We live in an age where the definition of masculinity is highly twisted. The cultural icons thrown at us today from the screens demonstrate and seemingly encourage the blurring of the gender roles. Women like Lara Croft leave much to be desired in the feminine category and we’re left wondering whether men like Adam Lambert and Michael Jackson are completely male. What are the qualities of a real man? This is truly a relevant question, but it could hardly be regarded as new or exclusive to today, for this same question is posed in the famous Shakespearean play Macbeth, written in Elizabethan England and set at an even earlier date. Viewing our modern situation once again through this knowledge, an “antiquated” play like Macbeth suddenly seems a lot more pertinent to modern-day life. How does Scripture answer this question? True men, according to Scripture, desire to be responsible and to make responsible choices, serve and sacrifice for others — especially women, show humility while exercising godly and God-ordained strength, confront ungodly teaching and behaviour, and represent Christ to the world and all those under His care.
It is impossible to discuss qualities of a true man without making reference to the only perfect Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. All the qualities that would make a perfect man are, of course, the same that made Jesus Christ the perfect Man. Responsibility is a crucial part of Biblical masculinity. Men are responsible for the way that they lead and protect others. Even though Eve sinned before Adam, God still held Adam responsible for his poor leadership of Eve as seen by the fact that God addressed Adam before Eve in Genesis 3:9 (“Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” NKJV). Men are called to serve and sacrifice for others. Perhaps the most beautiful example of this is the Lord on the cross giving Himself up for His bride – the elect. Men are called to emulate this sacrificial love on a daily basis for those within their sphere of influence. Godly leadership is another God-ordained job that men are given. Men are to lead their family in a way that honours God and shows humility. Christ had the greatest reason to be proud and domineering, but instead He was born into this world not as a king but as a lowly peasant. Even when His critics attacked and denounced Him, He did not respond with pride. How much more so should men who make mistakes be willing to confess and right their wrongs with humility and grace! The other traits are perhaps rudimentary but still central to being a godly man. Men are to confront teaching and behaviour they see as ungodly – not in a self-righteous or violent manner, but with grace and humility, and they are to represent Christ to the world and to all those under their care. These traits, though not exhaustive, are all part of being a Biblical man trying in sanctification to emulate the Perfect Man.
Macbeth, protagonist of the classic Shakespeare play under the same name, is faced with choices that reveal his perception of masculinity. The reader or audience member first gets glimpses of Macbeth’s mind through what he is. It is seen that Macbeth is fearless is battle (1.1, lines 15 – 23) and well trusted by his friends and king. He is shown to be a patriotic man – the sort one would do well to imitate. However, a darker side of Macbeth’s character is lying dormant beneath this beautiful exterior. When he learns through the three weïrd sisters that he is to receive the kingship, a disturbing inner conflict takes place. His thoughts immediately turn to murder as a possible and acceptable solution to attain the prize of the crown (1.3, lines 130 – 142). He goes on to say, “If chance will have me King, why chance may crown me/Without my stir.” (1.3, lines 143 – 144), further revealing the evil that has been awakened within his soul by suggesting to himself that, while chance may give him the throne without his effort, he is also contemplating more violent alternatives. Right from the opening minutes of the play, Macbeth falsely depicts masculine qualities by entertaining irresponsible and ungodly notions.
Like anyone, Macbeth is not only defined by who he is and the things he says, but primarily by what he does. As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is found to be especially true in Macbeth’s personal life. When Macbeth’s wife and primary consultant, Lady Macbeth, learns of the prophecy, she immediately gives her own two cents: both on the issue of what Macbeth should do and on the issue of masculinity. Among the particularly horrifying and perverse list of character traits she claims makes one a man, Lady Macbeth believes that one cannot be a man unless he is willing to act on his every desire – whatever the cost. Lady Macbeth presents her husband with some very ungodly ideas, namely murder, to get the crown which he desires. One may expect to see Macbeth, as the heroic protagonist, up in arms and ready to challenge these obviously pagan thoughts, but the reader will never find a word of complaint against the plans of his wife; only questions, and, finally, submission. Instead of leading his wife in a God-honouring manner, he submits to her plans and kills the king. When the deed is done, and Macbeth gets the crown, he is plunged into a world of suspicion and murder to hide his tracks. Despite some initial panic, Macbeth refuses or is unable to look back and little remorse can be seen in him for his deeds, leaving the audience to marvel at his remarkable hardness of heart. In every way, Macbeth exchanges the Biblical view of masculinity for his own twisted view that promotes violence, treachery, and backstabbing of the innocent.
A true man, defined by the Bible, is rare indeed. He must be responsible, willing to serve and show sacrificial love to others, humble, gracious and caring but not effeminate, able to exercise godly leadership but not domineering; able and willing to confront ungodly teaching and behaviour but not confrontational as a rule, and ably represent Christ to the world and all those under his care. Very few cultural heroes – whether real or fictional – fulfill these requirements to any notable degree. Through the life of Macbeth, one can easily see how “manhood gone wrong” can take one who seems so good and turn him awry.