How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!
It is like a fine oil on the head, running down the beard,
running down Aaron’s beard, onto the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the heights of Zion;
for there Yahweh bestows his blessing, everlasting life (Psalm 133).
What’s the deal with beards? It seems they’re quite in fashion these days. All over the internet one can readily find sites that promote the ideal of the hirsute face. These sites are typically devoted to the pursuit of manliness, encouraging male visitors to be real men. Beyond facial hair and a love of bacon, though, the ideas of manliness are varied and not always virtuous. The one thing they tend to have in common is a general disdain for political correctness and the tendency towards emasculation that comes with it.
The beard, then, seems to be a symbol of manliness because it’s something that men can do, that women still can’t (and, frankly, don’t want to) do. Moreover, in a world increasingly urbanised and sanitised, the beard reflects a wilder, grittier, more dangerous aspect of manhood that is often lost in the workaday world we live in. Our culture has a love/hate relationship with masculinity. On the one hand, it makes more superhero movies and action movies, reviving the epitome of the macho action genre from the 80s and early 90s (such as the recent Die Hard, Rambo, and Rocky films, The Expendables, and the upcoming RoboCop remake), and yet for the sake of political correctness, it denies the need for men and fathers, or their distinctive contribution to the family. Romanticised in fiction and denied in real life, men are at a loss as to what makes them men. And so the beard has resurfaced as the symbol and banner of masculinity.
Now, I’m not mocking the beard. I’ve been known to rock one myself from time to time. At first glance, though, it seems a rather shallow symbol for manhood—the ability to grow hair on one’s face. And yet, it has in fact been a pretty universal symbol of masculinity throughout cultures and times. It is a sign of both strength and virility, the calling of men to be both protecting and fruitful. It is also a sign of maturity, since men can only start to grown them after puberty. More, in the Bible, in passages like Psalm 133 above, it is a symbol of priesthood. The more it is considered, the more the beard is a worthy symbol of manhood. Yet for all the sites devoted to manliness encouraging us to grow beards worthy of being men, the real challenge is to be men who are worthy of growing beards.
Close your eyes for a moment, and picture Jesus. I guarantee you just pictured a man with a beard. He is, of course, the quintessential Man with the quintessential beard, the only Man who ever lived who was truly worthy of His beard. Courageous, strong, purposeful, and yet compassionate, meek, and loving. The man worthy of his beard is one who protects and provides for those whom he loves, and is open and generous with everyone else. He spends his life in serving the good of others, and loves fully, with all that he is, holding nothing back. That’s the kind of Man that Jesus is, and the kind of man the man with a beard should be.
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