upmanship doesn’t lead anywhere good. In most cases it leads to bitter rivalries, and potentially physical altercations. Even then, the cycle is only continuing, not actually displaying any manly trait or establishing what it is that makes a man a man.
I do not merely want to point out the problem, but hopefully offer an insight that will be helpful for all men. Whether you are white or blue collar, bulging with muscles or on the skinnier side like me—or however society divides men into classes—these two things I believe will be helpful for you to know what it takes to be a man.
One, you are already a man.
“Then God said, “Let us make [a creature] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
“So God created MAN in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” – Genesis 1.26-27, emphasis added
While the Creation account does talk about the start of the human race, male and female, it begins by establishing this essential truth; you are already a man.
There is no test. There is no 12 step program that you have to complete to achieve this title. What someone else has accomplished has no bearing on who you are. What you have accomplished or not accomplished does not chance what is true. You are a man, created a man by the Hand of God. There are no roads that you need to walk down to make it so. No animal that needs to be killed, no sexual activity conquered or mastered. God creates male and female, and they do not have to do anything to be who God created them to be. They simply are.
How refreshing is that?
So what if the guy in the cubicle next to you caught a bigger fish? You are still a man, because God created you a man. What if the neighbor down the street thinks that you are a giant wimp because you have not achieved the things that he has? It doesn’t matter. Your manhood isn’t contingent on what you have done or accomplished. God created you a man, therefore you are a man. No achievement will make you more of a man. No lack of accomplishment will make you any less of one either.
For those of us that may not excel in what some would call the traditional manly avenues, like sports or hunting, this truth breathes life into us. It encourages the soul, uplifts the faint of heart. You are not a second class male. No, you are a full-fledged man, the same as any other. Nothing will change that.
If you find that you are a champion in any arena, and perhaps have lorded your manliness and glorious achievements over other men, this truth will humble you. Whatever you have done, it doesn’t add to your stature. Whatever you may have accomplished or conquered, it does not elevate you in any way over others. All it does is inflate your ego. Walk humbly, you are just a man, the same as those around you. Accomplishments do not make you a man or a greater man. You are just a man.
Two, you are called to be a quality man, not a quantity one.
“The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” – Proverbs 11.1
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.” – Leviticus 19.18
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12.1
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature….But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self control…Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5.16-17, 22-24
These three sections of Scripture are a taste of the constant call to a quality life. It is not limited to men; women are encouraged to do the same. God makes it clear, whether it is in the Old Testament or in the New, it is not about how much you do. It is about how you did what you do.
Let’s say that you are a business person. How did you make that deal that made you millions of dollars? Was it fair, or did you fudge the numbers or intentionally screw over the other guy so you made more? God is interested in that. How you do business says something about the kind of man you are. A man that will cheat and cut corners and do anything for the extra buck is still a man, but the quality of his heart may be lacking. God declares that he has nothing against business, but that He wants men to act with integrity, to do fair business. That means not making a deal that only benefits you, but helps your employees, helps your partners in business, and all that use or require your goods and services.
The writer of Hebrews calls us to run the race with perseverance. We are to live out our lives with dedication and determination. We do not give up, we do not slack off. Whether it be in our jobs or dealing with our families, or in our faith, God desires men that are going to stick with it. They are not going to fold when the goings get tough. They will not throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble. God is wanting men of quality, men that will continue to strive with perseverance regardless of what obstacles may be coming their way.
It is easy to give up and to quit when things are rough. Throwing in the towel is a very simple action. A drop of that towel and all responsibility, all expectation that a man had to deal with are suddenly pushed aside. It is very easy to do this. Very tempting at times, especially when we feel overwhelmed by life and its problems. But to simply abandon our role, to quit, is not a move of a quality man. God wants us to persevere, to keep going.
If perseverance wasn’t enough, the Bible gives a list of other things, other traits that God calls these quality men to exhibit. The Apostle Paul writes the list for the church in Galatia, we know them as the Fruit of the Spirit. While they rightfully deserve their own space for adequate discussion, I will say this. These fruits of the Spirit are often looked on as weak or feminine qualities. This would be a weak and false reading and understanding of what Paul wrote and how best to understand these characteristics.
For one, these are the attributes of God. This was the Sprit, the Spirit of love and gentleness that hovered over the chaos of the waters before the earth was formed. This is not a weak move, but a display of wisdom and controlled strength. It was this same Spirit, the Spirit of patience and faithfulness that waited for the perfect time to move in human history and bring the Savior of all to Earth. This is not the action of a wimp, but a constant and calculating General.
When you actually look at what the Fruit of the Spirit are, when you look at the attributes of God and realize that men are called to emulate them, to display the likeness of God to the world, one will quickly notice this: It is not how much stuff you do, how many things you accomplish, it is all about how you do it. With what kind of spirit are you going to do this business deal? How are you going to deal with women making sexual advances? How will you raise and educate your children? How? Not with a quantity mindset, but with a quality one.
This is what God calls all men to do, what He asks all men to be like. We are to rise up as men, regardless of what we may excel at, regardless of what field or area of work we may find ourselves in. We are to rise up as men, because we were created men already. We are to rise up as men, because it is not enough to be just a man, but to be a man of quality.
How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? He’s already a man, Bob. Let’s hope that that man walks and lives a life of quality as he goes.