The equal of his friends?

Thesis: the biblical-canonical concept of friendship is not incompatible with radical different-ness between the friends. 

Is equality between friends essential to the concept?

Consider Abraham the pilgrim, the one person in the whole length and breadth of biblical history who is known by the epithet ‘friend’. But whose friend?

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend (Isaiah 41:8 HCSB)

Are You not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham Your friend? (2Chronicles 20:7 HCSB)

So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23 HCSB)

Is there any question of equality between these two? Any possibility that they might mutually reflect each others’ greatness back, as in a mirror?

What about Moses, staggering out into darkness after a late night session in the Tent of Meeting, radioactive with the divine presence, spoken to ‘just as a man speaks with his friends’? Did Moses rejoice to see his power imaged in God?

And we have already traced the history of David and Jonathan. Those two who, though both firmly planted in the common soil of humanity, come from such very different fields: the heir of a kingdom, and a youngest son, whose inheritance could be measured in lambs.

It is of course, the echoes of different-ness which reverberate through, and make significant, Jesus’ description of Lazarus as ‘our friend’; And even more so, his deliberate  words to his disciples: ‘you are my friends’.

All these surprising friends! In most of these stories, we get the impression that the narrator reaches for the word ‘friend’ with a shake of the head and bemused expression. The Bible is basically silent on the question of whether friends should be equals, but it speaks volumes of wonderment on the subject of how different they can be. Even if we were to grant that within this history, friendship was normally regarded as between two equals (however that might be measured), the outstanding friendships, the places where the narrator nudges you and says, ‘check this out’, are friendships between two or more who can scarcely be thought together, let alone who belong talking face to face.

Show Comments