One of my favourite movies of all time is Finding Nemo. Okay, so I’ve got kids, and it goes without saying. But there is one moment in the film that causes many knowing chuckles in my household: it is when Dory turns to Marlin and says, “What is it with men and asking for directions?” Apparently, so I’ve been told told, it is possible for me to be like this on occasions. Who would have thought?
The reason I raise this is that it presents a paradox I’m currently contemplating. I am preaching at a weekend away for dads and kids in a couple of weeks’ time. The dads and the kids are going to do lots of fun, relational stuff together, but on three occasions over the weekend, the kids will be looked after while us dads examine what it means to be men from the Bible. Now, of course, we will be talking about sex (it’s a men’s camp!), and, being a dads’ and kids’ camp, we will be talking about being fathers as well. But as I sat down to think about what it means to be a man in the Bible, the thing that struck me most of all is the way men are called on to take responsibility in God’s world. Adam and Eve sinned, but biblically it was Adam’s sin: he was responsible. The New Testament sometimes addresses parents, but nearly always the instruction about raising children is to fathers. These are just two obvious and more universal examples of the phenomenon.
It is assumed throughout the Bible that part of the challenge to live rightly under God is for men, in particular, to take responsibility for their God-given roles as leaders in their homes and leaders in the community of God’s people. But it is here that we come to the paradox: while I am perfectly happy to claim that it is my God-given and inalienable right to find my way from point A to point B without the use of any navigational aids, I find that I am rarely so forceful in asserting my rights to take responsibility for our family Bible reading time (for example). I don’t think that my experience is mine alone. And I think that, for most men, we want to claim responsibility when it suits our egos.
On this topic, I had a very encouraging conversation with a young man the other day. I had spoken to him one week before, and he had been asked to take up a position of responsibility in a Christian ministry that he had been involved with. When I asked him if he was going to do it, he was very unsure. There were doubts about pressure and time commitments, and all the usual things. One week later I was at the meeting where he accepted the nomination for the position, and was subsequently elected by the group. When I talked to him afterwards, he said to me, “As I thought about it, I realized that all my reasons for not doing it were pretty selfish. I didn’t want the responsibility or the pressure. But being selfish isn’t a good reason is it?” I gave thanks to God. Here was a young man who, by the power of God’s Spirit, had been persuaded that the giving up of oneself to take on responsibility is part and parcel of what it means to be a man of God.
His example and the prospect of preaching to this group of men has challenged me about what it means to be a man of God. Should Dory have said, “What is it with men and responsibility?” I am wondering, blokes: what tricks and ways do we use to abdicate from responsibility, rather than shouldering it? How do we subtly avoid responsibility, rather than trusting in God’s goodness and taking responsibility?