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The Pervasive Influence of Passivity

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Being lethargically lame might be the man’s greatest challenge today.]

What would you say is the greatest struggle most men face?

If you’d asked me in my single 20s, I’d have said lust.

In my early 40s, as a father of young children, I might have replied anger.

A couple of other sins trip me up pretty regularly too: greed and gluttony. I like stuff. I like food. I like them a lot. No surprise then that I’m a tad (OK, quite a tad) overweight and I’ve struggled with debt off and on most of my life.

Yup. Sex, anger and appetites run amok would probably top my list of things guys struggle with most. Would it be a safe bet to say they might be yours too?

But as I’m closing in on (gulp!) 50, I’ve begun to see that there’s something deeper at work that may actually touch on all of these issues. And that’s the issue of passivity. I think it’s perhaps the besetting sin for men today. Let me unpack that a bit.

If we go all the way back to Genesis, we see that God created Adam and Eve with a specific purpose in mind: becoming parents, being stewards, as those made in God’s image, of His created world:

"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” —Genesis 1:26-28

These responsibilities—becoming parents, raising kids, having dominion, and subduing the earth—would require active, intentional engagement on the part of Adam and Eve.

 

Yet something happens. After Eve is tempted and falls prey to the serpent’s deception in Genesis 3:1-6, we read something quite remarkable: “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” Did you catch it?

 

Adam was right there. He never says a word. He was silent. In a way, passivity was the male’s original sin, wasn’t it? And after he joins Eve in her fall, he wastes no time trying to pin the blame on her instead of taking responsibility for his own fatal passivity: “The whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12).

 

Wow. Adam fails utterly, not only at being a human, but at being man. He failed to intervene, or even to say anything, as Eve falls. And when faced with responsibility for his silence, he blames God and her in swift succession. He should have manned up. There are real consequences of Adam’s participation in this sin. God tells him that the work He’s given him just got harder: Working the land full of “thorns and thistles” (v. 18) would be an exercise in toil and “sweat” (v. 19).

 

Adam’s glorious calling of ruling over the created order along with his wife just got a whole lot more difficult. Not only that, but his relationship with his wife just got more difficult, too. God telling Eve, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

 

Conflict. Sweat. Uncertainty. And, ultimately, death (v. 19b). This is the new lot of humanity’s first couple. I imagine that first day after being kicked out of Eden was a pretty awkward one for Adam and Eve.

 

We’ve been living in the shadow of the Fall ever since. Its effects are far too numerous to unpack here, but that impulse toward silence, toward inactivity, toward passivity remains. It still plagues us men. God has created us to engage relationally, with Him, our spouses and children, our loved ones and friends. And He’s created us to do meaningful work as well. But both of those arenas are fraught with tension and, at times, conflict.

 

How much easier it is to retreat, sometimes in obviously self-destructive ways, sometimes in culturally accepted ones, into comfort? Into a place where little is asked of us? Into a place of passivity?

 

As I look at my life, my struggles and my sins, I see that passivity is often at their root. I want to be satisfied and filled on my own terms without risking or working toward anything. That impulse can be an enabling one. If I eat a whole bag of chips, well, I earned it, right? If I overspend in an effort to find some comfort, some reward, well, I deserve it, right? And my eyes see an attractive woman, well, it’s easy to indulge a lustful glance than seeing her as a beloved daughter of my Father. And as for anger? Even anger, though it may superficially seem to be more active, is often an expression of emotion lurking within that I haven’t had the courage to face and deal with head on.

 

All in all, I’m realizing that this impulse toward passivity, toward protecting myself and trying to meet my own needs on my own terms, lies at the root of many things I struggle with. As with all sin, the antidote lies in confession, repentance and dependence. These are actions, things I must rouse myself to do. They require telling God the truth about my choices and impulses and thoughts and habits, as well as asking Him to infuse me with His grace as I seek—with His strength and encouragement from other men—to turn away from my passive ways and become a man of action.

 

The process, of course, is neither instant nor easy. But as Adam failed to make the right choice and take action, to intervene, the good man wants to do otherwise.

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