I have two children; a seven year old boy and a five year old girl. My daughter is on the tiny side, while she packs a lot of character into her small frame she is woefully under-gunned when it comes to handling her big brother. My son is not small for his age, quite the opposite – he is tall, wiry, surprisingly strong and when he hits, it hurts. So whenever I have to talk with my son, (after having first consoled my stricken daughter) the conversation always ends with a familiar mantra. A mantra that I’m hoping will be seared into my son’s brain for as long as he lives; ‘As a man we use our strength to help and not to hurt.’
Men are stronger and their greater physical strength has too often been deployed at the expense of women, they have too often suffered at the hands of violent men. Yet strength shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed but instead put to better use. A man is a man when he protects.
This idea is still currency today. In the Swedish film Force Majeure, the husband Tomas is exposed as a coward when he thought an avalanche would strike them and he ran from his wife and children. His wife Ebba, is dismayed at her husband and their marriage begins to feel the strain. His failure in her eyes is simple: he failed to protect and he is less of a man for it.
I understand that women may chafe against the idea of needing men to protect them but the reality is, that all too often they do. It’s a depressing fact to think of how many women I know who have been raped, abused or assaulted. Each incidence demonstrates a failure to protect. Here are just a few ways:
- A man should protect a woman from himself. Any form of domestic abuse is immediately disobedient to the command of 1 Peter 3:7. Men need to know and be taught that they are stronger and how to restrain their strength especially when angry. Most violence against women is not committed by strangers but by a man they know. Teaching men how to protect the women in their lives from themselves reduces violence against women.
- A man should protect women from other men they know. Women are always more vulnerable, we might not like this fact and we can all agree that it shouldn’t be this way but the harsh unwanted truth is that it is this way. When a man hears his friend, colleague, relative talk of violence or see a temper in husband, father, brother all too often men fail to act – to step in and protect. The Bible does contain stories of violence of men against women – these stories are not there to be admired, they are there to rebuke us. God is the ‘protector of widows’ (Ps 68:5) and we sin against him most terribly when we fail to protect.
- A man should protect women from the violence of men. There’s a reason why most men get sent downstairs to investigate the strange noise in the kitchen. Now, if your wife is the most able defender, fighter and protector in the family, well lucky you – but in most cases as we’ve seen before – the man is stronger and an intruder is very likely to be a man. It is not ok, for a man to pass by a woman being mistreated and do nothing even if it risks suffering violence. I see no virtue in Lot’s willingness to sacrifice his daughters to the men of Sodom (Genesis 19) but the angels clearly saw the women as worth rescuing.
I don’t think this should be patronising or disrespectful. I’m not sure it’s necessary to walk road-side of the women (though I do) but in the main men have an important ongoing role to play in protection. It is why traditionally men have formed the backbone of armies (to protect from invasion), of the police (to protect from criminals), fireman (to protect from danger) and so on. It wasn’t simply chauvinism it was practical and reasonable. A man’s strength can be an awful thing or it could save your life.
Please remember I don’t think strength makes men better (I think the Bible on the whole rejects this notion – and even in the case of superman Samson, strength without humility leads to disaster), but I think it makes men different. Before the fall – strength would not have been needed for protection and in the new heavens and earth, strength will not be needed for protection. Neither of those worlds however is the world we live in. Strength coupled with humility means men accept a servant role and a sacrificial role. The physically stronger serves the physically weaker.
Paul tells the men he has put in charge of the church in Ephesus to be on their guard because ‘fierce wolves’ would come both from outside and in and they had to protect the flock. They had to be strong but they had to know how to use their strength – Paul insisted that any man who would be an elder should ‘not be violent but gentle’ (1 Tim 3:3). The ability to control not just your temper (which is separately listed Titus 1:7) but also your strength is a requirement for a church elder. Now I’m not suggesting that physical strength is a requirement for Christian leadership, Paul wasn’t a great physical specimen (2 Cor 10:10) and his protege Timothy wasn’t either (1 Tim 5:23) what I am saying is that the call to protect is a leadership call that and that responsibility falls first on men.
Let me add all sorts of clarifications, that really shouldn’t be necessary but are: can women protect people? Of course, the list of brave, courageous women who protect the vulnerable is long and distinguished – a female lawyer or social worker protecting the abused or abandoned, a hard-working mother protecting her children, a politician campaigning for new laws, a female boss standing up against the boys club. The point is, that all too often it’s protection from men because of a failure by men. A woman is forced to protect all too often because a man has abandoned or abused his role as a father, husband and protector.
The call to protect doesn’t make men more important because protection while vital is insufficient alone. Genesis 1 & 2 pictures a partnership of men and women together fulfilling the call of God on humanity. The fall didn’t change that but it did change something. Suddenly women, children, the elderly by virtue of physical weakness were vulnerable and in a fallen world they remain vulnerable. I believe God calls men not to assume some unwanted notion of protecting the ‘little woman’ from dirt or grime or difficult decisions, but to genuinely answer the call to protect men, women and children from vicious, violent, abusive and domineering men wherever they may be found, be that in the home, the church or the world.