Thursday, November 18, 2010

just friends

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. - 1 Samuel 18:1
Now let's be honest with ourselves for a minute.  That feels a little weird.  Saying one man's soul is knit to another and that he loves him as himself.  That falls somewhere in between the posting on my friend's facebook wall, "OMG!!! We're BFFs!!!" and catching my roommate singing "Teenage Dream" loudly to himself in his mirror.  (Neither of those have actually happened though one is substantially more likely than the other.)

Even as a friend and I were mutually making plans via the magic of Facebook to watch Monday Night Football together a few weeks ago, a female friend inserted her own comment to one of our posts.  "Isn't that cute?  You two boys have a date."  This isn't written to chide her but simply to illustrate the general attitude of our society toward male friendship.  We look on it with suspicion.

Ironically enough, it was an essay written by Al Mohler in the wake of the release of Brokeback Mountain that caused me to realize one of the main causes of the decline in male friendship.  The strongest aggressor in the war against men being friends is homophobia.  It's impossible for two men to share any kind of meaningful friendship without the eventual, obligatory, intolerant, narrow-minded leveling of the charge, "You're gay."

From the biblical narrative to numerous examples in literature, art, and history, we can easily produce evidence that our culture was once much more likely to celebrate the concept of common brotherhood rather than be repulsed by it.  After all, our nation's first capitol was located in Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love."  Our society has quite literally moved away from the virtuosity of male friendship.

It was C.S. Lewis, himself a possessor of a strong bond with fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien that helped from both men's writing and character, who wrote most poignantly about the current condition of friendship or "philia."

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.  The modern world, in compariosn, ignores it.  We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few "friends."  But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make would describe a friendships, show...It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's armor.
Far from denying the superfluous nature of friendship, Lewis goes on to argue this is friendship's virtue.  The fact that men and women and whole societies can go on living and existing in a world without friendship proves the spiritual nature of the love.  He ultimately concludes that the reason God does not use friendship as a symbol of divine love for human beings is because it could so easily be mistaken for what it symbolizes.  A love that is unnecessary but freely given is perhaps too close to divine to be used analogously.

What love motivated God to create human beings in the first place?  A love for the other.  The trinity is a mysterious and inexplicable truth.  One thing we can definitely know is that if God lives in community and has lived in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity and God is Love, then God is motivated to create out of His love and in conjunction with His character as developed by the eternal connections that bind the three members of the Trinity into one God.

What love motivated God to forgive His creation even as it rejected Him and severed the community that existed between God and man?   The love of a friend.   The same love that Jonathan showed to David when he went to his father, King Saul, and pleaded for David's life.  He convinces the king to be merciful and spare David's life.
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.”

So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.
One of the most important beliefs that Christians hold is that Jesus pleads to His Father on our behalf.  And it is not difficult to imagine that the conversation doesn't sound much different than the conversation between Saul and Jonathan.  Except God is completely just in asking for our lives as we have sinned and broken our relationship with Him.  Jesus, as the truer and better Jonathan, not only pleads with His Father on our behalf but takes the punishment we deserve in our place so that both His Father's mercy and His justice can be satisfied.  The same Jesus who calls us "no longer slaves, but friends" is the one who sacrifices Himself that we might live.  Christ is not only our Savior but our model of friendship as well.  "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Now I might be able to write all this in a blog post, but I am no model of friendship.  If there's one thing I have been learning lately, it is that I don't allow my friends to share enough of my life.  I am ashamed of vulnerability and never want to burden other people with my struggles.  Often, I find it easier to blog about my problems than turn them over to a friend for support and prayer.  Sure, I'll say that it's because I don't want to burden other people's lives with my problems but the truth is that, like many men, I never want to appear weak in the eyes of others.  Even if I know that through my weakness, God's strength can be more clearly imaged. 

But when we hide behind our facades of strenght and pretend everything is just fine, we not only deprive ourselves of the help of others, we deprive ourselves of true friendship.  If we never share our struggles and doubts and insecurities with other people, we never have reason to celebrate together over our victories or marvel together at God's deliverance.  By not allowing others to carry our burdens, we're not doing them any favors.  Instead, we are depriving them of the biblical sense of community that they have been created for and called to live in.  In reality, we are denying the truth of the trinity and rejecting Christ's own model of friendship.  Christ died that we might have friends and be friends.  Far be it for us to reject His sacrifice out of fear.

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