First In, Last Out, Laughing Loudest. The Shining Strength of Good Men

C.S. Lewis was fond of quoting English writer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), who once said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Both Lewis and Johnson believed that people often possess the knowledge they need; it simply needs to be brought to mind at the appropriate time.

I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to godly masculinity. I need timely reminders to help me fulfill my calling as a husband and a father, as a friend and a brother. And thankfully, God’s word directs us to a daily and unavoidable reminder of what it means to be a godly man. We find it in Psalm 19:4–5.

In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun,
     which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
     and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

With these words, David invites us to sanctify our imaginations by seeing the sun with godly eyes.

Bridegroom and Warrior

The sun, as it moves across the sky, reminds David of something. He’s seen that brightness before. Then he recalls the wedding day of a close friend, and the link is made — the sun is like the bridegroom.

Those of us who attend modern weddings know that, when the wedding march begins, all eyes turn to the back of the room to see the bride, clothed in white and beautiful in her glory. But a wise attendee will also steal a glance toward the altar, where the groom waits with eager anticipation and expectant joy. The beauty of his bride is reflected in the brightness of his face. It’s that look that David remembers when he sees the sun as it rises in the morning.

But David doesn’t stop looking. David considers the sun again and is reminded of Josheb-basshebeth, one of his mighty men, running into battle with spear raised and eyes blazing because he is doing what he was built to do (2 Samuel 23:8). The warrior is intense and joyful because he is protecting his people with the strength and skill he’s developed.

So then, the sun is like the groom, and the sun is like the mighty man. Both are images of godly masculinity — the bridegroom and the warrior, the lover and the man of war. Both images direct us to a man’s calling in relation to his people. One points us inward, as a man delights in his wife (and by extension his children and the rest of his people). The other points us outward, as a man protects his people from external threats. Which means the sun is an ever-present reminder of what it means to be a godly man: bright, triumphant, blazing with joy and purpose, ready to fight and bleed and die for the ones he loves.

Manly Weight

When we press into this image, we see the gravity that lies at the heart of mature masculinity. A number of recent Christian books on manhood have underlined the importance of gravitas for godly men. Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant define gravitas as the weight of a man’s presence (It’s Good to Be a Man, 141). It’s the dignity and honor that pull people into his orbit (much like the sun orients the planets by its mass).

Gravitas comes partly from a man’s skill and competence, and partly from his sober-mindedness and confidence. A competent and confident man catches the eye, much like the sun as it blazes a trail through the heavens. But ultimately, true gravitas comes from fearing the Lord. The fear of the Lord gives weight to a man’s soul, making him firm and stable and steadfast, not tossed to and fro by winds of doctrine or the passions of the flesh.

But as Psalm 19 shows, gravitas is only one half of the equation. Gladness completes the picture. It’s not enough to take initiative and responsibility for oneself and for others. A godly man runs his course with joy.

Manly Mirth

One of my favorite pictures of masculinity comes from Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. King Lune tells his son Cor what kingship is all about.

First in, last out, laughing loudest. Here is competence and confidence — initiating, taking risks, and bearing burdens for others. Here is a king who cultivates his strength for God’s mission and the good of others. And he does it all with courage in the heart and manifest laughter in the soul. Biblical manhood bleeds and sacrifices with unconquerable joy.

Gravity and gladness are both essential. Without gravity, gladness declines into triviality. Without gladness, gravity degenerates into gloom. Together, they are a potent combination that inspires others, forms communities, and extends a man’s influence in the world.

Where the Images Land

Psalm 19 depicts the sun as a wonderful picture of true masculinity. But for David, the sun doesn’t merely draw our minds to the bridegroom and the strong man, to the lover and the man of war. More than that, the sun draws our minds upward to the splendor and majesty of the Maker. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The sun both reminds us of the glory of manhood and displays the glory of God.

More than that, these reminders point us to Jesus. He is the ground and goal of manhood. All true gravity and gladness come from him. He is the one who reconciles us to God so that, despite our sin and shame, we live beneath the smile of a happy Father who says to us, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Jesus is our older brother, the firstborn from the dead, our model and example who ran his race for the joy set before him. He is the ultimate strong man — a man of war who killed the dragon to get the girl. He is the bridegroom who greatly rejoices over his bride and whose face is like the sun shining in full strength. And every day, he causes the sun to rise, reminding us of who he is and who we are to be.

By Joe Rigney / First In, Last Out, Laughing Loudest: The Shining Strength of Good Men | Desiring God

Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) serves as a fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. He is a husband, a father of three, and the author of a number of books, including More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust.

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