The connection between manhood and unmown cheeks today has flowed down through church history, like oil running down the beard of Aaron (Psalm 133:2).
Augustine, commenting on Psalm 133, writes, “The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man” (Augustine’s Commentary on Psalms, John, and 1 John). Or take Charles Spurgeon, who told his students that “growing a beard is a habit most natural, scriptural, manly and beneficial” (Lectures to My Students, 99). Or take ministers during the Reformation who grew manhood’s symbol to defy the celibate, clean-shaven faces of the Catholic priesthood.
Or overhear our day questioned by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters as the senior demon writes his nephew, “Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females — and there is more in that than you might suppose” (118).
So, what of the beardless?
Rome’s men were clean-shaven in biblical times (as were the Egyptians). When these beardless came to the bearded Christ, they did not need to grow one to enter the kingdom of God. They, like we, are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone — apart from any strands of good works, lest the hairier among us boast. Of course, on the face of it, beards hold no salvific design, nor are they commanded. Even the shaved can be saved. Nor do beards make us men. Some boys living in basements, addicted to video games and porn, grow beards. But here we walk a fine line. Does this then relegate the beard, that ancient landmark, to a matter of obsolete decoration, of mere preference?
I know more than a few godly men who testify that though they try, the fig tree does not blossom, nor is fruit found on the vine. Little islands of hair sprout, but the lands never form the continent. They are more Jacob than Esau — whose mother glued “the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck” (Genesis 27:16) to pass as his hairy brother (and the older did come to serve the younger, Genesis 25:23; 27:15, 42). Chin wigs, my brother, are no solution.
The solution is to be the man God made you to be. Many today, if not most, will not have beards and are not the lesser for it. This article, with all its bearded banter, has nothing negative to say to you. We agree with Shakespeare that “he that hath a beard is more than a youth,” but not when he continues, “and he that hath no beard is less than a man” (Much Ado about Nothing, 2.1). For if you walk according to your God-given and God-matured masculinity, you are a bearded man, whether you have hair on your face or not. To understand that statement, consider the wonder of why God made beards.
Why did God make men with the capacity to grow beards? Why grow beards at all, or why not give them to children and women, like some speculate of the dwarves of Middle-earth?
Is it not because God delights in the distinctions he made? The day and the night, the land and the water, the heavens and the earth, the man and the woman — “Good.” For centuries, he hid the chromosomal signatures in every cell in our bodies, where only he could delight in them, but he did not leave himself without a witness, even to the unscientific. He shaded the man’s face with his pencil from the very beginning. What ecstasy of Adam observing the beautiful and smooth face of Eve — like me, yet not.
This appreciation is under assault in many places today. Figuratively speaking, our culture dislikes everything about beards. We paste false beards on women and shave the beards of men, catechizing the children that there isn’t any difference. Hair is just hair. With enough hormones, anyone can grow them. Claiming to be wise, we have become fools, exchanging the glory of God for images — and now we barter away our own.
That makes literal beards, in my opinion, worth having. Beards protest against a world gone mad. In other words, beards beard. They testify, in their own bristly way, that sex distinctions matter, that manhood will not be so easily shaven, shorn, or chopped by the Hanuns of this world. Its itchy and cheeky voice bears witness, “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Greg Morse, Desiring God, O Beard, Where Art Thou? August 22, 2022
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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