“You are offended by the masculine itself,” the Director told Jane. “The loud, irruptive, possessive thing — the gold lion, the bearded bull — which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed.”
Offended by the masculine itself.
At this point in the story Jane, an unhappily married protagonist in C.S. Lewis’s space finale, That Hideous Strength, was what we might regard today as the modern woman. She is a career-aspiring, egalitarian non-Christian who stood opposite (and opposed) to the womanhood of someone like Mrs. Dimble, a strong, yet submissive Christian wife.
Jane stared befuddled at the Director — a golden lion himself who by now had won both Jane’s respect and reverence. The world she lived in began to tilt and sway. Her “haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession” resurfaced. To date, she had sighs and scoffs enough to keep such masculinity at bay. She had chosen a husband, Mark, accordingly. He “really understood” her — meaning that he posed no threat to her self-government and asked nothing of her she was unwilling to give. But here she stood, cornered by that self-discovery that perhaps reality was not as she imagined.
Embarrassed by the Beard
We live in a society crowded with such Janes (even when the name on the driver’s license says Jason). Feminists of both sexes rebel against that bearded bull, labeling him wild, oppressive, dangerous. Many are offended by the roar of the cosmos, the heads of humanity, the kings of creation, men.
Today’s “virtuous man” is depicted as much more virtue than man. He is compliant, deferential, and soft. He is nice. He works his job, pays his taxes, keeps his head down, and avoids scandal and, by all means, anything that could be called “abuse.” He is safe, but not much more. There is no fire, no passion, no strength, no purpose to make him a risk or nuisance to his evil generation. Traditional masculinity — that muscular, bold, and weighty thing — has been curbed with bit and bridle. When it emerges, it offends. And he wouldn’t want to offend.
Many professing Christians have indulged Jane’s perspective as well. Old truths no longer suffice. That both head and helper are majestically equal in worth, both made after the glorious image of God, both dependent on the other, and that both exist as coheirs of the grace of life in Christ (Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 11:11–12; 1 Peter 3:7), this means little to some as long as any distinctions remain.
They do not like that “man . . . is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). They see nothing but offense when reading that woman was made for man, not man for woman (1 Corinthians 11:9). They shudder at Paul’s vision for the corporate gathering, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” — and shake their heads at his explanation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12–13).
They claim to see no practical importance in their marriage text which states that every husband is the head of his wife, even as Christ is head of the church, and that she should submit to him as to the Lord in everything that is lawful (Ephesians 5:22–24).
If masculinity has been distorted into a depraved form of dominance in the past, it is now being distorted into a depraved form of irrelevance. Many are tempted to conclude from this that the age of men has passed; he must empower women and rouse his strength only at her beck and call. The future, many sons and daughters of Jane suppose, is feminine.
He Whom We Cannot Escape
The Director’s next statement hit Jane — and us if we will consider it — with the force of a meteor:
The male you could have escaped for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You’d better agree with your adversary quickly. (313)
He who sits enthroned above is unescapably masculine.
To whatever extent our generation mocks, belittles, and perverts masculinity, the Director reminds Jane (and us) that this is all but temporary. The husbands, the fathers, and the kings of this earth can be avoided, shamed, and suppressed. But the eternal He is coming — Husband, Father, Judge, King. “Souls can bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender.”
Few today seem to hear the beauty in the ancient baritone. Few have their breath taken by the entrancing accompaniment, the voice fit for his, the feminine timbre harmonizing perfectly. Many demand the same note be pounded on the piano, that man and woman be considered the same. But in this, they are unaware that the differences follow us into eternity; that one whose voice is likened to thunder, whose bass makes oaks to shake and strips forests bare (Psalm 29:9). If you cannot love the authentic (yet imperfect) masculinity in the holy men you can see, how can you love the Holy Him you cannot?
Woman Named Papa?
But is God a he? Why should we assign such trivial distinctions from the created realm to God when he is not biologically male or female?
Jane had the same questions. She assumed that the spiritual realm was where such distinctions disappeared. But “now the suspicion dawned upon her that there might be differences in contrasts all the way up, richer, sharper, even fiercer, at every rung of the ascent” (312).
In other words, she reconsidered her assumption that an egalitarian marriage bled into an androgenous eternity. She now wondered whether the imprint of masculine headship, an invasion of her being on earth, was “the first, and the easiest form of some shocking contact with reality which would have to be repeated — but in ever larger and more disturbing modes — on the highest levels of all” (312).
Much can be said (and has been) about the masculinity of God. Texts that communicate about God with feminine metaphors (though never feminine titles or pronouns for God) must be accounted for (e.g. Isaiah 66:13; Hosea 13:8; Matthew 23:37), and have been.
Suffice it to say for our purposes that the triune God is not, as The Shack so infamously depicted, headed by a black woman named “Papa” — and that matters. Consider for a moment that religion whose Scriptures substituted the feminine for the masculine:
“[S]he who sits in the heavens laughs; the L[ady] holds them in derision. Then [s]he will speak to them in h[er] wrath, and terrify them in h[er] fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my [Queen] on Zion, my holy hill.’” (Psalm 2:4–6)
“The L[ady] is a [wo]man of war; the L[ady] is h[er] name.” (Exodus 15:3)
“For to us a child is born, to us a [daughter] is given; and the government shall be upon [her] shoulder, and [her] name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting [Mother], [Princess] of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
“Surely [s]he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed h[er] stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But [s]he was pierced for our transgressions; [s]he was crushed for our iniquities; upon h[er] was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with h[er] wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5)
From all eternity, God was spirit, not biologically male. But God, although identifying nearly exclusively as masculine in the Old Testament, settled the debate once and for all by taking to himself the human soul and body of a man, not woman, in the New Testament. The Son is a male Son. Fully God, fully man. Biblical manhood, many have escaped. But the Masculine to which all of Scripture points, none of us can escape.
Not Safe but Good
The mutiny against masculinity itself will be broken. Signs will lie tattered in the streets. Modern desires to rule over the sons of Adam will be silenced — He shall return. The Man of war, not Lady, will come to rescue. The King, not Queen. The Lion of Judah, not Lioness.
Now, as I point this out, do not conclude, as some inevitably will, that I am saying men are superior in worth to women. I deny the charge. I am simply putting forth the reality that what speeds toward us presently is of such masculine weight that the authority and headship many try to flatten and disregard today will end at once. This gives men no room to boast — not only because some of those most guilty of the rebellion are men, but because even the best of men consider: “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we all are feminine in relation to him.”
A Father and Son approach who make all the mightiest fathers and sons of men, all the most Christlike pastors and Godlike rulers, seem feminine in relation. These all are naturally and decidedly masculine with regards to creation, yet members of the Bride in relation to the everlasting Groom, Jesus Christ.
One day this will be revealed to all to be good news for God’s people and all of creation. The Masculinity the world cannot escape is precisely that masculinity the Church, his Bride, will not want to flee. We have no haunting fear of surrendering fully and unquestionably to him, for he has already surrendered his own life for us. He is not, nor ever will be, safe. But he is good.