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Sunday 20 January 2019

The Best A Man Can Get

By now most of you will have seen the Gillette ad. If you follow me on Facebook you will know that I am not a fan of the ad. Although I will say that I appreciate that part of their goal was to inspire more men to treat women and each other well, and to call out bad man. You can’t really disagree with this goal. There are too many men who treat too many women very poorly and this needs to stop. But someone should tell Gillette that this is a message that most men already understand. Most men treat the women in their lives with the utmost of respect. However, I have said enough on my Facebook page, and the page of a couple of friends, about the ad itself. Here I want to talk about the goal of the ad: inspiring men to be the best they can be.

This has been the goal of many organizations throughout history. Indeed for twenty years the American Army's recruiting slogan was “Be all you can be”, though this was partially directed at women as well, the largest proportion of their recruits were, and likely still are, men. These men were not offended by being challenged to improve themselves, they took up the challenge and enlisted, because they believed they could improve themselves in the Army. Calling men to be better, calling men, to step up, not only isn’t a bad message, it is a message that I have done myself on many occasions. In fact, if I am being truly honest it is a message I preach to myself often. I don’t want to plateau, I don’t want to be content with who I am today, I want to push on to be the best man I can be, the best husband I can be, and the best father and friend I can be. To plateau is to give up and this negatively effects yourself, and those around you.

So why did this ad rub so many people the wrong way then? Because of how they framed the message, because of their emphasis, and their lack of nuance. At least this is how a lot of men felt, including myself. But let’s ask a better question: what is the best a man can get? Or to put it another way: what does a good man look like? I could use many examples of men for this, but I really think the best man we can look to, to learn how we can be the best we can be, is King David, the Great King of Israel.

Our first introduction to David comes in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel 13:14. David is not named in this passage. The corrupt king Saul is told that he is about to lose his kingship because he did not follow the commands of God. He is told that God has found someone who is a man after his own heart to replace him. Our first description of David is someone whose heart is moved by the things which move God's own heart. The next time he is mentioned is in 1 Samuel 15:28, where Samuel simply tells Saul that the one who is going to replace him is a better man than him; again he is not named. But this guy sounds pretty awesome, and he was.

Where Saul was a proud, arrogant man, who cared too much about what people thought about him, and not enough about what God told him to do, David was a simple, humble shepherd, who loved to worship God and honoured him. The first mention of him where we learn his name, also tells us that he is simply tending sheep. But as we get to know David we realize this says a lot about him, and a lot about being a good man. 

As a shepherd he spent lots of time with the sheep in his care, he made sure they were provided with food and with drink, with cool shade in the heat and warmth when it was cold. As a shepherd he defended his sheep from the wolf, the bear and the lion, and this was in a day when you had either your bare hands, or simple weapons like sticks and slings to do this with. In other words he was a brave man, who was willing to risk his life for those under his care. He did everything he could to care for the needs of those he was responsible for. He was a servant leader. These are the traits of a good man.

David was a man who was incredibly sensitive. He was a musician who wrote many Psalms where he often poured out his genuine emotions and struggles. But he was also a man who was incredibly strong, in fact he was genuinely mighty. He slew the giant, Goliath, when he was still a young man, and he was successful whenever he led an army in battle. He was simultaneously more masculine and more in touch with his emotions than most modern men. To really display him well in a modern movie you would need to get someone who is the cross between The Rock, Ryan Gosling, and Jon Bon Jovi of the Young Guns era. He was the handsome warrior, crossed with the handsome lover, who could dazzle many with his musical ability. In many ways he typifies the best a man can get.

But David was no perfect man, indeed in one pitiful exhibition of toxic masculinity he displayed how bad he really could be. In the period of a few short days David seduced the wife of one of his best friends, while this friend was faithfully at war fighting for his king. He then brought his friend home and got him drunk, to get him to have sex with his wife to cover up his shameful act. When his friend refused to have sex with his wife because all the other men were still at war, David had him carry orders to the army's field commander that would seal his friend's death. “Put him at the front of the line and attack the cities walls,” were the orders. David proved himself to be more depraved than most of us think we are. In fact what he did was downright evil. 

It’s at this point that many of you are thinking: why on earth would you use David as an example of the best a man can get Matt? Surely Jesus is really the best a man can get? Well it depends what you mean by the best a man can get. If by that phrase you mean perfect in every conceivable way, then yes Jesus, and Jesus, alone is your man. He is compassionate, loving, caring, strong, forgiving, honourable, angry at sin, and merciful to sinners. He is everything good you can think of, to a level of goodness we really can’t fully fathom as human beings. His life and deeds are so compelling even unbelievers find it hard to say a bad word about him. So yes, Jesus definitely is the best a man can get in the sense of perfect. 

But if you mean the best a man can get in this fallen world, then David teaches us something about ourselves which should drive us to Jesus in an instant: if a man as good as David, described as a better man than Saul, and called a man after God’s own heart, can fall into despicable sin, then how much more can any of us, man or woman, do the same? David was the best a man can get, without being the God-Man, and he committed such heinous crimes late in his life, that if he was the character in a movie, we would most certainly all cry for his downfall, and be satisfied when it happened. He started off alright, but a little way into the story he turns out to be as bad as Fernand Mondego, who takes everything away from the admirable Edmond Dantes, in The Count of Monte Cristo. He is the villain who steals from the hero his wife, his family and everything else. 

David teaches us that for us human men the best we can get is never really good enough, because we are always one sin guided episode away from being the worst a man can get. David teaches us men something incredibly important: we must watch ourselves, let we fall.

You see the Gillette ad got a couple of things right, and the most important thing it got right is that there is bad in every man. A lot get this, and seek to have it dealt with, and a lot don’t get this. But something Gillette will never tell you is that this is true of all people, whether men or women, we are all effected by a toxic problem; it is called sin. And in Jesus is the only way this toxin can truly be dealt with. In Jesus he offers those of us who recognize we are not the best we can be, a chance to know the one who is the best you can get, and to have the forgiveness that comes with knowing him. This is what salvation is: to recognize who Jesus is and to trust him to make a way for us to be with him and his father in the next life. To recognize that only he can do this for us, because none of us are really the best we can be.

So, the best any of us can get is Jesus. Yes we should call out bad behaviour in men, and I think in women too, really everyone one has moments where we should be called out for our behaviour. But at the end of the day, no matter how good we think we are, Jesus is the one we need, and the offer of salvation in him is the best offer we will ever get.

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