Note: I haven’t read Wild at Heart in a long time. My thoughts are based off what I remember and my more recent experiences.
When I was a younger man I read the John Eldredge book “Wild at Heart.” At the time I really enjoyed it, though as I’ve come to reflect upon who I am and who Jesus is…I’ve found that the version of masculinity that we’re given in and through authors like John is something that really limits real masculine development. Particularly in regard to friendship, relationship, and consequentially following Jesus.
I think that one of the primary issues with the authors that primarily write to men is that there is–more often than not–a single standard of Godly masculinity. A sort of Christian one-size-fits-all approach to manhood. Their take is often that of American action-movie culture blendedwith a Christian emphasis. As though the Gospel is meant to change us into a Jesus who takes boxing lessons (check out this great article for an idea of what I mean: http://theotherjournal.com/2011/06/28/the-confessions-of-a-cage-fighter-masculinity-misogyny-and-the-fear-of-losing-control/). The message dudes are given (at least the one I’ve heard from these sources) with regard to romantic relationships is usually one of unabashedly one-sided relational privilege and responsibility.
At the same it’s interesting to me to recall the extent to which the idea of walking in faith with other men is stressed in Eldredge’s book and mainstream Christian culture in general. We’re encouraged to have other “spiritual warriors” (men) to walk alongside in our fight for purity and following the Lord. The idea of masculine friendships is played out strongly in his many examples…nearly all of them from films…and if I recall it also was emphasized by the friendship of David and Jonathan.
There is an interesting balancing act between these ideas of manly support relationships and simultaneous leading of whatever romantic relationships there may be that plays out in Eldredge’s book. Men need support from other men, but apparently less than they need support from their significant others. The idea seems to focus on David’s lament over Jonathan’s death (2 Samuel 1:26):
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.”
The friendship between the would-be king of Israel and the son of the ex-anointed king of Israel is a story that emphasizes two men who care deeply for one another. There are of course the assorted debates of whether or not the relationship between David and Jonathan was other than heterosexual. This is something that I have neither the time, nor ability to thoroughly engage with. Let’s table it for the time being.
I think that due in great part to my read of Wild at Heart this story has been etched into my mind as the example that for which I ought to be striving. The question I have been asking myself for years –literally–is: What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have the sort of friendship that David and Jonathan had? What am I doing wrong?
I’ve tried praying for a friend of this nature, I’ve tried forcing it on my own steam, I’ve tried waiting patiently. None of these things has worked quite the way I hoped it would. By no means do I lack male friendships. Rather, I think I have great dude friends and we are able to support each other as well as possible. That said, there just isn’t a “your love passes that of women” thing going on for me. Especially once I began dating someone.
To some perhaps that’d be a problem, but as far as I’m concerned I think the problem lies elsewhere. I personally think the hindrance lies with the mindset which implies that the lack of a David/Jonathan bro friendship is itself problematic. I think it has issues in that the categories of friendship within this context are unavoidably too narrow. The one-size-fits-all approach to masculine friendship is clearly highlighted here. The idea that comes off of this is one of an ideal: “This is how friendship is supposed to be.”
I take issue with the fact that regardless of how impressive of a tale it may or may not be, the David/Jonathan story is one story in the context of the entire bible. It would be difficult to take Genesis 1 and say, “This is how creation happened.” when in Genesis 2 there is an entirely different creation story. Which do we take? Just one, a mix, both?
I guess that while Eldredge and authors like him are content to highlight masculine friendship in the context of David/Jonathan, there’s another story of friendship that we receive in a different and I would argue intensely meaningful light in scripture. That of Adam and Eve.
In Genesis Eve is introduced with God’s statement: “ It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” as well as the commentary that, “…they become one flesh.” At the very least these statements ought to serve as a broadening element within the context of views like that of Eldredge. The Lord Himself declares that it is not good for the man to be alone and provides him with a helper/partner with whom the man becomes one flesh. I made that bold because it should give you pause.
I will make small equation for purposes of levity and clarification: Adam alone = not good, Adam + Eve = good, Adam + Eve = one flesh.
No matter how great David says his bro-time with Jonathan was, I don’t think this trumps a declaration from the Lord about a covenanted helper/partner/one flesh scenario. Moreover, David’s relationships with women were messed up. Read the stories and you will get it. The man’s lack of real self-sacrificial love for a woman is absurdly obvious in the text. At least from where I’m sitting. I’m not trying to point fingers, just saying that there may be better examples of people whom men should emulate.
God never declares that what Adam really needed was a solid bro named Chad–no offense to you Chads out there–who he could confess his sexual struggles with after they played basketball, xbox, and had a few beers. (I’m exaggerating, but I think you get my point.) I guess this whole time I’ve been driving at the point of saying that men need more than what they’re being given in standard thoughts on friendship.
God bluntly provides Eve for Adam (and I would argue Adam for Eve). It isn’t something Adam knew he needed, but rather was something that God knew Adam needed. The age-old argument of “bros before hoes” needs to be done away with in terms of Christian friendship. We as people (especially men) need the support of our significant others. Arguably more than we need that of our friends of the same gender. As much as my dude friends and I are close friends and brothers in the Lord…I don’t have plans of becoming one flesh with any one of them.
At the end of the day a perspective on friendship directed at anyone that over-emphasizes platonic relationships as the end-all-be-all is missing something significant and accepting a limitation of their own theoretical experience with a future partner and therein their own intimacy with the Lord.
We need bigger categories for that of friend.
Romantic relationships are actually quite important when they happen. The friendships therein as well. They are not less important than that of same-gender friendships. They are arguably more important when they happen.
That’s all I have for now. Your thoughts are welcome.
PS: Interesting thoughts as I close this blog post include. What do folks who are other than heterosexual think about this? What about people who are called to celibacy? Those who are single and not called to celibacy? These are dynamics that I didn’t think of until just now as I finish. It is clear that we need an even broader category of friend than that which I just suggested.