Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Friends with a deity?

Jesus talking with his friend Mary
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!

I have a problem with this hymn. You see, I don’t understand what it means to be a friend of Jesus.

Most of my friends haven’t saved humanity. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any other friends who are also Creator of the universe, so I have no frame of reference for this friendship. I have a poor understanding of what a friendship with God is supposed to look like.

How does one relate to God and how in the world does He relate to us? Hebrews gives us a small glimpse of how the latter happens. We are told that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). I have read this verse many times and I still don’t understand that Jesus actually sympathizes with my weakness. He lived a very human life. I am not intellectually denying this. I am emotionally denying it. I want to question that He understands my loneliness, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.

Francisco de Zurbaran
In general, I would view a relationship in which one party is bearing all the sins and griefs of the other as a highly unhealthy one. But somehow this is exactly what makes my relationship with God a friendship! If we can trust John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, Jesus showed us his love by laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It was this very sacrifice which made it clear that Jesus views us as friends. Somehow the lopsidedness in this relationship makes it possible.

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?

But what about the other direction? If Jesus is my friend, that means I’m His friend! What could I possibly offer in friendship? We have an idea from James that this probably includes belief and that being credited as righteousness because right after we're told that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness, we are also informed that Abraham was called a friend of God. God wants His friends to believe in Him. Well, that makes sense, I guess. But all through 1 John, we are also told that love means obedience. If I love God, I will obey Him. Here is where things don't look quite like my human friendships. I view obedience as a master/servant relationship, not a friend relationship, but somehow it's part of both?

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.

I am not often despised and forsaken by my friends, but occasionally they are not there for me. It’s not usually their fault; it’s just a fact of life. There are times I feel alone. Yet, I know that God will never leave me, so He's clearly the ultimate friend and yet emotionally, I don't get it. God doesn't give me hugs or send me a glance across the room that lets me know He thinks I'm special. I don't know how to have "normal" conversations with an omniscient God. Perhaps I am looking at externals too much. What is friendship, but knowing each other deeply and loving what we find. Clearly God doesn't have problems with knowing and loving. But how about me? Are my problems with claiming friendship with God a result of my not knowing or not loving enough? Quite possibly.

The one verse that convinces me that this hymn is not crazy in ascribing a friendship label to my relationship with Jesus is John 15:15. These words pierce my heart: “No longer do I call you servants, for the 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.” Just typing these words (yes, they’re typed, not copy-pasted) made my heart hurt. I am the friend of Jesus. He does not call me servant, but friend! Whether or not I understand what friendship with a deity means, the fact is I'm friends with the God of the universe (or is it multiverse?)!

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