To put this in context as my twentieth birthday approaches I am becoming increasingly obsessed with what it means to be a man. And by that I mean what it means to be a man in the biblical sense, a man as God created me to be.
I’m beginning to form a picture of what it looks like. But as a side train of thought I remembered a scene from Lord of the Rings (see video at end of post) and thought I’d share it with you…
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.
For me, this perfectly encapsulates what it is a man (or, indeed, hobbit) should have and that is strength of conviction. A conviction that isn’t phased by reality, danger or opposition. A conviction that means when faced with opportunities to give up a man endures onwards for the sole reason that it is the right thing to do.
Frodo’s cry of ‘I can’t do this’ rings so true in life. There are struggles, trails and times when we all feel this way. All hope is lost, all strength is gone and all we see is a future of darkness. And like Frodo we need something to hold onto, we need hope, we need a conviction. In Lord of the Rings Sam provides it for Frodo by reminding him that there is good in the world and it’s worth fighting for. Sam has strength of conviction that he is fighting for something more than himself. He is fighting for good.
This is stirring stuff and hardly uncommon in films, books and games. What makes The Shawshank Redemption so good is that Andy has a conviction that he is innocent and despite all the things that happens to him he holds onto that and it provides the patience and hope he needs to dig his escape tunnel.
“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Andy Dufresne
Or what about Han Solo in A New Hope – we spend all the movie wanting him to be the hero he becomes, wanting him to be strong and selfless and follow his conviction that the Rebel Alliance is worth fighting for.
Anyways the point is that we value courage and strength of conviction. When a man puts all other considerations aside and acts solely on the basis of what he beliefs to be right we applaud it. A man can only be brave and courageous if he has something to be brave and courageous for.
Yet at the same time our society has encouraged the weakening of man. We live in a culture that sends us contradictory messages. Our stories tell us to be strong and courageous. Our social norms tell us to be weak and spineless. We’re held up as being useless, immature, irresponsible and brutish. We’re effeminate, nagged to get in touch with our feminist side, told to be women.
Yet this goes against what we were created to be: men.
And as men we need to be strong in our convictions, strong in our faith, standing on the rock of Christ and facing all the storms of life confident in the knowledge that God is with is.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
1 Corinthians 16 v 13 (ESV)
There’s nothing more pathetic in the entire world than a man with weak convictions. As men we were created to be leaders, created to be strong and courageous, created to be steadfast, standing firm. And we were created to do all these things with God.
We are strong because we rest our strength in God’s. We stand firm because we stand firm in God. We are courageous because God is with us.
Which do you value more: courage or cowardice? Strength or weakness? Standing firm or running like a baby? Strength of conviction or weakness of doubt?
Next time you find yourself facing a difficult situation: man up. Decide not on the easiest thing to do, not on what gains you the most, not on what gets you what you want but on what honours God. Decide to do the right thing. And then stand firm, be strong and courageous, dress for action like a man because God is with you.
Modern culture tells us to wose out. Too often we do.
But as the Bible tells us that goes against what we were created to be - men who have strength of conviction, who do God's will because it is God's will, who shoulder burdens, put faith to work and fight for the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our own strength we would fail to do this. But acting like a man means turning to God and relying on him for our strength and courage.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1 v 9