Recently I finished reading Stephen Ambrose’ book, Comrades. In this volume he briefly explores the lives of a number of men and their friends. Some of the men are well known — Dwight Eisenhower, George Custer, Richard Nixon, and Lewis and Clark. Others are lesser known — his relationships with his own brothers, friends, and father.
For instance, when writing about his relationship with his best friend, he recounts how this man’s marriage was at one time in trouble — and because of, at least in part, Ambrose’ influence the man stayed with his wife, “which has been marvelous for the two of them and their sons…If there is anything I’ve given Nick over the past three decades, this is by far the best.”
This example of his life testifies to the value of friends — they encourage each other to do the best things, even when those are hard things.
In a more tragic account, he summarizes the life of Richard Nixon (an article he entitled, “Nary a Friend…”), by writing this:
He disqualified himself for love by refusing to ever open himself to it and thus become vulnerable, except with his family, the one place where he did have an intimate relationship. That his daughters had quite stolen his heart there can be no doubt; nor can there be any doubt about the genuine pleasure he took from being their father, or in the love and adulation they had for him. The girls were happy to be with their father, and proud of him, and only wished they could have more of his time.
A pity that none of his fellow politicians felt that way about him. But when it came to an impeachment vote on him in the Senate, whether or not he had been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, nearly every single senator, in a body in which he had served for two years and over which he had presided for eight years, was ready to vote guilty. This was one of the prices he paid for being friendless.
That the Lord has created us for friendship and fellowship — first and foremost with Him — is demonstrated from the opening chapter of Scripture through all its pages. And when those who are created in His image are devoid of either earthly or heavenly fellowship, it is a double tragedy.
He also recounts a unique relationship between Lewis and Clark. From their lives, he makes the following conclusions:
Friendship is different from all other relationships. Unlike acquaintances it is based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples, it is free of jealousy. Unlike children and parents it knows neither criticism nor resentment. Friendship has no status in law. Business partnerships are based on a contract. So is marriage. Parents are bound by the law, as are children. But friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised.
Friends never cheat each other, or take advantage, or lie. Friends do not spy on one another, yet they have no secrets. Friends glory in each other’s successes and are downcast by the failures. Friends minister to each other, nurse each other. Friends give to each other, worry about each other, stand always ready to help. Perfect friendship is rarely achieved, but at its height it is an ecstasy.
I will agree that in the best of friendships, many of his statements are often true. But they are never universally true. He casts an ideal whose mold will always break. This is an unattainable desire. It is unattainable not because people do not want relationships like this, but because they are sinners. And sinners sin — all too often, even as believers. So friends will be jealous, will criticize and be resentful, will talk away, will cheat, take advantage and lie, spy on one another and hide realities both great and small. They sometimes will take instead of serve, hurt instead of nurse, glory in the failure of the other and be downcast over success. Why? Because they are bad friends? No. Because they are depraved sinners.
So the greatest friend is the One who is the friend to sinners — the One who died for sin that those who are sinful friends might be redeemed from sin so they can become faithful friends to both Christ and their neighbors.
Yes, we need friends (for example, the writers of the NT epistles 58 times use the phrases “one another” and “each other” to denote the importance of friendships). They are a gracious gift from God. But mostly we need to be befriended by God through salvation, and walk in the vitality of that fellowship.