And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, (Genesis 18:17)
I have been greatly blessed in my life to have known real friendship – the kind that reaches out a loving hand, no matter what, always there and dependable. A friend through ‘sick and sin’ is rare indeed. One who will speak the truth and help us out of the mire and up the slippery slope, not castigating us when we’ve fallen but pointing us back to the right path. All too often, friendship is categorised as ‘hanging out’ or ‘having fun’ together. We don’t want to get involved in other people’s problems, and would far rather focus on the pleasures and rewards of surface relationships that don’t challenge us to evaluate ourselves, correct those things that are wrong, or even to simply live right. But there is far more to real friendship. There is a giving of ourselves with no thought of return. Real friendship is laying it all down for the other, not measuring the giving but simply pouring it out, and it’s being their to share the trials as well as the joys. This two-sided truth is the heart of friendship with God as well as friendship with others.
Friendship with God is based on a single question: What can I give?
The world, of course, is driven by the opposite – what can I get? It’s a very common scenario that, when things get rough, many friends fall away. It’s a common expression that we find out our true friends in the hard times. Those that stay, loving us no matter what, are real friends. The rest were simply along for what seemed like a fun ride. The hand that takes mine and hangs on through the storm is the hand of real friendship, and its something we all desire. The astonishing truth is that, while God brings others into our lives for this particular purpose, He also desires that with each of us. Friendship with God is a true gift of grace, but it epitomises both sides of the ‘friendship coin’ – the giving and the receiving, the joy and the trials.
The Bible is filled with wonderful truths that provide assurance, comfort, confidence… Each one has its own special power and sigificance, but there are two that have touched my spirit very deeply and worked a transformation in me. They are both incredibly simple verses, with nothing extraordinarily ‘spiritual’ about them at all. The first is Genesis 5:24: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. The second is today’s verse. I often wondered at the impact these two verses had on my life, but realised one day that they epitomised the simplicity of friendship with God. Both Enoch and Abraham had this simple truth in common. They walked with God.
Genesis 5:24 awoke in me a desire, like Enoch, to simply walk with God until my time in this world is done, and then to be seen no more. It opened my eyes to the nature of a supernatural friendship with my Creator, Father, Master, Husband, and Lord. It touched me deeply with a new awareness of the beautiful simplicity of friendship with God – a simplicity of walking with Him. Through rain, storm, sunshine, and night. Up the mountains and hills, and through the long valleys. Into wilderness places and into green pastures beside still waters. Through joy and celebration and through grief and mourning. It reminds me constantly that this life is not my destination, just the train trip. God is my ultimate destination, and my friendship with Him now will lead me unerringly through it all to be with Him forever.
But it also, together with today’s verse, puts forward a truth none of us truly like to accept – that real friendship means good times and bad. It means giving as well as receiving. It means honest and open immersion in the life and experience of the other. It’s very easy to look only at today’s verse and see the awesome privilege that the almighty God of the universe has chosen to share His plans and purposes with His chosen friends. It’s wonderful to take hold of the absolute truth that, through Christ, we have entered into a privileged fellowship, into friendship with God. I cannot deny that it’s a truth that thrills me right to the very core of who I am, and leaves me in awe of God’s grace and loving generosity that He would call this sinner ‘friend.’
But there is so much more to it. If we look at the context of today’s verse, we see the sweeping panorama of judgement and punishment. We see Sodom and Gomorrah poised on the brink of final destruction, driven to the edge of God’s eternal patience by their own wickedness. And we see Abraham in the middle. God deliberately draws him into the tragedy and involves him directly. His friendship with God forces him to make a choice – one which is neither easy to make nor easy to effect. This is the very nature of friendship with God. We all to often find ourselves poised between God and mankind, expected to involve ourselves when we would far rather not.
On one hand, if we consider today’s verse, it’s very easy to see the privilege extended to Abraham. God, in all His power, majesty, and glory, chooses to share His purposes with one He has called to be His friend. Of course, we know that God does not need us. He is more than capable of fulfilling His purposes without our help. This truth only increases the significance of God’s decision that He cannot – by choice, not lack of ability – proceed without including Abraham. It is a wonderful privilege when the God of the universe tells us beforehand what He intends to do. The full, clear revelation of His will is a sign of friendship with God, and it brings a joy beyond measure.
But it also brings the trials and the difficulty. In placing Abraham in the place of friend, He was also demanding that he be a friend to others – not only to Lot and his family, but to the people of the doomed cities as well. Friendship with God does bring great joy and comfort, but it also brings scary or difficult responsibilities. I often hear that God’s will is sovereign, and that nothing we do or say can change it. Yet today’s reading is evidence to the contrary. Abraham’s response was to take up the responsibility that came with friendship with God and intercede for those facing God’s wrath. As a good friend, surely he should have agreed with God and let Him get on with what was, beyond doubt, a just and deserved judgement? Yet Abraham enters into a discussion – even a negotiation – with God. And God honours His intercession. It’s a valuable lesson for all of us who so blithely accept things at surface value.
Abraham’s role as friend here is an interesting one. He reminds God that He is also a merciful judge, that judgement and mercy are part of the whole. Not that God needed reminding, but Abraham needed reminding. Abraham needed to intercede because that is part of the purpose of friendship with God. Consider Moses for a moment, another man whose friendship with God required him to intercede on behalf of the people. In one moment, Moses is ranting over the ‘stiff-necked’ people God has given him to lead – being able to vent is one of the signs of true friendship, the security of being able to speak one’s mind in honesty and holding nothing back. He remind’s God that they are ‘Your people,’ shifting the responsibility for everything back to God.
But, when God agrees with him, we see a change. Moses moves from accuser to intercessor. This is an integral role in friendship with God. We not only receive the wonderful things that friendship with the awesome, mighty God brings, but we also are required to give. Jesus is, in all things, our example, and He is the eternal intercessor. Here on earth, as we identify with Him, intercession is part of our relationship in Him. We cannot escape it. It’s not always easy. It may require us to give up time, pleasures, comforts, and plans. It may mean discomfort and even heartache. But when we intercede, we do so in Jesus’ name, and we do so as a friend of God and, unavoidably, a friend of man. The greatest commandment is to love God, and the next, to love man. Friendship with God will always include this bi-directional giving and receiving because that is the truth of the cross.
Friendship with God is the most incredible, inexplicable joy and privilege, but it is also the most difficult trial. ‘Through good and bad’ takes on a whole new meaning when we view it from the perspective of God. While we can walk alongside God, held in fellowship and love, while we can share our thoughts, our fears, our hopes, and our emotions freely and without reservation, we are expected to offer the same to Him. We cannot choose to hear only what we like or are comfortable with. We cannot pick out the good stuff and shut out the bad. We cannot expect to have fun without having hard times. And we cannot hope to live in friendship with God, in the full beauty of it’s power and simplicity, if we do not give of ourselves, completely, to the relationship.
Just as He gave all, friendship with God requires that we give all. Giving in joy and trial is the true nature of friendship.
Thank You, Lord, that You did not hesitate to give all in order to draw us into friendship with You. Help us to fully appreciate both the joy and trials, to be faithful, and to take up the responsibilities You have chosen to share with us as we walk with You.