I know who goes before me; I know who stands behind.
The God of angel armies is always by my side.
— Chris Tomlin, “Whom Shall I Fear?”
I confess that I have been away from the Christian entertainment industry for some time (I will save my reasons for another day when I can muster the energy to rant), but I have always enjoyed Chris Tomlin’s modern hymns and songs of worship. He seems to have a deeper understanding of classical doctrine than some other Christian musicians. When I first heard his latest song, it went straight to my heart.
I posted not long ago about the holiness of God. I think that the tendency to make God into our “buddy” is a dangerous thing. How many of us obey our buddies or girlfriends? Yet we’re to obey God, to gaze upon Him in awe and reverence, to bow before Him with the proper respect and attitude. That’s not something we do with buddies.
And yet, the Bible says that we are friends of God. How do we reconcile this truth with the modern concept of Jesus as your “homeboy”?
What if we consider another definition of “friend”? According to Dictionary.com, the top four definitions of “friend” are:
1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile.
4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.
I think we too often define our relationship with Christ to that first definition. We think that our relationship is about feelings of mutual affection or regard. But our affections fail us all the time–or at least, mine do. I am not very good at friendship in the material world. How could I possibly be better at it in the spiritual realm? Christ’s affection never wavers, but mine is as changing as the tides. How, then, can I be a friend of God?
What if we look at the second definition? God certainly does give us assistance. He supports and upholds us, no question. This is not a mutual arrangement, however. God does not need my assistance or support or patronage. He is God. He is whole without me. So God can be my friend in this way, but for me to believe that my assistance, support, or patronage is necessary to God is arrogant in the extreme.
It’s that third definition that interests me the most: a person who is on good terms with another, who is not hostile.
Sometimes I have to come up with allegorical illustrations to help me understand biblical concepts–my own parables, perhaps. As I considered this concept of being God’s friend–or rather, of God being my friend–a word picture came to mind.
Alone, chained, abandoned. Beset and tormented, bruised, afflicted. Beaten. I have no more strength to fight, no ability to resist.
“You give up?” The demons of self-indulgence, idolatry, pride surround and taunt me, cackling in glee, delighted to claim another as their own.
I muster one more breath. “Wait,” I say. “Wait. I have a Friend. He promised . . . He said He would rescue me.”
They respond with howling laughter. “A friend,” one of them says. “A friend. What friend could possibly triumph over us? What friend could possibly rescue you?”
“His name is Jesus of Nazareth.”
A hush falls. The demons retreat. “Oh,” one whispers. “You’re a friend of Him.“
The doors open. Light pours in. The Commander of angel armies enters the room and stands before me. I am prostrate, aware of my vile nature, my unclean lips. But He holds out a hand and lifts me to my feet.
“You are free to go.”
But it is not the demon of self-worship that releases me. It is He. And as my chains hit the floor, He speaks again. “You are welcome in my Father’s house. You have passage. You are a friend of mine. My Father is no longer angry at you. We offer you a Treaty of Non-Aggression.” He holds out a piece of paper to me. “You need only sign it.”
I do, willingly, happily, joyfully. And when He releases me, I return to the world waving my copy of the treaty in the hopes that others will want to know my Friend as well.
And only when that Treaty of Non-Aggression is signed can we approach the fourth definition of friend–the one that makes us a member of the same nation as Christ Himself. No longer are we enemies of God; we are friends, called by His name, welcomed into His Kingdom.
Till next we meet . . .