Friends for Life?
Should friends exchange vows like they did in times past? Or, is that something that should just be reserved for marriage? What can we do to develop deeper friendships?
Loneliness is a modern epidemic.
We live in cities packed tighter than bees in a hive. We have Facebook friends which number in the hundreds if not the thousands. In many ways, technology allows us to communicate with billions of people around the globe. Yet, we’re still lonely. What’s more, many of the friendships we do have are unfulfilling. Why?
In the Bible, and indeed through much of human history, friendship was seen as a high and sacred thing. In our modern world (and unfortunately in our modern church) friendship has taken a far back seat to the nuclear family. If you have your spouse and 2.3 children, what else do you need? Good friendships are seen as an optional cherry on top to the essential impermeable family unit.
In the Scriptures, a man is referred to as a “friend” over 150 times. As a point of comparison, he is referred to as a “husband” about 120 times. It was presumed in the Bible that a man’s friends were his intimate companions on his earthly journey. Biblically, friends should rejoice and shed tears with you. They confess Jesus' forgiveness over you when you sin. Finally, when the years of your life have finished their course and the tide goes out into eternity, they will be the ones to lay your bones to rest, to await a greater resurrection.
When Christians get married, the man and the woman exchange vows promising love and faithfulness until the point of death. This is a lovely tradition that my wife and I practiced and which I hope is always a part of our faith. It is a practice, however, that is not strictly commanded in Scripture. Strangely, we have neither command nor example of marriage vows in the Bible.
We do, however, have examples of friends make lifetime vows of commitment to each other. Two men, soldiers no less, exchange vows in 1 Samuel (Jonathan and David). In Ruth we see a woman making a friendship vow, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” We are so unused to friendships containing this level of commitment and intensity that some LGBTQ commentators have tried to misrepresent them as homosexual relationships.
Really, what friends do you have that can look you in the eye and say, "I will pray for you every day of my life, I will make sacrifices so that we can stay connected, I will bury you when you die and if that happens early in life I will make sure your wife and kids are taken care of."?
Do you have anyone like that?In our day, no one really makes friendship vows other than 13-year-old girls.
Are such vows feasible in our day? I'm not sure. Perhaps not in the same way. Things have changed. Are there ways we can reimagine friendship to give it the depth and meaning that so many long for in our day? With or without vows?
This is one area where Christians draw on the robust friendship theology laid out in the New Testament and give direction to the lonely society around us. We need to rediscover that the Lord’s Supper, sharing the bread and the wine, is a vow declaring we belong to one another.
If we do not have deep friendships, let's not be cruel and flog ourselves over a sense of social failure. This isn't something to feel guilty about. Let's simply begin to pray and ask God to bring such people into our lives. We can't do this alone and Jesus is, after all, the Head of the Body, who brings the people together as He sees fit.
There is a sense in which we will experience some degree of loneliness until Jesus returns and brings us across that river to the home which he has prepared for us. But we have a faith which overcomes the world. That living faith is composed of both forgiveness and an accepting relationship with God through Jesus as well as spiritual friendship with one another. Could we see a resurgence of robust Biblical friendship in our generation?