Being strong and courageous.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October

Joshua 1.9.

One of my biggest peeves about the way Christianity is practiced in the United States has to do with the way certain Christianist men’s groups regularly twist the scriptures in order to justify culturally-defined “masculinity.” Not masculinity as Jesus demonstrated it, nor even as the fallible men in the bible practiced it: Masculinity as defined by popular American culture. With, frequently, a lot of chauvinism and sexism mixed in.

A lot of these men have taken their cues from the 1990s’ mythopoetic men’s movement, which author John Eldredge repackaged for Christians so we can do the same thing. They scoured myths, legends, and fairy tales for clues as to what’s really true about masculinity. Took a lot of those old stories out of context, in so doing. Eldredge prefers pulling his ideas from the bible and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but he makes the same mistake of overlaying his prejudices on them, then claiming his prejudices came from them. Or are at least supported by them.

So men nowadays, claim Eldredge and the sexists, are too effeminate. Cowardly, wimpy girly-men. Our culture requires men to suppress our manly urges and behave ourselves. But, they insist, our urges are natural and good: Men were meant to be wild, free, and fighting. Not just fighting randomly in bars and sporting events, but fighting for noble causes—for truth and justice, to tame nature, in the defense of loved ones, in the cause of Christ, in certain political venues, to pretty much punch anyone who dares challenge our prejudices…

Really, any excuse will do. So long as we get to do some fighting.

For fighting, they insist, is the deep down—but suppressed!—desire of a man’s heart. Men fought throughout human history. Men needed to fight, ’cause noble causes. They claim God gave us this desire to fight, smite, scratch, and bite. And God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, right? Ps 37.4 Yet our culture keeps trying to “civilize” us. So fight that culture; it’s all pagan and secular anyway, and feminists took it over back in the ’70s or something, and now they’re turning us into wimps. Fight back. Be a man. Kick some ass.

This verse is their mantra:

Joshua 1.9 KWL
Don’t I command you? Be tough! Be strong! Not afraid, not shattered.
For your LORD God is with you everywhere you go.”

In the NIV it’s “Be strong and courageous,” and Michael W. Smith wrote a song about it, so that’s how we tend to hear it in the United States. And this verse is used to defend “masculine” behavior—legitimate and not.

I write all the time about how people bring our prejudices with us into Christianity, project them upon Jesus, and pretend he endorses all our beliefs—that we got ’em from him. Unfortunately, those who don’t really know Jesus, like pagans and newbies, fall for this. And either they recoil from this fraudulent Christianity in horror… or they fall for it, ’cause it fits so well with their own prejudices, and become twice the sons of hell as their forebears. Mt 23.15

So if men are competitive; if they enjoy rough, violent sports and video games; if they love the idea of standing their ground and shooting bad guys in the head, Jesus must approve, right? These violent urges must’ve been put into us by God, right?

Not in the slightest. They come from our selfish, violent, corrupt sin nature. God never put that in us; sin did.

Jesus taught us to go the extra mile and turn the other cheek. Mt 5.39, 42 These instructions don’t appeal to violent men at all. It’s why they constantly look for loopholes to these verses—assuming they don’t ignore them outright. Joshua didn’t turn the other cheek against the Amorites; why should they?

They approve of hazardous types of fun, and object when saner heads (usually their wives) suggest caution: They don’t need to be cautious. They’re adventurers. They’re pioneers. They’re warriors. Anyone who tries to stop them from living their destiny as adventurers is feminizing them, emasculating them.

Oh, they’re really paranoid about being “feminized” and “emasculated.” ’Cause they’re not all that secure about their masculinity. They have a rather tight definition of it, and care too much what their culture, and fellow sexists, think about it. Not at all what Jesus really thinks, or they’d seek it out and follow him instead of their peer group.

The context of the man Joshua.

The LORD instructed Joshua to toughen up, to get hard, because he had a really hard job ahead of him.

Yehošúa/“Jehovah saves,” born Hoshea ben Nun, Nu 13.16 was a former slave, now an 80-year-old man. He’d spent the past 40 years aiding Moses, as the elderly prophet tried to make peace between the Hebrews and their God—and between one another, ’cause getting used to freedom can be a serious struggle sometimes. People like to focus on the fact Joshua led the Hebrews into battle a few times before, and claim Joshua was this great warrior. They forget two things: Joshua fought very few battles before they got to Palestine; and every single battle was a God-victory, not a human one. (Joshua would be the first to tell you so.) Joshua had to work peace far more than he ever had to wage war.

Moses had died, and it was time for Joshua to lead the Hebrews into Palestine to forcibly take it from the Amorites who lived there. No, this wasn’t a matter of stealing land from the Amorites, as white settlers had from the Indians in the Americas. This was judgment on the Amorites. God had told Abraham the Amorites’ end was coming, Ge 15.16 because God had told the Amorites for the past thousand years that if they didn’t shape up, he’d let their enemies destroy them—same as he did with Israel, Edom, Egypt, and dozens of nations in the scriptures. Well, the Amorites had ignored him, so now it was the point in the cycle where time was up. The Hebrews were coming.

The book of Joshua is a very hard book for a lot of people. They can’t fathom a good God authorizing death and destruction. He loves people too much to ever do such a thing, right? People can’t be all that bad. Certainly they’d never deserve getting wiped out like that. So they make up various excuses for why God can’t really have authorized Joshua and the Hebrews to level towns and enslave nations; that this was just the Jews inventing religious excuses for their violent ancestors.

But the reason God sometimes judges nations before the End, is because their evil is gonna destroy others. It’s because he loves people so much that he chooses to intervene. Sometimes in deadly ways, but as any cop or soldier will tell you, sometimes it comes to that. Wish it didn’t.

Now. If you’re a peaceful person, the very idea of invading a land and killing people is impossible. Even if you’re not that peaceful, it’s an unenviable, savage, very rough job. Of course there are plenty of gung-ho guys who join the military because they like the idea of killing our nation’s enemies… but once they actually go do it, they can no longer sleep at night. Only madmen, or those who’ve been raised or trained to have no such conscience, consider it an easy task.

Violent men have really romanticized Joshua, and imagine the Hebrews merrily slaughtering Amorites, rejoicing as they went. Some of ’em wouldn’t mind smiting sinners in the present day, in much the same way: Butchering people of other religions, other creeds, other ethnicities, other political views, other preferences. Such fruitlessness exposes the fact they either resist the Holy Spirit, or don’t have him in them at all.

Well, Joshua realized he had some dirty work ahead of him, and the LORD was trying to buck him up: Go do the job, ’cause Palestine is yours. Every place you set your foot will become Israel’s land. God’s not gonna fail nor abandon Joshua Js 1.5 (another verse Christians use out of context) and Joshua’d be successful. So get ready. Toughen up. Be as full of courage as you know how.

So how do we take this verse out of context? Simple: We ignore how and why God was saying it to Joshua. We don’t realize it was to steel Joshua for a specific, unenviable situation. We act as if God’s saying it to us, as if he needs us to fight new foes—foes we wanna fight. For we’ve chosen them. Not God.

So we tell ourselves we gotta be strong and courageous. At all times. In every circumstance. Regardless of whether it makes any sense to be strong and courageous—whether it might instead be time to be humble, reverent, and compassionate.

The wild desires of our hearts.

Where does evil come from? Jesus said from within.

Mark 7.14-23 KWL
14 Re-summoning the crowd, Jesus informed them, “Everybody listen to me and get this:
15 Things from outside you, which go in, can never make you ‘pagan.’
Things which come from you, and come out of you—that’s what make you ‘pagan.’ ”
17 Going into the house, away from the crowd, Jesus’s students were asking him for the key to this “analogy.”
18 Jesus told them, “How dense are you?
Don’t you realize how anything which enters a person from the outside, can’t contaminate the person?—
19 how it doesn’t enter one’s heart, but one’s digestive system,
and winds up in the toilet, flushing all the food out?”
20 Jesus said this: “What makes the person vulgar, comes out of a person.
21 For within, out of the human heart, comes these works:
Twisted reasoning. Promiscuity. Fraud. Murder.
22 Adultery. Self-entitlement. Evil habits. Booby traps.
Lack of ethics. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Thoughtlessness.
23 All these evil things are within, come out, and make a person vulgar.”

Competitiveness, violence, standing one’s ground, throwing caution to the wind, and other things our culture imagines are “manly,” are found deep within a man’s heart. But they’re not there because God installed them. It’s because we’re fallen, sinful creatures.

These traits are instinctive animal behaviors. They’re meant to be tempered by the fruit of the Spirit. God made us in his image, Ge 1.27 but when we ignore our Spirit-led self-control, we’re not acting like a creature made in God’s image. We’re acting just the same as any other animal. Or like devils—roaring and seeking what we may devour. 1Pe 1.8

When sober-minded women and men tell young men to control themselves, or to be more cautious, they’re not emasculating them. They’re civilizing them. They’re reminding people we’re humans, not brutes. God put a rational mind in our heads, and it’s high time we used it. God put his Spirit in our hearts, and we oughta listen to him, and not just run on instinct.

I’m not saying we should ignore our instincts. I’m only saying we shouldn’t be led by them: We gotta be led by God. Follow the Spirit, not the flesh. Those who claim our instincts are God-given, neither understand how sin corrupted us, nor care. They just wanna do as they wanna do, and claim their self-centered hearts must be sign of God’s endorsement of their self-centered behavior.

Thanks to sin, the human heart is deceitful and wicked. Jr 17.9 It’s not our guide to how God originally meant men to think and feel. Jesus is our guide. Don’t follow your wild, untamable heart. Follow Jesus.