Man’s history began with two perfect adults in the Garden of Eden. As God in creation sped up the growth of vegetation and plants in the course of a day and filled the land, seas, and air with creatures already developed for reproduction, so God created Adam and Eve as already mature human beings – both physical and spiritual. They are, of course, to perpetuate their growth, but they already have gone past (or in their case, never gone through) the states of infancy and childhood. Since the Christian faith is both a creational and redemptive worldview, there are instructive and corrective utilities in looking at the Garden and having it bear upon the state of adulthood in our culture. I believe we are messing (hashtag) adulting up!
It is inferential that God not only made Adam and Eve fertile and fully-grown in their bodily features but that they are also possessed of a degree of maturity in their character to bear serious responsibilities. God placed this first couple in the position of rulership under Him of nothing less than the rest of God’s earthly creation. The man was tasked to keep the paradisal Temple of Eden, protecting it from the intrusion of enemies (such as that of the serpent). They were to fill the earth with their offspring, with the two of them functioning as the archetypal human beings. Such responsibilities require remarkable maturity of character. That God saw it very good after He placed Adam and Eve at the pinnacle of His creation work means they were qualified for the task. The ability to bear responsibilities then is one of the hallmarks of true adulting.
Unfortunately, there are many things in our culture that discourage responsibility and consequently damage adulthood. For one, our idea of what good parenting constitutes lays more emphasis on protective duties, becoming overprotective, at the expense of nurturing the children’s character to encourage gradual, responsible independence. We have therefore raised what Albert Mohler calls “a coddled generation who cannot cope”. Taking his cue from an unexpected article from Psychology Today1, he said,
[T]oday’s parents are now spending a great deal of their time doing little more than protecting their children from life… The result of all this? Our kids are growing up to be pampered wimps who are incapable of assuming adult responsibility and have no idea how to handle the routine challenges of life.2
Parental independence is the prerequisite of many adult responsibilities, with marriage as example. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife,” appended the author of Genesis after the creation of man and woman. This is true not only in assuming a marital role but also of other duties that come with adulthood. The independence in view also extends beyond just the capacity for material provisions. Adulting requires the capacity to think for oneself, to make own moral judgments, to face life-challenges with one’s own inner resources, to own up to one’s mistakes, among others. This does not equate to the renunciation of parental heritage and counsels. But good parenting must promote the gradual release of dependency with the successes of the nurture of their children’s talents and character. I do not presume to have an expert understanding of clinical depression. I only know from my own experience and those of whom I have witnessed that the incapacity for responsibility issuing from the weakness of character is one (of the many) stimuli for the rampant depression among our youth (and, also, non-youth) today. Untrained to face the challenges of the adult world, they resort to escapist responses that compound their problems until they are so overwhelmed they can only cower on their beds like their fetal position when they were yet in their mothers’ wombs. They need sympathy, yes. But they also need reality. Life is a challenge. Suffering is a reality. There is injustice in the world. You can stay a victim begging for pity and affirmation, or you can start subduing the little chaos of your environment so life would, at the very least, become more bearable – and that in the future you may be able to contribute something meaningful to the world. This is the message of the Canadian clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, that is widely resonating upon many young people all over the globe, mostly among men. Apparently, not many people are telling these pitiful youth that they need to man up and be responsible for their own actions. We’re not being sympathetic enough to tell them this hard truth.
After the Fall of man also did start the game of victimization – the opposite of responsibility. “What’s an evil snake doing in the Garden? My environment is to blame!” “My wife is faulty! That other person is to blame.” “Didn’t you (God) give her to me? It’s my nurture that’s to blame!” Today, who you are is the result of your genes, society, or your parenting. This is the new play in the court: prove that the accused is actually a victim and you acquit a criminal! D. A. Carson observes in the West what may be now applicable in the Philippines,
Western societies, especially America, having sacrificed the notion of human accountability, foster a culture of victimization. In the words of the old Anna Russell song, “But I am happy. I have learned the lesson this has taught: That everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.” The humorists P.J. O’Rourke is only slightly exaggerating when he writes, “The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors – psychology, sociology, women’s studies – to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault.” Victimization is a growth industry: thousands of lawyers can’t be wrong.3
But true adults are responsible. They own up to their mistakes. They use their pain and suffering not for entitlement but, as far as the recesses of human strength allow, to promote their growth. They deal with the snakes in the Garden. They “leave their fathers and their mothers,” no longer blaming them for who they have become.
The culture of self-entitlement brings nothing good to the state of today’s adulthood either. Cultural critics are saying that Millennials are the most entitled generation. They went out into the world indoctrinated that it is theirs for the taking. This was the sermon they heard from the podium at the day of their graduation. The motto they carry is this: “accept me just as I am.” The rest of the society must accept – no, affirm! – who I am regardless of, well, who I am. Most of us enjoyed such unconditional love with our mothers when we were yet infants. It doesn’t matter what we look like or how we act out. We cry and we get fed, coddled, smiled upon with perfect acceptance. We do not have to earn it or give anything in return for it. Of course, that’s how nature works. The problem is when we have not learned to outgrow that infantilism. Then, we have not truly become adults. This may be partly because of the failure in proper parenting. This is certainly mostly because we did not really want to. We see this in a man who is not capable of loving a woman, to look after her needs, to change himself for the better for his partner’s sake, doing the messy emotional labor; and yet he still goes around seeking romantic entanglements in the hope that one day he gets to find another “mother” who would lavish him with unconditional love with little to no effort on his part. He may call this “love”, but it is actually an infantile dependency and exploitation. Take as another example those who flaunt their uncivil behaviors publicly in the name of “authenticity”, with social media posts carrying the hashtag #YouDoYou. What need is there for change, growth, and maturity if I should be accepted “just as I am?”
Among the most destructive of adulthood, of course, is the gender confusion of our society. In the Garden, we have two adults whose roles are defined by their genders. Role-reversal between the man and the woman is one angle that explains what happened in the Fall of Man.4 The standard by which we evaluate the maturation of a person into adulthood will have variations depending on whether one is a male or a female. This is not a difference in terms of superiority and inferiority but of roles. However, what are gender roles in our culture? What is gender, even? A woman preparing herself for a domestic calling is frowned upon by the feminists. A man seeking to improve his leadership skills risks being called a misogynist. This is cruel to boys who need to learn how to become a man in a society where the very idea of “manhood” is looked upon as evil. It is them who refuse to embrace their biological gender that are hailed as the heroes of our society. We are not in a culture that promotes adulthood.
Why should we be concerned about adulthood? Well, because society needs adults for its well-being. We get farther and farther the Garden and closer and closer to the island in Lord of the Flies with a culture where adulthood does not flourish. Men and women who are supposed to have been making valuable contributions to their own little spaces in the world at the age of early twenties, even younger, are still expected to be “young, wild, and free.” This “adolescence” concept of already having full-grown bodies while still possessed with a mind of a boy or a girl is a luxury unknown to previous generations more in touch with reality.5 This is only possible in a society of material affluence and modern conveniences allowing for prolonged residence inside fantasy worlds of video games, TV shows, and social media. This ecstasy of fantasy-living has a great cost, of course, because it is fleeting – leaving those who became addicted to it more depressed than ever and much less productive. The poison of pornography in our culture also is partly due to the impotence of our men to pursue a meaningful relationship with a woman that leads to responsible marriage. They rather resort to these devilish quick fixes for their sexual urges. At worst, their failure to mature into loving, respectful individuals leads to various acts of violating women. If maturity of character, true adulting, is among the prized messages of our culture, one of the goals of education, and a function of parenting, I believe we will see happier, more fulfilled, and productive citizens. But parenting is presently equated with protecting, education aims at making soulless producers and consumers, and the culture discourages real adulting. The cultivation of virtues, chief of which is love, is the essence of real maturation – the progress from childishness to adulthood. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways,” says Paul in the greatest passage on love (1 Corinthians 13).
Of course, the redemptive hope of adulting is found in Him who perfectly embodied in His Person what mature human beings are supposed to be. Jesus Christ lived a perfect adult life (as He lived a perfect infancy and childhood) on behalf of those who could not. He died to pay the penalty for those who fell short of the moral maturity demanded by God’s standard. Those who place their trust in Him are assured of a future as perfected, glorified adults in the restored Garden of Eden.
- R. Albert Mohler Jr., Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America, p. 70
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, p. 208
- See Raymond Ortlund Jr.’s “Male and Female Equality and Male Headship” from Recovering Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
- See Alex and Brett Harris’s Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations; Dan Kiley saw the failure of adulting, especially among men, as a pathological condition. See his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up