Spiritual friendship begins with being friends with the Lord. As much as we embrace the language of having a “relationship” with God, we’re hesitant to specifically label that relationship as a “friendship.” When we have much more grandiose ways for relating with our God, such as deeming him our Creator, Savior, King, Teacher, Counselor, and Father, why should we settle for something as surface-level as “friend”? But even beyond this seemingly microscopic title of “friend” in comparison, we also have some very good reasons to have tension with this language.
Therefore, it would be fitting to pause and recognize at least three reasons why we think we can’t be friends with Jesus if we’re ever going to move forward with the groundwork of spiritual friendship.
1.We Elevate Servanthood Above Friendship.
We’re going to address this point more in next week’s post, but it’s worth scratching the surface here. We tend to think being friends with Jesus is reserved for “immature” Christians. It’s a great way for kids to understand their relationship with Christ, or even for those who are new to the faith. But not for us adults. Not for us “veteran” Christians. The history of the Church—and especially the Western Church—has almost always elevated servanthood to Jesus above friendship with Jesus as a sign of “spiritual maturity.” You begin your faith in a mushy gushy friendship with Christ, smothered in grace to fix you up, all so you can work your way to becoming a hardcore servant who lays your life down, picks up your cross, and follows him.
But how do we come to terms with Jesus’ words when he says, “I no longer call you servants, but instead I have called you friends?” (John 15:14-15). We Western Christians are infatuated with doing for Christ; but being with Christ doesn’t come as naturally. Yet it’s equally as important. More on this next week.
2. Who God Is.
Who is your greatest hero? Maybe it’s your favorite actor, an innovator, some major political figure. We look up to our heroes because they’re inspirational, larger than life people who carry similar values to our own. Maybe they’ve even shaped what we value. We’re in awe of them.
But what would your gut reaction be if you were you told you could become best friends with your hero? You would love the idea, but practically speaking, you know it’s impossible. It’s plain unthinkable that we could befriend our heroes: they’re too far away, too occupied to give us the light of day, or even too important to consider us as important enough to befriend. We would merely be another fan lost in the sea of their popularity. The possibility of intimate relationship is next to none.
I think Christians can do the same with God. He is so vast and infinite, eternal and sovereign, perfect and holy. He is our Creator, our King, our Lord, our Teacher, our Father, our Savior – our God. However, these titles we assign him naturally show how much greater he is and how much lesser we are in comparison. It’s very easy, then, to use God’s greatness as an excuse to exclude him from our life.
But when Christ is our friend, that means we are elevated into an intimate, horizontal relationship where the playing-field has been leveled between us and an Almighty God. If that’s not uncomfortable to you, then I don’t think you’ve thought hard enough about what it actually means to be in an intimate friendship with the Lord.
We may view the likelihood of friendship with Jesus the same as we do with a celebrity—unlikely and distanced, where we’re painfully aware of our inadequacy in comparison to the elevated status of the individual.
3. Past friendship experiences.
This is probably the largest tension we have with befriending the Lord. Friendships can be remarkably intimate, which means they are remarkably powerful—and remarkably dangerous. Friendships play an extraordinary role in how they shape our lives, meaning they have the potential of either wrecking our lives or somebody else’s life if we’re not careful.
We’re all too familiar with these experiences, aren’t we?
Maybe a best friend stabbed you in the back. He applied for the job you always wanted and got it. She started dating the man of your dreams. He introduced you to poor habits and decisions that would send you into a battle to overcome addiction that would last for years. She made you feel like scum of the earth, but she was so much more popular than you were, and it made you feel good that she gave you attention, so you put up with it. Maybe a friend stole from you. Maybe a friend made fun of you when you swore they would stick up for you. Maybe a friend was utterly silent during a time you desperately needed them on your side.
Or maybe you were on the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you led someone else to make a decision they later came to regret. Maybe you betrayed someone, or hurt their feelings so badly that you were ashamed to look them in the eye afterwards. Maybe someone stabbed you so hard in the back that you still hold a grudge toward them, and will not budge in your unwillingness to forgive them.
Need I say more? If broken, painful experience of friendship form our understanding of friendship, then of course a friendship with God isn’t a viable relational option. If God is a “friend,” then he’s only going to let me down like everyone else in my life has. He’s just another person for me to disappoint; another person to walk away from me.
• • •
Because of these tensions, many would say friendship seems like a remarkably shallow way to relate with our God. But could that be due more to our elevation of service, our perception of who God is, and our experience with (and Americanized understanding of) friendship? By projecting these tensions onto the possibility of a Gospel-infused version of friendship will only do us—and our nation—a disservice at the remarkable joy friendship was designed to be according to our Creator.
Either friendship with God is a remarkably shallow way of relating with him—OR—it shows the infinite potential of what friendship can truly be. Because believe it or not, it is through friendship with God we can fully come to terms with what it means to live under his grace.
Here’s to next week.