Raelene kept the plastic snow globe next to her bed. It was a cheap plastic snowdome of Jesus walking on water. He was a bit cheesy with rock star hair and pecs showing through the billowing robe. Even the birds were dinky. But Raelene kept it because it made her think about Jesus, the new man in her life.
The final paragraphs of Tim Winton’s short story, The Turning, reveal two masculinities. One seen in Raelene’s bitter, violent, abusive alcoholic partner Max. The other shown in Jesus.
“In the spill of light at the bedside she saw the little dome and her man upon the waves. She said his name, too, said it aloud with love enough to send a shudder through Max as he pushed her down. She knew she was safe from him now, not safe from tonight but done from him altogether. He smelt of death already, of burning, of bile and acid. He was crying and she did not pity him. He was gone and it didn’t matter when. Everything was new.”
Max is a picture of toxic masculinity. Violent, drunken, full of rage and dangerous. But Raelene through the friendship of two Christians and by reading the Bible comes to know the love of Jesus. And she turns to him.
Here, Tim hints at another picture of masculinity – Jesus. Raelene is fixated on him because he is a different kind of man. He is the man she truly longs for and in fact has always longed for. A man who wielded strength, power, justice and mercy for the sake of others and never against them.
These two types of masculinity – toxic and Jesus – are on display in the Bible. Toxic masculinity is everywhere. Cain smashes the life from his brother Abel with a rock, Lamech celebrates his violence, Abraham risks his wife because of cowardice and so on. The list goes devastingly on and on. Even the great heroes of the faith show soul shuddering weakness.
Toxic masculinity is every where and it is condemned by God. The Bible’s searing assessment of men is that they are weak, violent, inclined to evil, unrestrained, mysognistic, wicked and abusive. This is the Bible’s view of masculinity and humanity.
However, this is not the complete story of masculinity in the Bible. Jesus Christ, God the Son was born a man. And that should stop us short. How could the Holy God come in the flesh, the flesh of toxic humanity? And the answer is found at the start. As Genesis reveals – masculinity was not originally toxic. It was good: very good. Adam was awesome in every way. Masculinity was part of God’s very good plan for the world until things went toxic.
And so, Jesus came. And this man was filled with compassion for the weak, the fragile, the Raelenes. This man stood up to the powerful and dangerous. This man led, and taught, and challenged and loved others. And this man, in all his glorious humanity, went to the cross and was crucified. He gave his life, willingly, to face God’s just anger directed at all men and women for all are toxic.
Yes, Jesus’ death proves the reality of toxic masculinity. We were so toxic that God came in the flesh to pay the penalty. But it also shows that men were made for something else, something greater. We, men, were made for Jesus’ masculinity. Jesus came to redeem men and masculinity. There is no greater endorsement of masculinity than what we are given in Jesus. He was the true man who shows each man what we can be by his power, if we come to him.
A preacher I heard recently put it very simply. He said, ‘Men are far worse than you think. And women are far worse than you think. Jesus is better than you think.’ We, humanity, are not good. We are corrupt and weak and broken. We are worse than we think. But God is patiently waiting for us, men and women, to turn to Jesus and be changed to be like him – the true man and the true human.
All of us need to to look on the real Jesus with love for we need his love and protection. This is the turning all of us need.