Tuesday, June 07, 2011
The word "friendship" has, like so many other emotionally rich words, been cheapened by commerce. It is possible to have thousands of "friends" on Facebook or some other social networking site, and yet not have a single friend in the true sense of the word.
This past Sunday, I talked about the biblical story of Jonathan and David, an unusual friendship that teaches us about the nature of God's willingness to befriend us. Jonathan, the son of first king of Israel, very much jeopardized his own future and his relationship with his mentally unstable father by befriending David.
Yet, Jonathan offered that costly friendship, the kind of friendship that transcends time and circumstance. Jonathan served as a Christ-figure for David, for he ended up dying in a battle that opened the final door for David to assume the role as king and leader, a position that might have otherwise been Jonathan’s.
This story takes friendship significantly beyond the way we define it these days. Real friendship, with others and with God—and friendship with God is the privilege given by Jesus to his followers—does not demand a like return for favors and gifts given.
So many of our friendships, as well as so much of our relationship with God, is actually based on transactional exchanges. A transactional relationship happens when the actions of one party result inevitably in the expected actions of another. So, when I purchase a book online for my e-reader, I expect it to show up within a few seconds and for a charge to appear on a credit card. In the same way, if I insert my debit card into the card reader at a gas pump, I expect to be able to pump gas. Clean, easy, expected, common transactions.
When friendships look like this, they are based on an exchange of favors. If one party lets the other down for any reason, the relationship often breaks quickly.
Many people do this with their relationship with God as well. There is an expectation that if the individual is in any way serving God, then God has a responsibility to make the world go smoothly for the person.
It’s a cheap way to treat God. For many, the existence of God is only on occasion acknowledged. Once in a while, words of thanksgiving may be given, or perhaps a few minutes in actual worship of God may take place. In exchange for having honored God with such paltry attentions, many find themselves shocked, simply shocked, that they still have to face trials and huge obstacles in their lives. After all, isn’t that what God is about—making sure we get what we want when we want it? If I have asked, and done my minimal part, isn’t God supposed to give and give endlessly, perhaps like a mal-functioning ATM machine?
This question of real relationship, beyond the ATM God and disposable friends, struck me again last week when one of our youth directors and I previewed together the film, “To Save a Life.” This exceptionally well-done movie portrays the reality of the lives of many of our older teens as they dance through the world of drugs, drinking, sex and ever-changing and often painful friendships.
This movie uncovers many of the layers of the complicated lives of these emerging young adults. One of those complications lies in both the power of friendship and the devastation that can come when friendship is withdrawn, especially when withdrawn for superficial reasons.
We’re going to show this movie at our church this Sunday at 6:30, and then have discussions with parents and teens afterwards about their lives and challenges. Anyone is welcome to come to our screening, but I hope other churches will do the same. We need to reclaim the word friendship from its current cheapened state and hold tenderly its power to save a life. Because it does.