On the Nature of Friendships

The deep need of many in our world is the need for friendship. Our society is bent towards making and growing friendships because we are made in the image of the Trinitarian God, a God of friendship. While many, myself included, decry what Facebook has done to the nature of friendships and community, Facebook is trying to be at the center of humanity’s deep desire for friendship. We can’t escape our need of friends because the One who created us is a Friend. 

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known His covenant to them” Psalm 25:14. The Lord could create friendship if He had never experienced it, but why would He? Why would God give us a gift that He himself has never experienced? If this were so, we would have a god more like Allah than YHWH. But Allah is no god and Mohammad is not his prophet. YHWH is God and He is triune, which means He has eternally lived in friendship. So when David writes in Psalm 25 of our friendship with God, he is referring to a friendship that we are welcomed into that has eternally existed. For those friends of God, those who fear Him, He makes known His covenant to them. In other words, to be God’s friend is to be in covenant with God and this covenant friendship has existed eternally. Therefore, the nature of all friendships are rooted in and pour forth from the eternal, covenantal friendship of the Triune God. All human friendships are to bear the marks of this friendship and typically an expression, either good or bad of the nature of God’s eternal friendship.

So what does this say about friendship in our current society? What about our churches? I find this verse to be life giving for those who know and have felt a covenantal friendship. Covenantal friendships are different from modern, contractual friendships in that they are built on eternal commitments. Modern, contractual friendships seem to carry the tone of distrust. They feel like signing for the receipt at a gas station after showing the clerk your drivers license that you are who you say you are and will in fact be responsible for this 49 cent pack of certs. Covenantal friendships know they are bound together and have mutual trust and openness with the long haul in mind. Covenantal friendships recognize the nature of the person as both saint and sinner who is being conformed to the nature of another. Covenantal friendships love the One we are being conformed to more than the other person, because the One who is shaping us is our Friend, and to be like this Friend is best for our covenantal friends. Covenantal friendships celebrate the good they see in their friends and invite others to celebrate with them. In short, a covenantal friendship reflects the God who gives the gift of friendship. A God who loves, commits for the long haul and celebrates over the greatness of others. This God takes the grossest event in human history and turns it into a weekly celebration to remind us that death is swallowed up in victory. He takes the murder of the Innocent One and makes that the high point of celebration for His friends. He eats with His friends and invites them to feast with Him each week. He speaks to His friends, gives them peace, forgives their sins against Him, grants them mercy and grace for their shortcomings while never letting them stay there. He acts this way because by His very nature He is communal, loving, generous and giving. These friendships and covenants aren’t merely His idea, but come from His very being.

Modern friendships aren’t like this. They aren’t eternal, but expire at a time to be determined later when a small offense occurs. They are short lived because they don’t accept your word that you are good for the 49 cent certs pack and believe me, it’s been noted in their book that once you were a day late with the 49 cents. They don’t trust your motives because they see you as a sinner much more than a saint. They over evaluate their conversations and friendships because they fear what you will do with any weaknesses they may have inadvertently let you see. Modern friendships are insecure and fearful of others because we don’t properly fear God. Modern friendships are weak and loose because they depend on the internet to keep them bound together much more than the eternal bond of the Triune God. Modern friendships lack trust and openness because we have yet to be restored or understand that we are restored to God through the death of the Son of God. We can’t imagine a God with a triune nature like this, so we assume he is more like Allah, far away and removed from us. Allah can’t understand “at last bone of bones and flesh of my flesh,” not because he doesn’t have bones and flesh but because he is alone. The heart of the Triune God screams “yes" at this joy in Adam because He has someone like Him and always has. Modern friendships lack this because we are too removed from bone and flesh. We seek connection through screens and pixels often as much as we connect through screened-in porches and backyards. How can you trust others when those things that are meant to aid a friendship are now the main tool keeping the friendship alive? Since we can hide followers, unfollow and block friends, we often believe we can appropriate this type of friendship for flesh and blood humans. Meaning, when we allow technological etiquette to dictate flesh and blood relationships, we treat the flesh and blood like pixels and unfollow buttons. Just quit showing up and paying attention. What will it hurt? How will they even know? Flesh and blood know because flesh and blood are in fact flesh, blood and spirit, which can’t be treated like screens and digital buttons.

Restoring covenantal friendships come not through destroying our screens or accepting friend requests. That’s as easy as how we break friendships. Recovering covenantal friendships come by recovering our sense of covenant. Who are you bound and covenanted to? The Triune God preeminently. Sensing this will dictate how we relate to all: spouse, children, church and neighbor. The more bound, the more covenanted to, the deeper the commitment. So if you are wearied over loose ties, lackadaisical friends, not knowing your neighbors, hyper sensitivity to offense and passive aggressive social media fights, then enter in and/or renew covenant with God. Remember your baptism or repent and baptized. Begin to take Communion and reflect upon what Communion is. Join your local church. Take membership vows, sign the church covenant and take it seriously for you and the other members. Celebrate your wedding anniversary with your spouse. Celebrate your kids birthdays as a symbol of your commitment to them. Pray together, talk together, walk together, sit on the porch together. And plan to do that with others from time to time. And whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God, the great Friend of sinners.