Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ruminations on the psalms part 2: measuring one genre by another and why that's a mistake [updated]

No Trekkie who is humble about the genre (and believe me, Trekkies better be humble about their genre) will attempt to compare Star Wars to Star Trek and find the latter wanting. In the same way Star Wars fans (who should also be humble) should not find Star Trek wanting by the measure of sci-fi. Humanist fantasies appropriating sci-fi trappings are not always the same. Measure Trek by Wars and find it wanting and you have misconstrued both the purpose of the genre as a whole and the stories in particular. Measure Wars by Trek and you make the same mistake. If you have any appreciation for one it should be at least possible to contemplate an appreciation of the other. Conversely, if you don't like Wars or Trek and love John Wayne movies we're talking about something else.

One of the things I have discovered is that despite having a high view of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture there is a more pernicious error that lurks for a Christian, that is measuring one genre of biblical literature by another. I tried to shoehorn the Psalms into the prophetic writings. I was reading the Psalms through the lens of the prophets and finding it wanting. The problem wasn't in the Psalms but is in my own attitude toward emotions in general (mine in particular and those of others). It's not that the Psalms DON'T have messianic predictions and don't tell the story of God's people. The problem is that as I read the Psalms I only read it with the macro-story in mind. If it wasn't pointing to Jesus in some clearly prophetic way or wasn't pointing to something in Israel's narrative that I could clearly identify I basically didn't understand it, and not understanding it I struggled to find a use for it.

But for others the struggle may be different. A person may not mistakenly read the Psalms through the lens of just prophetic literature. A person may read the narrative books and epistles through the lens of wisdom literature and so doing impose a hermeneutic and an eisegetical lens on to a biblical text that smply isn't there.

This is especially common for those of us who bring our own struggles of character or conscience into a reading of a text. For instance, if a man sins against his wife by having her work to support them while he is getting an entertainment career off the ground then his sin against her is against her specifically. If he is convicted of this through 1 Timothy 5 then that's good as far as it goes, but that is the Spirit convicting him personally through a biblical text and his apprehension of the principle behind it. What it is NOT is an exegetically based conviction but what in Pentecostal circles might be called a "rhema" revelation. These things happen and God uses them, though Augustine and other church fathers would not endorse this as a sytematic approach to Scripture, I venture.

If this entertainer, having been convicted of his sin against his wife by 1 Timothy 5, then turns around and says that this is what the text means, that the main rebuke in the text is against husbands who don't support their families, then it is thoroughly mistaken because an exegesis of the text will make it plain that the primary subject of Paul's writing to Timothy is about widows. There is no husband left alive to forsake the care of his wife or children because the children are alive and are being commanded by Paul to take care of ma or grandma. Why else would Paul enjoin the children or grandchildren to learn piety and return the investment made in them by their parents if the precept at work was that somehow husbands are supposed to provide for their wives and kids. Seeing as the husbands here relative to their wives are DEAD that's not possible, those men have gone to be with the Lord. We may infer that not all those who had the status of widow in Thessalonica legitimately had that status. Some were freeloading off of the church's generosity while others were dumped off into the care of the church by family that refused to help their own flesh and blood in need. It is only after Paul lays out the principle that widows who are truly widows should be cared for by the church while all the others should be helped by family, who should learn piety and return the kindness given to them by parents and grandparents. Christians who refuse to do this are worse than unbelievers and have denied the faith.

So, again we're talking about exegesis here, any attempt to force the meaning of the biblical text BEYOND that basic principle to say the text says more than that is eisegesis and abuse of the biblical text. We could say that we can extrapolate from that text that a person who loves family will support family but that is better spelled out in the actual wisdom literature itself, not something forced on to an epistle. Don't make 1 Timothy 5 mean what it doesn't mean if Proverbs already gets you where you want to go. Let both passages be what God intended them to be, not what you find convenient for them to mean. To do otherwise is to place yourself above Scripture and to fail to appreciate it. BUt this is something, clearly, that even people with a high view of Scripture in general can mistakenly do. It is vital to neither find one genre of Scripture wanting because it isn't another, and it is vital to appreciate what the purpose of a genre is as well as what that purpose isn't.

So in my case I have needed to appreciate that the psalms are what they are, songs, prayers, narratives. The Psalms are in themselves a microcosm of other genres that appear in the biblical literature but are a genre unto themselves. Knowing what kind of literature the psalms are and aren't is crucial. As someone who has loved the epistles and the prophets I have to keep in mind that the psalms don't exactly work like that. If I attempt to shoehorn propositional statements about systematic theology into the Psalms, or forcibly extract them FROM the Psalms I risk completely misunderstanding what their purpose is. In fact I would say one of my biggest problems is looking to the Psalms as being another piece in a puzzle for a systematic theology. That's not what they are there for!

But it is comforting to know that as stupid a mistake as this is, I am surely not the only person to make this kind of stupid, sinful mistake. We all have the risk of doing this, especially those of us who affirm the priority, inspiration, and infallibility of Scripture. A recent anonymous poster said I seem to have a low view of Scripture. Well, yeah, I have had a low view of parts of Scripture, but that's the rub, I have been at a church that for the last decade never bothered to preach through the psalms. If I had a low view of Scripture regarding the Psalms specifically is the church I have attended for years ever going to get around to providing a positive alternative? This is not to diminish my responsibility for misunderstanding Scripture at all, but it is a question, rather, of how the community I have been part of could rectify that or help there. Pastors at a church that does not preach from the psalms or incorporate them consistently into public worship won't be RESPONSIBLE for my errant understanding of the Psalms ... but they won't be helping to be part of the solution either.

I feel strange discovering my inadequate appreciation of the psalms because I always thought I had a very high view of Scripture. But now that I consider it, a person may have a very high view of Scripture yet still refuse to accept what it says when the Gospel and its implications are presentd. Peter had a high view of Scripture and of the dietary laws and the Lord rebuked him Acts for refusing to call clean what God had called clean. Peter understood what the Torah said and understood that it said that no Jew should eat foods X, Y, and Z. Then the Lord revealed something Peter struggled to accept and only understood when it became clear that God's plan of salvation included the Gentiles. He knew what the Scriptures were and what the Gospel was but struggled to understand what it really meant. His high view of Scripture and of the dietary laws blinded him to understanding the outworking of Christ's mercy toward the Gentiles.

If Peter, who knew Christ in the flesh and was a witness to his life, death, and resurrection, could still declare when the sheet was lowered "No, Lord!" then if I, who have not seen the Lord, see in the Psalms that the heart is presented and what is really in the heart and what is acceptable for the Lord's children to feel and bring to the Lord I also am, like Peter, not someone who can say "No Lord!" because I am familiar with the prophets, the epistles, the gospels, the Law, and the writings. I do not get to act as though something is unclean because it goes against my faulty understanding of what the righteousness of Christ means for me and for others.

Piety is so frequently the greatest obstacle to knowing Christ, not just the piety we take up ourselves but the pieties we are enjoined to consider or are told we are obligated to. It was the piety of Job's comforters that led them to say what God revealed was not true about Him. Now that I am starting to appreciate that the Psalms reveal the heart of the psalmists and that this is something I can learn from I am able to appreciate that yes, the voice of God is present in the Psalms, but it is not Peter was rebuked for letting his piety appreciate the significance of God's reaching out to the Gentiles. I have been rebuked for not appreciating that the Psalms allow us to give voice to our heart toward God and preferring that it ONLY be the voice of God, never of men. This is an extremely dangerous dualism that, coupled with a propensity to view most emotions with skepticism or suspicion, presents a collosal problem I am only now starting to get any grasp of. The reason I often didn't feel I could relate to the Psalms is because I was reluctant to see them as the results of real people, not just as canonized messages from the Lord regarding Christ.

Now sometimes I wish I had been in a setting or was part of a group of believers that had paid attention to the Psalms at any level in the last decade but such is God's providence that just didn't happen. So I have stumbled blindly into these moments of reflection because that is the direction the Lord has been prompting me, sometimes because of but often despite the people (including but especially me) that have been in my life. Besides, it isn't really the fault of all the pastors of the church I have attended for eight years that they have never opened up the psalms and preached through them, is it? Pastors may one day be accountable before Christ for how they handled their responsibility but I am the one who is responsible even if pastors were to somehow shirk their duty in any way by preaching from the whole counsel of God's word.

But I could also understand if pastors might say that pastors do have a responsibility to preach the Word in season and out of season and to preach from the whole counsel of God's word and that if at any point there was a failure to touch upon certain biblical genres in favor of emphasizing others that this could be a background variable. A pastor some time ago said that if a man is sexually immoral the wife is not responsible for her husband's infidelity but her failures to make herself attractive to him and her letting herself go because she's got him locked into marriage may not be helping things either. If that argument has any weight at all then it may have a nominal amount of weight here, but it is preferable to consider that this is something I have to deal with myself, since it is not really the responsibility of anyone else to help me consider how I have misunderstood the psalms over the years. Since no one else has taught me anything about them in the last decade and a half besides a youth pastor who may have been out of his depth it more or less seems to be the case.

But mainly I would say that the closest analogy I can find for what I have been going through is Peter being told by God to stop calling unclean what is clean. That's invocation by metaphor, and as such has its giant limits, but that conveys where I am at. Other people, who may find it desirable to be led by the heart and the emotions may not directly understand why this is a challenge for me, who finds the heart so deceptive that emotions are suspect.

But all aspects of the human being are broken, including the mind and the will. Even as Christians we can be tempted to think our feelings are okay while our thoughts are not, or that our thoughts are okay while our feelings are not. All alike need to be transformed. As Bishop Wright put it, the reprobate mind is the end point of judgment within this age in Romans 1-2, and Romans 12 reveals that the renewal of the mind is the process of discovering what it means to be truly human and that can only be discovered in Christ.

The sneakiest dualisms are the ones you don't observe in yourself. The sneakiest way to slight Scripture is to say you affirm its inerrancy and then ignore or not bother to go through those parts that you are afraid to go through or just don't connect to. Or you can say you place yourself under Scripture and then just go on and make it mean whatever you want, either by force or, far more often, because in the weakness of your own conscience and sin you as the weaker brother or sister impose your guilt upon others. The grace of Christ in your life convicting you of your sins becomes the law by which you damn others as not measuring up to you. I am discovering that it is very easy to transform grace into law because it is easy to deceive yourself into thinking that the aim of the law you embrace in your heart is the means of grace for you and everyone else. It is in the Psalms that the psalmist express despair at the continual failure they find at attempting to keep the Law, whether God's law or even their own. It is in the Psalms that men cry out to God and ask if He has forgotten the covenant and abandoned His people. I was so busy looking only for the voice of God in the psalms I scoffed at the voice of man. Someone might say that's the sin of Gnosticism. Nope, docetism. Not all dualisms are of the same Greek variety. Some are different, and in our eagerness to battle some we overlook others. That has been a very tough lesson the Lord has been leading me through.

I am grateful for the recent anonymous comment. It helped to demonstrate by the poster's own example how I had failed to appreciate the Psalms for what they are, and how I had taken an erroneous view of them by judging them as poor prophetic literature rather than treating them as psalms. God providentially used the anonymous poster's willingness to decontextualize, not carefully read, and make sweeping judgments on the character of the author (me) to reveal that I had done the same thing to the Psalms by wanting there to be no voice of man in the psalms but only the voice of God. What the anonymous poster got wrong was what God used to help point me in the right direction. Does this justify an anonymous ad hominem straw man post? Nah, that's still someone with a plank complaining about my speck but I don't say that to suggest there was not a purpose of God's in that. Jesus doesn't say there is no speck, only that the person with the plank should remove his plank before removing the other person's speck. He is still saying that both men have blinkered vision. So both anonymous and I need the grace of God to appreciate Him as He truly is. My prayer is the Lord uses us to each other's benefit and His glory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ruminations on the psalms

This is simply a follow-up on something I wrote over on Wendy's blog.
http://theologyforwomen.blogspot.com/2008/11/thouhts-on-bible-study-part-4.html

She mentioned how she found the prophets to be her least favorite part of the Bible for a long time. As she put it so succinctly, "I love the gospels and Pauline epistles, find comfort in the Psalms and wisdom in the Proverbs. But the prophets?! They can be a real downer."

Surely the Lord has made a great world with a great variety in it, because I love the epistles and find the wisdom literature valuable. I lean more toward Job and Ecclesiastes for wisdom literature than Proverbs but I like Proverbs. I use to read the epistles every day and while I don't always read the Gospels I remember them often. I love reading the prophets, though, and find them challenging and encouraging.

In fact if we bear in mind that in the Jewish Bible the prophets include all the books of Samuel and Kings we begin to understand how powerfully necessary the prophetic literature is to our understanding not only of Yahweh but of ourselves through the story of Israel. Prophetic books are not only a predictor of Christ but serve as warnings to Christ's people over time. A failure to engage with the prophetic literature in a meaningful way ensures that a local church will go off the rails and justify anything it considers cool. Justifying any means to an end or misunderstand what the God-appointed ends toward which Christ calls us is unfortunately easy to do if we neglect the prophets.

But the part of Scripture that has always been my least favorite over the years has been the Psalms. Perhaps it is not the least bit surprising that to the extent that I have bothered to read Psalms at all (which was exceptionally rare over the years, now that I'm really thinking about it) was to read something about Jesus, preferably a prediction made of Jesus' coming or something about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. So I could read through Hebrews (which I love) and go back and see all the Christological references and then I'd go back and read the Psalms and find, somewhat to my surprise, that I didn't really care.

Why was that? Well, I think some of my dislike of the Psalms came because I misunderstood the nature of prophetic fulfillment of God's promises in Christ. In the Western world it can be easy to want a one-to-one correspondence between a passage and its fulfillment. Western rationalists can lok at Isaiah 7 and say "Hey, this is CLEARLY not really referring to Jesus and is being quoted out of context." The rebuttal to this is to point out that similar misappropriations, if we're going to be hard-nosed about it, were being employed in Qumran and elsewhere in Judaism and there were battles about whether the Torah was considered to teach that the resurrection of the dead happened. The old joke is that two Jews have three opinions, and it reveals why many attempts to dismiss Christian interpretations of the prophets are potentially double-edged.

But the second reason I didn't care for the Psalms had less to do with not finding predictions of Christ than a more basic issue. I thought of the Psalms as emotionally dishonest. The language was often repetitive, it seemed clunky as poetry, and finally it just seemed impossible to me that anyone would actually feel the way the psalmist kept saying he felt (or the psalmists, to be more accurate, I suppose). The psalms seemed hyperbolic and insane. There would be whiplash changes of mood that didn't make sense, and there would be emotional outcries that seemed selfish and vicious.

It was also not clear to me that the voice of the psalmist was even really the voice of God since the psalmist kept asking God to destroy his enemies and poured out contempt on people he didn't like. How could I know the psalmist wasn't at fault? In Psalm 51 I have long wondered why David kept saying "against You and You alone I have sinned?" Really? David had just killed a man and his sin was such that God chose to kill his child because David had been disobedient. And yet David was saying he had only sinned against the Lord when he had a man murdered and that murder was something that prompted the Lord to kill a child in the womb? Really?

A pastor once mentioned from the pulpit that we need to consider that just because the psalmist says it does not mean we should take it as God speaking to us, we need to remember the psalms are where we see "us" through David and others speaking to God. He proferred the explanation that sin can be pervasive enough within us that we can imagine the consequences of our sin do not reach as far as they really do, which was his take on an aspect of Psalm 51 I have heard many Christians just skate over, the part about "against You and You alone have I sinned."

And to pick another, still more obvious example, is it good to pronounce a blessing on anyone who hurls babies against rocks to kill them? Christians are fond of making abortion a deal-breaker in politics and I do believe abortion is a moral and social evil overall ... but don't people realize that in Scripture God kills babies? It's something God has the ability to do to execute judgment against wicked empires. This does not diminish that abortion is wrong but how do we look at the Psalms and square much contemporary conservative Christian rhetoric against abortion with a biblical passage like Psalm 137 in which the psalmist pronounces a blessing on anyone who would take up Babylonian babies and kill them?

One of the more memorable exercises I did was to consider Samuel and consider the corresponding account of the same battle through Psalm 18. I began to realize that the Psalms display a heightened, emotional depiction of events that were in fact, rather prosaic. This is, I would suggest, a key to understanding apocalyptic literature, grasping that powerful symbolism and emotionally charged language may refer to things that, in their actual happening, may "look" pretty unimportant or normal. Apocalyptic as a genre allows biblical authors to invest things with a greater, more cosmic significance in terms of God's involvement in our lives, the narrative of God's work among us, if you will.

It has been this aspect of the psalms and their heightened emotional expression that I have only in the last few years begun to appreciate. I have come to see them less and less as emotionally dishonest or hyperbolic pity parties or mediums of what always seemed like a false sense of joy or contentment.

Perhaps it's not so strange that part of this process of having an actual appreciation for the psalms, and not just assenting that all Christians should read them and get something out of them at least some of the time, has been in setting psalms to music. There are many different ways of meditating on Scripture and for a musician and especially a composer one of the best ways to do this is to compose settings of biblical texts. This is not a substitute for exegetical or historical study at all! Instead it provides a believer with an opportunity to read multiple translations, consider contexts, observe historical settings in which texts are composed, and beyond all that consider both the emotional content of that biblical text and how you, as the composer, feel and what feelings you should and need to convey through that setting.

For instance, the most personal instance I can think of is when I asked a very dear friend of mine to suggest a Psalm for me to set to music. He picked Psalm 133. I had never really seriously considered the Psalm much over the years. Its theme seemed too mundane. Isn't it great when people get along? Yeah, sure, whatever, what else is there about predicting the coming of Christ? But having gone through (and at the time, really, still feeling I was in the middle of) a rough patch of misunderstanding and being misunderstood by family and things just being bad all around and not really being aware of some problems that resulted from sin I was not truly aware of, I began to see the psalm differently.

By way of an aside, there have sometimes been comparisons made between black American music and Jewish music. The comparison (which I think is apt in many ways) is the following--a song of joy will have a touch of sorrow and songs of sorrow will have a touch of joy. There are conflicting emotional elements within a song. That is, in a word, blues. The more clinical term would be ambivalence. This was, emotionally, a critical key to grasping the psalms as emotional narrative. Where as other Christians may need to see the narrative arc of the Psalms as a miniature of creation and fall, covenant and exile, war and ensuing victory and defeat, and the promise of final restoration and joy that was precisely not what I needed to see in the Psalms because that's what I see everywhere else in the Bible. I have trained myself over decades of reading Scripture to read the Bible for the macro themes, the overall narrative arc. To borrow nerd-speak, I am aware of the significance of continuit in story lines because I've read comic books and have watched Star Wars movies. :)

What I have needed to do with the Psalms is understand that they speak to real feelings and allow myself to appreciate them at a purely emotional level. I have needed to recognize that the feelings expressed in the psalms by the various psalmists are real, not overblown emotions. They sought poetic language to express their various emotions before God and people. Psalm 137 stopped being a psalm that seemed to be written by some bitter person who should just get over things and move on and should stop wanting to kill babies to someone who saw everything and possibly everyone he ever loved and fought for slain. He saw the city he loved, one of the greatest sources of joy in his life, beaten and battered down to its foundations while the sons of Edom were cheerleaders to the nation that executed the slaughter. When you have seen Babylonian soldiers hurl your babies against stones to kill them you desperately want to return the favor. After all that to be commanded by your captors to cheer THEM up with one of the vaunted songs of Zion, what would you do? By the waters of Babylon ... .

It has helped me immensely to remind myself during personal reading that the Psalms are not a litany of all the feelings we "should" feel. I have misread them for years as emotional equivalents of prescription drugs and there is a sense in which aspects of that are true. I needed to read them with an understanding that the Psalms reveal to us how we turn to God amidst what we actually feel, most of it mixed or ugly. We can rejoice in the glory of the Lord and His kindness in the past while feeling dread about the present and the future. We can be angry about injustice done or said against us while recognizing that our own sin has brought us to that point.

What we deduce, induct, observe, and infer about the lives of others throughout Scripture like Abraham, Moses, David, or Isaiah the Psalms allow us to participate in directly. The Psalms are where our story can be explored as part of the larger story of God and His people. But, at least for me, it is also a place where as the psalmist enjoins us, we can pour out our hearts before the Lord. Something I'm figuring out how to do. For reasons I don't feel like explaining, partly because I don't wish to and partly because I'm not sure I can, expressing emotions directly is not something I have often wanted or liked doing and this is why God seems to have providentially made the Bible as big as it is, because every believer has a part of Scripture he or she needs to be reconciled to as part of the challenge of following Christ. The Lord calls us to immerse ourselves in the parts of Scripture we fear or don't like as much as the parts that we call our favorites. It is the parts we tend to skip over that we may most need to focus on. So for me, that section of the Scriptures is clearly the Psalms.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

a rumination on certain definitions of friendship by way of Proverbs 18:24

There are friends who claim to be friends and there are friends who are closer than family.


In the JPS the rendering is more, "There are people you can keep company with and there are friends who are closer than brothers." Another rendering is, "A man with too many friends comes to ruin." In the Jerusalem Bible the rendering is "There are friends who lead one to ruin."


There is considerable variation in this proverb but the contrast is clear, that there are friends who not valuable, friends who you can kill time with, and then friends who are actually friends.

Quite a bit could be written about friendships that lead one to ruin and what that may mean. Sometimes it isn't wise to have friends who lead you into chaos and destruction. Proverbs does warn us not to be fraternizing with people who defy God or king because disaster can strike suddenly from either God or king and then where are you?

This could have an interesting application now that Obama is president elect. Don't hang out with people who dissent against him or call for his assasination. Stupid rebellious people who speak that way of any elected official they don't like don't constitute good company. It would be just as stupid to make close ties with people calling for the assasination of Bush. I pick that as an extreme and, indeed, absurd example to demonstrate that Proverbs warns us against having friendships with mockers, scoffers, and rebels. These are not all quite the same and Christians can be guilty of being mockers and scoffers even as they suppose they're just being playful or teasing. As Proverbs warns us, as a man who throws around firebrands and death is someone who deceives his neighbor and says "Was I not joking?"

But those are all by way of digression. The main proverb for consideration is that a person can be ruined by too many friends or simply people who profess friendship. Older renderings of the proverb have the statement, "Those who profess friendship must show themselves friendly, but there is a friend who is closer than a brother." The contrast remains. In tims of stress you discover who your friends actually are, since a friend loves at all times (not just the convenient ones) and a brother (and a sister, too, of course) is born for adversity (i.e. sharing in it with you, not necessarily bringing it, just to be clear).

How things play out for me is the consideration of what we might call an urban legend:

Back in the days before it was decommisioned there was a legend about the Lockheed SR-71 surveillance plane. The legend was that the plane moved so quickly that there were times when flight controllers would see the plane on the radar in the air even though the plane had already landed or wasn't even in monitored airspace anymore. They were observing only an electromagnetic shadow of where the plane had been, not the plane itself. Some people who profess to be friends are like the SR-71. They flew into your airspace, but so quickly and with such singular, military-mission purpose, that effectively it is as though they weren't there at all and their reasons for entering your airspace are classified, discernable only because they showed up at all on their mission, to collect information.

There are SR-71 slipstream friendships, where there is no real meaningful contact for a huge amount of time, no attempt is made to stay in touch, yet friendship is professed. A friend of this sort, for want of a bettr word, is the SR-71 who flies through your airspace quickly enough to leave a radar cross-section that is nothing more than the disturbance of the air through which the plane has passed. You may think of this as a sort of hit-and-run affair. The would-be friend is satisfied to have simply flown through your airspace without having done or said much of anything other than being on that SR-71 surveillance mission getting from point A to point B, that happened to include flying through your airspace as part of the prescribed flight plan.

By the pilot's definition of friendship that fly-by constituted friendship. The question is, whether or not by any measure of friendship demonstrated to us through the life and teaching of Christ through the Scriptures, that is a meaningful definition of friendship. There are Facebook and Blogger friends and then there are the friends where you miss seeing their faces, and miss hearing their voices. More to the point, you try to DO something about that state of affairs. Let us not be Christians who are like a shepherd who when discovering one of the hundred sheep is lost mutters, "Oh well, guess the sheep just doesn't want to be part of the herd. It'll come back if it's serious about being part of the team." Jesus was not that kind of friend to us.

There is a time and a place to let go of friendships but I wonder if in the balance of not making idols of relationships or merely using relationships it is far too easy for us to go listing to one side or the other. If anything, as callous as this is likely to sound, I have to consider that friendships have to have a certain usefulness. It explains why various people I have considered friends have vanished and not bothered to stay in contact. It is because friendship with me is simply not useful to them. Conversely, use can be too high a priority and in that quest for people who are useful the dignity of man, rather than being elevated too high, is thrown down on the street and used to keep one's own feet clean when the humility of mud and dust must touch our feet.

If the example of Christ is any indication then friendship means we invest in the lives of, and reach out to, our friends even when they withdraw, when they are unlovable. As Christ loved me when I was unlovable (and am unlovable) should I not out of gratitude for that love reach out to those who are, it seems, unlovable, unwilling to respond, and eager to hide? God came to Adam and Eve even after they ran from Him. He did not decide, "Oh well, they haven't come to the spot where we usually met so they just don't want to talk to me. I'll leave them be." Sometimes friendship involves going out to your friend in his or her time of need, even when that includes getting treated like someone less than a friend. If Christ modeled that for us in His life with the power of the Spirit and that same Spirit dwells within us, then we can be friends to each other in Christ when affinity, proximity, and utility all fail in a relationship. What I hear is that husbands and wives make this sacrifice for each other. Parents and children make these sacrifices for each other. It would seem reasonableand consistent with Scripture to say that friends do this for each other, not least because through the blood of Christ we have now been made friends with the living God.

I admit that there are times when I do not consider the friendship of Christ useful. I don't know if anyone else has the temerity or lack of foresight to simply say that (well, one or two, I suppose, have admitted as much, to say the least) but it does not mean there is no reason to say it. Now I admit I've got my own issues regarding friendship, since I suspect my tendency is to make idols of relationships with people in general and not trust in God. It is the strange flip side of a coin, I have often wondered why God would waste so much time working through people when He could just do things Himself. What's the point in being this all-powerful, all-wise God and using stupid, selfish, wounded people to go do His work for Him? If Christ said the world will know we are His by our love for one another what kind of apologetic is that? Why go that route, when so many in Christ refuse to acknowledge each other as even in Christ, let alone love one another? If Christ offers Himself in friendship to his disciples why are we so bad at making the offer ourselves? Sin? Duh, and yet if we are new creations it would seem as if we could martial up the aid of the Spirit to be better at this. Yet when pressed to rely on, as the phrase puts it "Christ alone" many of us (specifically, me) walk by sight rather than faith because if Scripture reveals that God continually works through His people and doesn't show up every day in some visible way, wouldn't it make sense to rely on God's people? The trouble with idols is that they are good things, not bad. Yet within the good creation are the seeds of rebellion against the Lord.

The Proverbs were given to a community in which it would be supposed almost all were Israelites, descenents of Abraham, the father who received the promise. Yet this proverb is for us in Christ. There are Christians who profess friendship they should not profess. There are friendships that bring chaos and trouble. Only the aid of the Spirit can help us discern those relationships and dangers. We do not all have the same gifts or calling. There are men and women I can be friends with by the grace of God that few other people may be willing to talk to, much less listen to. So it goes.

Perhaps that is where God enables us to be Christ to someone, the people from whom other Christians turn away in anger and disgust. It is important to remember that you are always a loser to someone, someone will find you beneath contempt or consideration. Christ reaches out to you and takes you to Himself. And now you have the opportunity to do this for the least of them, those people for whom there may not be any reward except the act of self-giving love itself. Yes, Christ died and endured the Cross, scorning its shame, for the joy set before Him. What was that joy? We can't even imagine it, but some of that joy includes being friends with us, offering friendship to us on behalf of God, as God, and to offer His own joy to us even in the midst of our suffering, and His.