Thursday, May 21, 2009

Friendship - Part 1

Recent events have had me doing much thinking about friendship. A lot of my pondering was about my personal friends and recalling the episodes and events that we shared together, or experienced on our own and needed one another to pull each other through. But I started asking myself questions about friendship. Questions like, is friendship important? What is friendship? Why is it important? Who are your friends? I like to think I found some answers. Is friendship important? Yes, undeniably. I’m not going to say I did a lot of research about this in psychological writings by eminent doctors and experts in the field. I didn’t. Not a single Google query or discussion with the psychologist who treated me several years ago. The importance of friendship is made clear by none other than God Himself. If you don’t believe in God, or think that The Bible is just an outdated book of clever morality stories, then I gently and respectfully suggest you stop right here. What follows will only seem to you to be the musings of a man attempting to buttress his opinions with the authority of a non existent deity.

In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures God uses the term “friend” sparingly and carefully. This is the first clue as to the importance God places on friendship. It is similar to God’s use of the word “hate”. In the Hebrew Scriptures there are exactly 613 laws for God’s people to use as a straightedge in determining what is and what is not proper behavior and conduct for individuals and societies. In the case of some of these laws, God also describes how He feels about a transgression of this or that particular law. Some of the terms He uses are “a great evil”, or an “abomination”, or “desperately wicked”, and He uses these terms fairly liberally. But His use of the word “hate” is reserved for only a very few things. And His specificity in using the word is a great indicator of the very special disdain He has for these transgressions. Not a disdain for those who commit these sins, disdain for the sin itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

As far as my reading of the Scriptures goes, I find these are the things God, from His own mouth, has said He hates:
• A proud look
• A lying tongue
• Hands that shed innocent blood
• A heart that devises wicked plans
• Feet that are swift in running to evil
• A false witness who speaks lies
• One who sows discord among the brethren
(Proverbs 6:16-19)
And there is one more:
• Divorce
(Malachi 3:16)

Just eight things, out of 613. Makes me think how important it is to avoid these particular things. Not that I was trying to make this point, but it just occurred to me that people who do try to avoid this behavior are good candidates for friends. But that’s a topic addressed later.

Another word who’s singular, one-time use by God, demonstrates the importance of what He is getting across, is the word “stupid”. Used only once, in all of Holy Scripture;

• “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge,
But he who hates correction is stupid.”
(Proverbs 12:1)

Tells you all you need to know about what a person’s attitude toward correction should be.

So having these examples of God’s judicious and very specific uses of certain words, an examination of His use of the word friend, is valuable in trying to get an understanding of the importance of friendship.

The first person God calls ‘friend’ is the patriarch Abraham. (2Chron. 20:7) So what about this Abraham? What was special about him, to have God call him ‘friend’. Centuries after the Noah and the flood, God decided the moment had arrived to make himself known to humanity. He would reveal Himself to His creation as the One True Living God and demonstrate the difference between Himself and the gods mankind had manufactured by and for themselves. The world during these times was mainly defined by various “peoples” organized by tribal structures. So God decided to create His own people. Through this people, God would bring to humanity His Law, His prophets, and ultimately His Messiah. He would begin with one man. He chose Abram (changed to Abraham later by God) to be His starting point. God promised many great things to Abraham. And He asked many great things of the man. And Abraham was faithful. He believed God’s promises. He trusted God. And God even came to him, spoke with him face-to-face, and even allowed Abraham to question Him. His complete story is in the Book of Genesis. Even though they were Creator and creation, their relationship was one of true friendship.

The second (and last) person God calls ‘friend” in the Hebrew Scriptures is Moses. (Exodus 33:11) God chose Moses as the man who would lead His people out of bondage. (a foreshadowing of Christ leading man out of the bondage of sin) God also brought His Law to humanity through His friend Moses. God said of Moses that he spoke face-to-face with Moses, and spoke plainly not through dark sayings. Once again, going through the last four books of the Torah, the conversations between God and Moses are very intimate, and personal. Even though the hierarchy of who is God and who is man is never forgotten by Moses, these conversations are much different than any other conversations God has with any other person (except Abraham) throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Clearly we witness two friends going at it. At turns we see anger from both, love from both, and a willingness from both to subvert their own desire for that of the other.

There are many more men in the Hebrew Scriptures that perform huge roles in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. David, Solomon, Elijah, Gideon, the other Prophets, to name a few. God says of David that he was “a man after my own heart”. God appeared to Solomon and gave him greater wisdom than any man before or since. God did not allow Elijah to taste death, but swept him directly into heaven. Yet, the greatest tasks in His plan during the times before Christ, He entrusted not to His chosen kings, or chosen messengers. For these things He called on His friends. A status He bestowed on only two men. The very rareness of the word demonstrates the very high value God places on friendship. The only status about which God is even more exclusive is that of son.

Now we come to the Christian Scriptures, specifically the four Gospels. Jesus’ ministry on Earth was very brief. Only about 3 ½ years. As He traveled through the towns and villages He attracted many people who came to hear Him. Some of these folks came to satisfy their curiosity about the new, young rabbi. Others were more intent on applying His teachings to their lives. These more ardent followers were called disciples.

disciple – somebody who believes in and follows the teachings of a leader, a philosophy, or a religion.

In Luke 6:13 we read:

“And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself: and from these He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.”

apostle – somebody who tries to persuade others to share an idea or cause.

From His many disciples, Jesus took twelve men, and elevated them above the others. He gave them the special status and privilege to be His traveling companions, to work along side him, and to be taught by Him in a closer relationship than that of His other disciples.

Jesus’ last meal was on the first night of Passover, a traditional seder. Except for The Day of Atonement, this meal is the holiest feast of the Jewish calendar. All four Gospel give an account of the event. But in the Gospel of John the account is much longer and detailed. It is this way because what is written is written by the apostle John who ate the seder with Jesus and was an eyewitness to what was said. The complete account of the meal is in chapters 13 through 17. But beginning in chapter 14 Jesus starts a discourse about the things that are about to happen, about His mission from God, about the coming of the Holy Spirit, about love and more. He is preparing His apostles for life beyond His physical presence. In the middle of this monologue Jesus says this:

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all the things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

So here we have Jesus with His last opportunity to prepare and encourage His closest followers, elevating them in stature once again. The highest place He could give them was that of friend. This is the third and last time God bestows the position of friend on a human being(s) in the Holy Scriptures.
Next: What is friendship?


TheBrain (snork) said...

I'm an atheist, but kept reading anyway. True friends are as rare in life as they seem to be in that book of yours. Up late again.

Auguste Ballz said...

I own a copy of the book. It is not "my" book. ;) Yes friends may be rare, but they are worth the search. Get some rest Brain, you've got a world to take over.

Matt633 said...

Well said. Thanks.

InquiringMind said...

I have a PhD in psychology, but am not in practice. Would you answer a question for me? Why did you write this?

Auguste Ballz said...

I guess since you don't practice that means I'm not on the clock ;) I have my own reasons for writing this that I choose not to share. But I started watching the friends that came in and out of my life after a neighbor, John C. Pastore (father of Soprano's actor Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore told me in 1969 to read this new book he had on his lap titled "The Godfather". JCP said there was a lot of stuff in the book about how inportant friends are.

Individualist said...

Checking sources The word friend derives from old English and means to Love, to free.

I have also been told that the word for freind deriving from Latin comes from a word meaning "to Trust". I cannot confirm this as the word for trust in Latin is Fidus which is the derivation for Fiduciary.

However I accept that as the the definition of a true friend. What separates true friendship from acquaintances is that the friend is someone you Trust.

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