Friday, March 25, 2016

A Friend of God

I've been spending some time trying to figure out what it means to be a friend of God. I have some idea of what it means to be a God's child, God's servant, God's beloved, and God's ambassador. But lately I've had the sense that God is inviting me to be His friend. And I'm not exactly comfortable with the idea.

To be God's friend would mean that I would have to grow up. Friendship carries a heavier responsibility, and I'm not sure that I can handle it. I much prefer the role of the "damsel in distress" when it comes to God. Friendship feels beyond me. Yet, something about the invitiation is compelling. It seems that God is asking me to discover a new way of interacting with Him, to explore an undiscovered aspect of our relationship. In essence, I think God is asking me to mature in the way that I engage with Him.

It's sort of like the transition I'm going through in parenting my young adult children. I'm still their mom. I'll always be their mom. But it would be rediculous if I still parented them the same way that I did ten years ago. We are making the bumpy move to an adult-adult relationship, and while it's a bit of an awkward dance for the time being, I know we need to keep moving in that direction, because there is nothing for us in the old parent-child relationship. We just can't (and shouldn't) live there forever. While it's silly and downright dangerous for parents to try to be friends with their eight year old children, it's just and silly for a parent to relate to an adult child as if the child were still eight. The relationship changes as the child matures.

Yes. And this is what I think God is saying. He wants to relate to me as an adult child--as a friend. It's time for me to grow up.

But how? What does friendship with God look like? I'm starting my journey to answer that question by studying the life of Abraham--because Abraham is the first person in the Bible that God refers to as His friend (see Isaiah 41:8). I'm particularly paying attention to the things about God and Abraham's relationship that are distinct from the ways a child or servant relationship looks. For example, Abraham obeyed God--but this is something a servant or child  would do, so it doesn't necessarily show how Abraham was God's friend. Abraham also believed God--his faith is legendary. But that, too, is something a child of God does. It is certainly a quality that is present in friendship, but it is not unique to friendship.

So one of the first places I see a friend to friend interaction between God and Abraham is in Genesis chapter 18. Having appeared to Abraham to announce the impending birth of Isaac, God says to Himself, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" Reading the rest of the chapter, we quickly discover how God answers His own question--He decided to share His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with Abraham.

Sharing plans--that is something that friends do. Jesus makes this clear when he says to his disciples in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not kow his master's business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  So Genesis chapter 18 had my attention! God is treating Abraham like a friend by making His business known to Abraham. How will Abraham handle it? What does Abraham do to engage in a friendship with God?

Abraham certianly doesn't say, as a servant might have said, "Good plan, boss! How can I help?" Nor does he whimper like a child, crying, "Oh No! That sounds mean!" Instead, Abraham neogitates with God.

Audacious? Maybe. But Abraham isn't flippant or haughty in his negotiation. He is diplomatic and wise, and God welcomes the dialogue. Imagine the scene.
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?
First, I love how the passage begins with "Abraham came near...." When a friend confronts a friend, he doesn't pull back and put up walls, he draws near. He enters in. He says with his body, "I'm with you" even as he says with his words "I don't like your plan." A friend of God comes close.

Second, Abraham appeals to God's character, he reminds God of His own justice. Friends know each other well enough to say, "Your actions don't seem to be congruent with who I know you to be." A friend will ask the hard questions, will risk being rejected for the sake of speaking truth.

Third, Abraham mediates. He intercedes for the the people of Sodom; he intercedes for his nephew, Lot. And this may be the essential element of friendship with God. I think that THIS is perhaps the main reason that God shares His plans with His friends--to invite them to intercede. We see this again with another one of God's friends, Moses. God shares His plan to destroy all of Israel with Moses, and Moses intercedes for Israel. God wants friends who will act as mediators, intercessors, peacemakers.

God welcomed Abraham's plea. God bent to Abraham's request--all the way to agreeing that if just 10 righteous people could be found in Sodom, God would spare the entire city. But God knew that there were no righteous people in Sodom. Not even Lot was worthy of being saved. It was out His compassion for Abraham that God saved Lot (Genesis 19:16). In the end, God's plan stayed the same. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. But God's justice and compassion were also revealed, and perhaps the decision to save Lot and his family were the results of Abraham's mediation.

This is not to say that I don't believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. It is to suggest that God chooses to enact His perfect will through the prayers of His friends. Perhaps my willingness to stand in the gap--to come near to God, appeal to His character, and mediate for His creation--is exactly what God is looking for in a friend.

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