The Scars We’re Slow to Show

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To this day, I am scared of the water because of Jaws. There is a powerful scene on the Orca where Quint, Brody and Hooper are showing scars and swapping stories. The setting is buoyant and cheerful as each scar is revealed and story rehearsed from sheets of skin and bone. But soon the laughter lightens as the narrative lingers on one scar in particular with the haunting history of sea and shark and the USS Indianapolis. Suddenly there is silence and sobriety as a much deeper scar rises to the surface.

Scars are fascinating. With each blemish and imperfection comes history and narrative. Some are fully healed, while others are more like a scab reopening each time they are exposed. Some scars we desperately cover in shame; others we openly flaunt. I, myself, have a few I rather admire.

A scene like that on the boat has played out in bars and backyards across the world. Gather a group of men, grant them liberal libation, and you never know which scars will show. Men love showing scars…as long as they are on the outside.

Physical scars are macho and manly, whatever that means. Spiritual and emotional scars are not. They are a form of weakness, and masculinity is anything but weak. Or so we are told; we’re sold a stereotype that men love the smell of napalm and the taste of blood. Real men hunt and fish and fight. They love to drive fast and play sports. They never cry, never show fear, or weakness. Such parody masks masculinity, trading liberating facts for an enslaving facade.

Against this caricature, we consider Christ. For over a year, Parkway has walked with Jesus through the book of Mark. Recently we read,

And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Mark 14:34)

Jesus Christ, the epitome and exemplar of humanity and manhood, sweating in a garden; not from thorns and weeds, but the weight of a deeper labor; wrestling with wrath and experiencing stress while expressing sorrow and requesting prayer. The story of Gethsemane is a powerful corrective to the stereotype of stoicism that permeates our understanding of manhood. And this corrective vision is not limited to a solitary garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The same Lord who made a whip and drove tax collectors out of the temple, wept over that very edifice. The same Jesus who will one day serve vengeance, washed the feet of friend and foe. Consider Christ:

  • who cried (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7)
  • who grew tired and even rested while His disciples trudged forward (John 4:6)
  • who experienced hunger and thirst (John 19:28; Matthew 4:2) and expressed as much
  • who was too weakened by scourging to carry His own cross (Luke 23:26)
  • who grew troubled in spirit (John 12:27, 13:21) and sorrowful (Matthew 26:38)
  • who faced temptation (Hebrew 4:15)

None of these were evidences of sin or of failure or a rejection of His humanity or masculinity. In light of such biblical depiction, perhaps we need to rethink our paradigm. If real men don’t cry or bleed or show weakness, then real men don’t look like Jesus. The cultural caricatures of masculinity look far more like the myth of John Wayne, than they do the God-man, Jesus Christ.

The Need to Be Weak

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Many men love this text, as long as we are doing the bearing and not the burdening. Such men love to meet needs, but not need anything themselves. They love to provide for others, but despise receiving charity. They will gladly help where help is requested, but will never request help for themselves.

But there is no bearing without burdening. After all, the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you' (1 Corinthians 12:21).

The apostle Paul knew what it meant to be burdened. He knew hunger, sleepless nights, imprisonment, and beatings. He knew what it was to give, but also to receive and express need (Philippians 4:14-20). Paul knew weakness. In fact, he learned to boast in it.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

What then shall we say? Weakness is no affront to your manhood. In fact, a failure to embrace and confess weakness is an affront to God.

Who is Jesus continually confronting throughout the gospels? Is it the hurt and broken? Of course not. Rather, it is the proud and arrogant. Those who say they have no need of the doctor. Those who say they have no weakness or sin or lack. Those who boast in independence and self-sufficiency and strength. After all, the Pharisee who boasts in self and strength walks away with nothing but pride, while the tax collector beats his breast from a distance and goes home justified (Luke 18:9-14).

Boasting in weakness is not permission to wallow in our sin, but instead to wade into the deeper waters of honesty and vulnerability. Real men take risks, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily skydive or dive with sharks. It does mean that they are willing to dive into the vulnerability of standing before a perfect God and confessing their imperfections before other imperfect men. It does mean acknowledging weakness and perpetual need. It does mean showing the scars that we are slow to show...scars that tell a story in which we are not the hero and the blood is not our own.

Real men have scars, but not only on the skin.