Friendship with God
Friendship is a much devalued idea. We mangle the word into a verb and speak of “friending” and “unfriending” in social media through the click of a button. But we make a mistake if we invest too much meaning into that activity. I have never considered Facebook “friendship” to be true friendship. Nor have I considered “unfriending” to mean ending a friendship. Friendship is much more than we have made it these days.
In C. S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves, one of those loves is Friendship. The others are Affection, Eros and Charity. Friendship is not affection, though a friendship will probably include it. Friendship is not Eros, though a marriage should have both. Friendship is not charity, though it ought to have a degree of self-giving love.
Lewis also notes that friendship is not just companionship. It is more than simply a habit of spending time together. Rather it is sharing a common concern and interest. Lewis paints this picture: it is not so much two people standing face to face looking at each other. Rather it is two people standing side by side looking at the same objective. It is sharing a common interest in what you both really care about.
With that in mind, consider friendship with God. It is not just you “liking” God and God “liking” us. It is not just receiving from him of his self-giving love (which is infinitely abundant). It is not just about spending time in his presence. All of these things are marvellous things! But it is about us sharing an active interest in and caring deeply about what God cares about.
Abraham was described as a “friend of God” (James 2:23). He was plucked out of nowhere by God and given promises which have implications for the whole world (Genesis 12:1–3). These promises, repeated and developed at various times, shaped Abraham’s life. He believed them and trusted God as he walked with him. At times he struggled to believe and took precipitous action, ending up in a mess. However, his whole life, including the joys and the tensions, was framed and shaped by his relation to God and his promises.
This was Abraham’s friendship with God — his living with God in the light of his promises, sharing a common concern about their fulfilment. Abraham cared about what God cared about.
It was, of course, an asymmetrical friendship. It was one made and defined by God himself. Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him”. It is a gift “for” his people. In return the people fear God — not the fear of terror, but the reverent fear that someone small has for someone much greater than himself. But it is a friendship where God wants to sit alongside of us, speaks to us about his promises so that we too can believe them and share a deep concern for their fulfilment.
Christianity is never just about having a new set of activities to perform, like going to church or reading our Bibles or saying our prayers (though these are good things). It is about being friends with God and caring deeply about what he tells us.
What should we care about? The rest of Psalm 25:14 gives us an idea: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” God’s covenant — something we are to know deeply. What does that mean? His promises of grace; his commands in the light of his grace; the vision of of his unfolding plan of redemption; the salvation that is in Christ, the one in whom the fulfilment of promise is found; the mission of Christ’s church. It is not for nothing that Jesus says to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 ESV)
These are the things we are to revel in, delight in, be committed to. This is friendship with God in Christ.
One of the fears that any pastor has is that while there may be many people who come to church, there may only be a few who care to be true friends of God. Worse than that, that there might be those in the congregation who have little or no concern about this friendship. They are just looking in another direction in their lives. Let’s pray that the people of our church would desire this friendship with God.