The Divine gift of human friendships

June 16, 2012

Last night I said good-bye to a friend. It was not that kind of farewell, it was not a wake. My pal Eric Guthrie is moving to the Oklahoma City area in order to be closer to the Every Nation ministry with which he has a close association. Eric is a true friend whose back porch has been a haven from the hazards of real life. I have been attending his “man night” for a couple of years now, and I will miss that time of lively conversation without the poison of politics. The truth is that I am experiencing an intense sense of loss.

My friend, Dr. Mark Quay, is moving to Birmingham in the next two weeks. He will be senior pastor of this big Anglican church. Nobody deserves it more. Mark is also a true friend and I wish it were possible to describe the gift he brought to my life. There is every reason to feel a little gloomy over his departure, but all of this has caused me to think about the nature of friendship.

To the characters mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis, God is best thought of in terms of parent and teacher. He showed the naive and unsophisticated inhabitants of Eden, and later  exiled humanity, the how things work. After a while, we get the hint that one individual was more teachable in the ways of God. The author of Genesis reports that, “Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Gen 5:22-24 ESV). A footnote in the ESV Study Bible suggests that the language of this passage suggests an intimacy between Enoch and the Almighty. What was it like to walk with God? The idea creates an image of conversation and pleasure

Job’s friends were a pretty useless bunch. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tore their clothes and tossed dirt on themselves at the sight of their friend ruined by disfiguring disease and financial destitution. They tried to rationalize Job’s situation away. What goes around comes around. Job must have done something to deserve this kind of divine retribution. Perhaps he mismanaged his career, or his finances. Everybody knew about Job’s kids. Now the great man’s permissiveness and personal folly comes to light! There is something about human suffering that some people seem to enjoy.

Yahweh spoke with Moses just like a man speaks with a friend (Ex 33:11) When Aaron and Miriam got crosswise with Moses, God was quick to explain that there were prophets in the camp that might get a vision from the Most High, but Yahweh speaks directly, face to face with Moses, as a friend (Num 12:6-8). Moses was faithful in his friendship, doing what God required.

Proverbs has a few thoughts on friendship.

Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
(Pr 17:9)

Real friendship is discrete. The objective is true human live, putting others before your own well-being. It is to be respected in a similar way as the marriage vows. We are not allowed to break up friendships.

    A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
(Pr 17:17)

There is a sacrificial God-like quality to unyielding love. It is the love that forgives faults, the faithfulness of the cross. Friendship is tried and prospers in adversity. Friendship banishes fear.

    A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Pr 18:24)

The danger of modern life, with its terrible complexity, is the multiplication of acquaintances. These are casual associations, usually conceived in commercial necessity, which imply no personal responsibility of one person to another. To borrow a phrase from a contemporary thinker, friends are sticky. Sometimes it gets closer than blood relations.

God grants us the gift of human friendships as another sacramental sign of his love. The warm personal relationships we build with each other are a foreshadowing of the friendship we will enjoy with the Creator and Savior of humanity when we experience his presence face to face in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:4).


One Response to “The Divine gift of human friendships”

  1. Eric Guthrie Says:

    Thanks, Pat! Come on over to OKC and see us…

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