What fills the void that in every man’s heart? What is it he craves? John Eldredge tries to answer these questions in his third chapter of Wild at Heart.
“The Question that Haunts Every Man”: what is man for? How shall he live? How does he want to live? Eldredge believes these questions are answered by what he considers universal desires he mentions in chapter 1: every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure, and a beauty to unveil.
Eldredge asks deep questions in the chapter that look at genuine fears. The answers he gives though would leave many men hopeless in their fears. The answers for Eldredge are found inside of one’s self. We find the answers in men’s desires.
“The real life of the average man seems a universe away form the desires of his heart… The swords and castles of their boyhood have long been replaced with pencils and cubicles, the six-shooters and cowboy hats laid aside for minivans and mortgages.”
Society has told men to put away their adventurous spirit and “be responsible,” meaning, to live only for duty.”
This adventurous spirit defined by Eldredge looks more like how he describes himself in chapter 1 - the tough and rugged outdoorsmen. The average man remains helpless and hopeless, outside his narrow definition of what it means to be a man.
What happens to the adventure that is found following Jesus Christ? His kingdom is worth fighting for, his way is dangerous and adventurous, his glory awesome to behold. The adventure awaits his followers - to proclaim Jesus’ gospel of peace in a hostile world, to prophetically call out oppression, to seek justice for victims of injustice.
Eldredge may agree with me here, yet his book so far remains silent about God’s kingdom. What he offers instead is what is inside of man that should be perused. His desires should drive him outside of his hum-drum life of work and responsibility into the wild to live for adventure.
“If a man does not find these things for which his heart is made, if he is never even invited to live for them from his deep heart, he will look for them in some other way.”
Here is some truth from Eldredge - if you don’t find what you hunger for, you will find it in other places, destructive places. His remedy is not to fill those voids with Jesus, though. You fill the void by chasing after what you desire. When desires aren’t satisfied, a man will be “drawn into darker regions of the soul…” When desires are not met by things that are “good” men will try to fill these desires with things that are “bad”. An example given in the book: if one does not have a beauty to unveil, a man will turn to pornography. Eldredge relies heavily upon the reader to know what is “good” and “bad” behaviors. He hopes men will chase the good.
This assumption by Eldredge spells danger for men who follow his advice. If one pursues their desires, what if they pick the wrong battle to fight? What if their adventure fails? What if they don’t “get the girl.” Should they continue searching for meaning in themselves? Continue to pursue these desires even though they are dead ends? It would have been more beneficial for him to tell men to seek after God and not their desires. St. Augustine has said, “Desire only God, and your heart will be satisfied.”
“This is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man… ‘Any day now, I’ll be found out’ is a pretty common theme among us guys.”
Here is some more truth Eldredge is speaking. This is the ultimate fear: exposure. Most social interactions involve a degree of discreetness. Our thoughts are hidden, our desires unknown to others. We don’t want our imperfection to show, our dirty secrets published, our indiscretions exploited. We don’t want to be “found out.”
All this stems from insecurities and beliefs that we don’t measure up, we are of little value, and offer little to the world. Yet, we work hard to be contributors - faking it where needed.
I will be found out someday.
Our value, though, does not come from others. Our value comes from God who values us immensely more that we can imagine.
However, Eldredge leaves out this beautiful truth in this chapter. He gives us what we would value as a measuring stick: men exist to “Explore, build, conquer…”
To illustrate, Eldredge tells a story of him and friend hiking the Alaskan wilderness. They pass by other men, locals, decked out with “…sawed-off shotguns, pistols, bandoleers of ammo strung across their chests, huge knives.” They were “play[ing] the man”! What did Eldredge and his friend have? “We had a whistle.”
(Hikers use safety whistles to signal other people if they get lost or come into some danger.)
For Eldredge, “playing the man” is what gives men their value. It gives them meaning and purpose. This macho masculine persona with gins and ammo to “explore, build, and conquer” looks nothing like the life Jesus exemplified for us. Our value does not come by “playing the man,” but by the love of Jesus.
As I had said before, missing from this chapter is a call of God on men’s lives. We are called to seek and to save the lost. We are called to bring peace, build bridges, and sometimes build real hospitals and schools. We are not called to conquer, but to be prophetic voice against oppressor and injustices - sometimes the man needs to be the whistle blower.
John Eldredge deals with genuine issues and fears in this chapter. But I believe he missed an opportunity to connect men to the God he claims to serve. When men reconcile themselves to The Man Jesus Christ, they become genuine men - real men. They find their heart’s desire, their value, and their meaning and purpose.
When you fee you have lost meaning and purpose in life, how do you find them again?