Sunday, February 26, 2012

Can Sin-Shackled Dust Be God's Friend?

The first upbeat chords rocket through the van's speakers. I sing along with the first verse: "Who am I that you are mindful of me / That you hear me when I call..." The words resonate within me. Then comes the refrain, and I stumble over the words, clench jaw over the chorus that repeats "I am a friend of God / He calls me friend."

God as my friend? I can't assume to be so presumptuous. It's inconceivable . A relationship, yes. A friendship? How can holiness be friends with sin-shackled dust like me.

Besides, friendship is reserved for the elite of the elite in that Hall of Faith in Hebrews. Right?

In the Old Testament, I've only located two individuals whom God called His friend--Moses and Abraham.

Of Moses, Scripture says, "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex. 33:11).

Twice, Abraham is referred to as God's "friend forever?" and then as "Abraham My friend" (2 Chron. 20:7, Is. 41:8).

For God to call these men friend makes sense--Abraham, the Father of Israel who offered his son in sacrifice, who left home and family for some nebulous promised land somewhere, someday. And then there's Moses, the man who challenged a Pharaoh before leading a group of malcontents from captivity, around the wilderness for forty years, and finally to the banks of the land of promise.

I get this. But they're completely out of my spiritual league.

The problem, though, is that in the New Testament, James revisits Abraham's friendship with God, implying that this friendship is something attainable for all believers: "and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,' and he was called the friend of God" (Jas. 2:23).

How can we become a friend of God?

The first requirement is clear. Faith. Not dead faith, since James is infamous for his stance that made Martin Luther want to hack the letter from the Bible-- "faith, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas 2:14). Faith in action is a key element to friendship.

Jesus makes a similar statement to His disciples: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you" (Jn. 15:13-14).

Here, this Scripture seems to lay out two additional requirements besides faith in action. First, Christ calls "friends" all those who obey His command to "Love one another." Jesus then tells these friends to "bear fruit" before reiterating the command to love.

The twice repeated command along with a mention of bearing fruit seems to imply friendship with God requires not only FAITH in action but OBEDIENCE in action, which can be summed up as LOVE in action.

The amazing thing? The part that really gets me? Back in 2 Chronicles where God calls Abraham His "friend forever," the word translated as "friend" ('ahab) is translated as love or beloved in 174/208 of its usages in the Old Testament.

One of those 174 usages is likely quite familiar to you and speaks of God's mercy: "showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:6).

The verse could likewise read "to those who friend Me and keep My commandments." And there, we have Christ's own words in John about friendship, now echoed way back in Exodus.

While James recognizes Abraham's faith as the reason for his friendship with God, the Old Testament Hebrew and Christ's words about friendship make a direct link between friendship and love.

In short, the three are all one and the same--to truly believe in God is to love God is to obey God is to be the friend of God.

What an invitation.

Image: Paul Hazelton's Dust Sculptures...and I just thought those dust bunnies were worthless.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful. I have often wondered about the same thing while singing this song. It is possible to be a friend to God!