Sunday, March 18, 2012

Do I Need a Dog?

Get a Dog!

My wife thinks we need a dog. She says it would be good for me. Since she is more dog lover than I, I wonder why she thinks it would be particularly good for me. Maybe she’s thinking I could use a friend. Perhaps she has in mind the famous words of President Harry Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Regardless, I am not getting a dog so long as we live in a third story apartment.

The things people say about friendship reveal how varying is the human experience of it. We have heard people say, “With friends like mine, I don’t need any enemies.” On the other hand Clarence the Angel Second Class encouraged despairing George Bailey, “Remember George, no one who has friends is a failure.”

Late in 2011 Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at King’s College in New York, wrote on the World WebPage, of lessons he had learned from less than happy personal experience.

One is that true friends stand by and with you when you not popular and even not liked by others. Bradley said, “I have had various seasons of being attacked in painful ways, and it’s been revealing to see which of my so-called ‘friends,’ who at one time pledged care and commitment, disappeared when the hate mail, phone calls, and vicious slander started to pour in. Needless to say, I learned a tough lesson.”

The other lesson is that true friends are revealed by adversity. Again Bradley: “You know who your real friends are when the bottom falls out and disaster visits your life. As the Bible teaches, mere “companions” provide no comfort net when ‘the going gets tough.’ Friends, on the other hand, are there to walk with you through the storm. Present, committed, and unmoved.”

The common thread of both lessons is that real friendship is characterized by being there. Being there when others forsake you. Being there when you’re in trouble.

Proverbs warns us that a lot of what claims to be friendship is not. Your circumstances have a lot to do with who are your friends. For instance, while wealth is conducive to gaining friends, poverty is conducive to losing friends: “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (Proverbs 14: 20) “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (Proverbs 19: 4). “Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts” (Proverbs 19: 6). “All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them” (Proverbs 19: 7). You’re far more likely to have friends when you can give something than when you need something.

Having a lot of friends is not necessarily an advantage; nor is being the friend of someone who calls a lot of people “friend” something to be desired: “A man of many companions may come to ruin” (Proverbs 18: 24a) One or two friends you can count on are better than a bunch you can’t. True friends may be rare, they are real: “… but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24b). Companions walk. Friends stick.

Loyalty and constancy distinguish the genuine from the fake in friendship. Trouble lights up the sincere amid the shadows of the false: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17: 7). Companions love sometimes, friends all the time. Companions run away while friends run to when things get bad.

At least in recent times one of things revealed about Christians (self-identified as “born again”) is that, if their beliefs are different, their lives aren’t distinguishable from unbelievers. It’s frequently pointed out that divorce among believers is as common as among non-Christians. Businesses that claim to be “Christian” may treat employees or customers worse than businesses that make no such claim. I expect a survey Christian friendship would reveal a like similarity to the world. What Christian has not been let down in friendship? Perhaps more important, which of us has not let down a friend?

Nobody has ever experienced more disappointment in friendship than Jesus. Just hours after the declared his love and a friendship that would go to the death for his disciples, they failed him as friends. They could not watch and pray with him when his soul was troubled unto death. When his enemies came for him, all his friends forsook him and fled. When one of his closest friends later came to the place where he was held prisoner, that friend denied even knowing him much less being his friend.

But nobody is a better friend. He loved us when we were not only unattractive but thoroughly unlovable, weak, sinners, and ungodly. He not only was our friend when we were that way. He is our friend when we are that way. We can count on him when we are in trouble and unliked. We can count on him when we mess up, even fail him. Jesus is a friend of and for sinners.

We will find no such friend as he, but we can hope to find friends like him. We cannot be the friend he was, but we can seek to be a friend like him. Friends are there – when everything goes wrong, when everybody else goes away, when you mess up. Friends are and will be friends.

But maybe we'll still get a dog.

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