Ray Rice, Manhood, and the Gospel

Every five minutes, my phone lights up with another notification about the Ray Rice saga/scandal/controversy/your word choice here.  If you somehow missed this news item, I’ll sum it up real quick:

Ray Rice, former starting running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, was suspended two games by Commissioner Roger Goodell for his arrest on domestic abuse charges.  At the time, Goodell claims the NFL had only one video, one showing Rice pulling his then-fiancee (now wife) Janay out of an elevator, the latter obviously unconscious.

Now, another video has surfaced, one that clearly shows Mr. Rice punching Janay in the face, knocking her unconscious.  Rice was immediately released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

So, there’s the story. 

At this point, people are calling for all sorts of measures, from Goodell’s being fired/resignation to boycotting the NFL for a week or an entire season.  Some have said that the NFL has “lost its way.”

My take: None of these actions, in the long run, will work.  Roger Goodell’s being fired doesn’t fix the problem, because, as far as we know, Roger Goodell doesn’t beat his wife.  Boycotting the NFL may cost teams a few hundred dollars in advertising (and that’s an iffy maybe), but they have plenty to spare.

If Goodell did indeed view this second video before making his decision (which is now a possibility), I do believe he should resign for outrageously poor handling of the situation (Also, I don’t think Goodell’s a good commissioner to begin with, but that’s besides the point).  However, this doesn’t fix “the problem.”

The problem isn’t Ray Rice.  The problem isn’t (just) the misogyny that is all too present in hip-hop and sports culture (two cultures that seem to go hand-in-hand).  The problem isn’t (just) absent fathers not teaching their sons to respect women.  The problem, ultimately, is sin.  Misogyny and poor parenting, ultimately, are a result of sin in the human heart.  That’s not to downplay the seriousness of those issues.  It’s striking at the heart of them.

While changing external things may help in the short run, changing the human heart produces change in the long run.  And there’s only one capable of changing the human heart.  He is the answer for Ray Rice’s problem, and mine.  And yours.

See, while not all men hit their wives, all men are sinners (all women are sinners too, but the focus of this post, as evidenced in the title, is men).  All men fall short of God’s good and glorious standard of manhood.  We are lustful.  We are prideful.  We want what we want when we want it, and we will do whatever it takes to get it.  And because the world around us is fallen, we are told everyday to celebrate our manhood.  We are told that this is normal, that men are tough and strong and get what they want, no matter what anyone else says.  Rap music tells us that the objectification of women and the celebration of extra-marital sex is not only normal, but right.  If we’re not getting rich, getting trashed and going home with a different girl every night, the culture around us tells us that we’re doing it wrong.

Jesus reverses all that.  Jesus, the God-man, shows us that to be a man means to be a servant to our brothers, not a selfish swindler (John 13).  Jesus shows us that to be a man means to show love to the least of these (John 4, John 8:1-11).  Most of all, Jesus, at the cross, first and foremost as our Savior, and secondly as our Lord and example, shows us that to love someone is not to use them and abuse them for personal gain, but to do whatever is necessary, even laying down our life, to meet their needs and provide for them (Matt. 26:26-29, Matt. 27:32-54, Isaiah 53). 

When we come to follow Jesus, we embrace His Lordship over every area of our lives, and this changes everything.  As we give up a life of sin, trusting Jesus to save us and forgive us, we turn to trust Jesus as the authority in our lives, trusting that He is a much better God than we ever could be.  And His reign extends to our relationships with women.  Jesus, through Paul, tells husbands to love their wives as He loved the church, sacrificing Himself for her.  He actually says that to love your wife is to love yourself. 

In a culture that equates loving yourself with pleasing yourself through using women, Jesus says loving your wife, serving your wife, is how you love yourself.  Jesus says there is infinitely more joy in loving, serving and dedicating yourself to one woman all your life than jumping around from girl to girl, getting what you want and moving on.

Jesus says in Matthew 19 that when a man and woman marry, they become one flesh.  So, biblically, what happened when Ray Rice punched his wife?  He hurt not only Janay, but himself.  “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” (Eph. 5:29).  To raise your hand against your wife is to raise your hand against the God who gave her to you.  To attack your wife is to attack your own flesh, pulling apart the one flesh union God designed for marriage before the creation of the world.

I’d be willing to bet that most men reading this post have never hit their wives.  Many men reading this may not have led a lifestyle of lust, going from woman to woman.  But every man reading this post is a sinner.  We’ve all fallen short, whether that’s in failing to love our wives completely, failing to honor women with our eyes, tongues, minds and hearts, failing to be humble and gracious toward others…you really don’t have to look far, unfortunately.  While I’m not married yet, I most definitely am a sinner.  There are far too many times where I have failed to honor my sisters in Christ, far too many times where I’ve failed to be humble and gentle in speech toward all peoples, and far too many times where I have failed to reflect the image of God like I was created to do.

That’s the bad news.  Here’s the good news: Jesus saves sinners.  And once they become Christians, He continues to save them, over and over and over, from their failings, day by day, transforming them to look more like Him until one day, all sin is crushed.  He lived the perfect life that I may be counted righteous before a holy God and died on the cross that I may be forgiven.  He rose again to lead me as my Lord and teach me to trust Him and live like Him.

What’s our responsibility, men?  Repent.  Humble ourselves before God, genuinely confess that we’ve gone astray, whether that’s by hitting your wife or speaking harshly to her, whether that’s by living a life of lust or living a life of pride, and that we need Christ.  We need Him to be the Lord of our lives, and we trust Him to graciously come rule over us, and through His amazing grace, forgive us, and restore us to God.

Whether that’s the first time you’ve ever repented and placed your faith in Christ or the 500th time you’ve repented and placed your faith in Christ, know this: He is faithful to finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6).  Far from removing responsibility from us, this calls us to, as Paul says a few verses over in Philippians, “work out” our “own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Domestic abuse is a serious problem because sin is a serious problem.  While domestic abuse is and should be illegal, and any man that hits his wife absolutely deserves legal punishment and needs to seek help from others concerning anger management, the deeper problem is always sin, and Jesus is the only one that can fix that.

In the long run, our only hope of overcoming the serious issue of domestic abuse, of any sin, is the work, person and power of Jesus Christ, for both men and women.  Come, Lord.

May we seek you.  May we repent, hating the sin that keeps us from you, despising it and desiring to walk with you.  May we trust your grace, your cross, your righteousness.  May we trust your power as our Lord to overcome our sin.  May you finish what you started, in all of us, Lord.

God bless,
Neal E.

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