We’ve all heard and seen the maternal instinct. A new mother walks into the room, and all the females lurch with delight. Little girls play with dolls and set up houses, grandmothers rejoice in grandchildren, a secretary instinctively starts tidying things up and making things look homey. This instinct is firing on all cylinders when there is any danger, possible sickness, or harm. A mother bear robbed of her cubs is a terrible threat to any in her path (Prov. 17:12).
But we live in a world that has systematically dishonored, undermined, and almost completely destroyed any notion of the paternal instinct — the natural, God-given instincts given to boys and men that sense injustice, oppression, and various threats to the wellbeing of those under their care. The vast feminization of American/western culture has almost entirely displaced masculine instincts with feminine ones.
In the biblical order, men and women are mutually dependent. We need the respective glories of one another. It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden (Gen. 2:18), and Paul says, “in the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). But this mutual dependence is ordered by the Lord: “woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:7-9). Woman is the glory of man; and man is not the glory of woman. Man was created first, and this is his creational headship. As I’ve written elsewhere, this leadership and headship means that he gets to die first. And so he did. The first man was put into a deep, death-like sleep in order that God might make the first woman from his side. In this sense, God has ordained that the masculine/paternal instinct is to come first, it goes out ahead, it is to be dominant. In fact, this is not really something we can argue with. Men lead everywhere at all times; the only question is whether they are leading well or not. Men will always dominate, the only question is whether their leadership will be gracious and life-giving or whether it will be tyrannical and destructive. Even a man’s chronic absence from his family is one of the most destructive crimes he can commit. A father’s absence leaves an aching hole in the lives of his children. But God’s grace is abundant, and where sin has abounded, God’s grace abounds still more.
But God’s grace doesn’t displace the natural order God has ordained. God’s grace does often fill up what was lacking. Where a father has been absent, God’s grace often fills the void with peace and comfort and often with other faithful, godly men who step into various roles to give counsel and advice and protection. But one of the sins of women is trying to replace failed men. A woman is often called by God to serve in situations where men have failed (or where men are providentially hindered from carrying out their responsibilities, e.g. sickness, disease, death), and these really are difficult situations, but that calling never includes a woman replacing a man. A dominant maternal instinct in a home, church, or culture creates as many problems as it seeks to solve. God has ordained that the paternal instinct is to be the dominant instinct, the leading instinct — it goes first. But it’s important to note for my selective readers: in the biblical order, that paternal instinct should not go alone. It is not good alone. It needs the help of woman. In fact, the paternal instinct understood biblically includes the instinct to take a wife and love her like Christ loves His church.
Now that we have all the feminists shrieking and spitting at their screens, let’s push this into the corners, shall we? What exactly is a paternal instinct? We’re so far from biblical norms that even saying this out loud seems extreme and hateful. In fact this blog post is probably illegal in several states and countries, but as they say here in Idaho, oh well.
There’s lots more to say, I’m sure, but for now I want to suggest that the God-given paternal instinct has at least three distinctive elements:
First, the paternal instinct cares about justice and equity more than you might think is reasonable — and sometimes you’d be right. Most little boys are little fairness traffic cops. If one boy gets a cookie, you can bet that every boy in the room naturally assumes that they deserve a cookie too. And this is where this instinct needs to be discipled. Biblical justice does not teach that all men deserve equal outcomes. Nothing in the Bible requires that the exact same gift must be given to everyone. In fact, this undermines the whole notion of gifts. If you have the right to demand the gift, it is no gift. This is why socialism is simply institutionalized hatred of Christmas. At the same time, biblical justice does teach that all men are to be held to the same unchanging, blind standard — equal weights and measures for everyone, every day of the week: for rich or poor, black or white, blind or deaf, male or female, etc. So this part of the paternal instinct is better served when a boy sees one student receive detention for an infraction when other students have not been punished for the same infraction, or when the same answer is considered right for one student but wrong for another student. This sort of instinct for equity and equal weights and measures creates cultures of freedom and hard work where the standards are clear and enforced. A man is wired to work hard and enjoy the fruit of his labors, but the surest way to get a man to stop working hard is to insist that there are absolutely no guarantees that his labor will be respected or honored. If his wages might change, if thugs are allowed to rob him, or if he will be penalized capriciously, everything in his soul will buck at the injustice. And don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that women don’t care about equity, but I do think all things being equal, women will generally bear with injustice for a whole lot longer than men will.
Second, and related to the first element, the paternal instinct spots injustice not only in the particulars but is also wired to see systemic injustice. It reasons from particulars to the general, and often is able to see areas where the general problem is beginning to crop up in a new or unexpected particular. This can seem like trouble making to some when they don’t see the danger, but the paternal instinct understands that the heart of man is selfish, deceitful, and lazy and begins to recognize distinct patterns in human communities. God has wired women to defend their children and families from one set of threats, which can include the occasional Sisera who shows up looking for a place to hide (Judg. 4:21). But God has wired men to go hunting for the threats. Where is this sickness coming from? Why do we keep running into these troubles? So when a male physician walks into a hospital room where a young man is recovering from being castrated in the name of the god we call “gender dysphoria” and he sees a brief interaction between the patient and his older male “lover,” the physician spots the abusive relationship in a trice in the facial expressions and tone of voice without any explicit proof. The paternal instinct recognizes that something is massively wrong, but the problem is not just in that young man’s head and heart. The paternal instinct begins tracing the problem out. It wants to hunt down that problem and kill it. And it is ultimately willing to die in the process if necessary.
Finally, and wound through both of these previous elements, the paternal instinct is more concerned with truth than unity. A godly man is not unconcerned with unity, but when any tension is presented between choices of unity or truth, the paternal instinct breaks toward truth over unity. In general, the maternal instinct breaks toward unity. This doesn’t mean that women are unconcerned with truth. But all things being equal, the protective instinct of a mother is bound up with the desire for unity, friendship, community. This is illustrated well by the fact that women tend to work harder at communicating their love and friendship and approval towards those they care about. If they haven’t heard from someone in a while, they might begin to wonder if everything is OK. A man on the other hand tends to assume everything is fine unless it obviously isn’t. The weakness is that men are classic under-communicators and wonder why they need to tell their wife they love them again, since they already told them last year, and on the flip side women can tend to fear silence and over-read non-verbal cues. At the same time, women are often far more attune to non-verbal cues and can spot certain troubles years in advance in certain glances, facial expressions, or tone of voice. And there is an important analogous masculine version of this instinct.
The point of all of this is that men and women need one another, but we need one another in the stations and callings that the Lord has assigned. We need the paternal instinct leading the charge in this world far more than it currently is. And we know we need this paternal instinct because it was this paternal instinct that saved us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). It was God’s paternal instinct that sent His Son into the world to hunt down our sin and death and kill it, to hunt us down and bring us home. It was that paternal instinct that saved us, and it is that paternal instinct that will save the world. It is this instinct that drives men who sense that things are off to stand up and say so. It drives them to admit when they were wrong, confess their sins and repent of them. It drives them to risk being wrong for the sake of justice and truth, for the sake of protecting the weak and the vulnerable.
In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
-C.S. Lewis Abolition of Man