Visiting one of the larger churches in Kampala on a Sunday I immediately had two impressions. The first was how Western the structure of the service was; the band arrangement, the songs, the order of service and so on was disappointingly familiar. Far more encouraging was the huge percentage of young people, perhaps 80% of the congregation were under 30, vigorously worshipping Jesus and intently listening to the message. A husband and wife were speaking on the role of men and women in marriage, a very important and culturally sensitive topic that I believe was well handled. Then the man made a sincere remark that I believe is untrue to scripture, “Men, unlike women, have no mystique.” He was saying that there is no mystery about men; they lack a “hidden side” so that what you see is what you get. This is true to how the vast majority of men across the world think about themselves, certainly in Australia, but such a conviction stands as a stumbling block to the mature purposes of God in Africa and beyond.
The Mystery of Christ
When the New Testament speaks of “the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4; Col 2:2; 4:3) it generally refers to the unveiling of the previously hidden truth that through Jesus gentile people now share with Jews an intimate covenantal relationship with God. This is connected to biblical teaching on marriage that goes right to the spiritual heart of “mystery”. ““Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Paul teaches that the marriage of a man to a woman is to be a reflection of the intimate union between Christ and the Church. The implications of this are unexpected.
The Bride of Christ is an exclusively feminine image for the Church, but the Church is made up of both women and men. This means that men as much as women share in the eternal mystery of marriage with Jesus their Bridegroom (Rev 19:7-9; 21:9). Until he Returns then he is at work glorifying his Bride through his Word by imparting the eternal splendour given to him by the Father (Eph 5:26-27; John 17:5). In heaven our Lord will forever delight in our beauty and radiance to the praise of God the Father. Women and men who are part of his Body are “captivating in beauty”. The implications of this spiritual truth are very practical.
Marriages Made in Heaven
A major problem in northern Uganda (and beyond) is domestic violence. When a generation of men kept in refugee camps for long periods lost their sense of dignity as providers for their wives and families they became alcoholics and abusers. This intensified violence in the home continues to the present day and will repeat itself in these men’s sons except there is an act of God. Many of these wife-beaters are professing Christians.
Any husband and father who has a revelation of the beauty and glory of Christ and his Bride cannot go on behaving in ways that reflect an image of Jesus as a tyrant to his wife and God the Father as a terrifying bully to his children. The spiritual dimensions of these issues are very deep, and the judgement of God lies heavy on men who behave in these ways and the society that allows it. The most powerful way of bringing down the rates of domestic violence in Africa (and elsewhere) is the gospel.
To work and provide for one’s family is part of the God-given dignity of a man (Gen 2:16; Eph 5:29), but it is not the foundational sense of his dignity. Where any culture, Western or African, defines the innermost worth of a man by what he does, the door is opened to terrible shame. The root source of domestic violence in Africa is the shame of men who have lost sight of the fullness of the glory of Christ as the perfect Husband and God the complete Father.
In Lira north Uganda one of our team was speaking about running programmes to empower women and children in families. This is a noble and helpful goal, but I sensed that healing must start where God started. Adam was created first and the LORD held him primarily responsible for the loss of divine glory in humanity (1 Cor 11:7-8; 1 Tim 2:14). At this point the LORD gave me an interesting picture to illustrate this strategy of dealing with the root issue in men.
Australia has a plant disease called dieback.
A seemingly healthy tree begins to lose leaves from its top, eventually so many leaves die the plant perishes. The visible problem is the leaves, but the real problem is hidden underground where a fungus attacks the roots. Treating the above ground symptoms will never heal the problem; it is the dignity of men that must be returned for restoring marriages and families. I believe that for a man to be a Christ-like spiritual husband to his wife and godly father to his children he must first have a mature spiritual father in Christ. Only the sacrifice of the cross can create this relationship.
Fathering the Mystery
At the heart of the mystery of Christ for the Church is a “beautiful exchange”; on the cross Jesus takes into himself all the ugliness of our sin and shame so that we might share in his intimate relationship with the Father (2 Cor 5:21). Since the glory of Christ now dwells in us to be a child of God is a most beautiful thing (Col 1:27). Men who are conditioned by their cultures to think of their worth in terms of what they can do find the notion of a “beautiful heart” particularly difficult to accept (1 Pet 3:4). Yet the need for men to speak into one another’s lives in this close way is urgent.
The following prophecy is vital to true social transformation; ““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV). The lands of Africa and Australia will continue to lie under the tragic curse of domestic violence and family tragedy until the day comes when there is a deep revelation to husbands and fathers that they and their wives and children are beautiful before God. Mature spiritual fathers carry an anointing to impart such loving truths, whatever the cost (1 John 2:13-14). This faithful fathering is how the mystery of masculinity will grow in the Church, healing marriages to the glory of God.
I have heard (Australian) women laugh at the idea of “the masculine mystique”, and many men simply have no understanding of such deep realities. Jesus however is greater than all our cultures and traditions; the presence of our crucified Lord in the power of the Spirit is the source of all true mystery, intimacy and beauty (Gal 6:14). It is this which he gives to heal his Church, whether in the very visible trials of African marriages or the hidden struggles of Australian families.
AFRICA INSIGHTS SERIES