[image: Ice-capades, 2014, JA Van Devender]
Proverbs 17:17 (NKJV)
17 A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.
Two friends died in this past week. One, Howard, I learned about just last evening and the other, Gary, last week. (I have with-held their full names for protection of the families.) Gary and I were high-school class-mates and some what close then but I have not seen him or even communicated with him in over 45 years. Howard was a brother for whom I had a very special affection even though we were not close in the usual sense.
I have written about "friendship" before in this forum but these two deaths bring the topic to mind again. Gary and I were cut from a somewhat different mold than the other boys in my class. In a small school, where you grow up together from grade 1 (no kindergarten in those days) through grade 12, where the total class size is less than 40, you get to know each other pretty well. In back-woods Mississippi during the 50's/60's the usual view of life revolved around football and girls, hunting and girls, drag-racing and girls, and.... well, you get the idea. Being an egg-head (to use an archaic phrase) was not the most certain route to "most-popular" status in the year-book, though, in its own way, it was generally respected. Your fellow class mates might talk about you and say "you know, he's really smart..." which was inaccurate but common, if "knowing stuff" was important to you. Gary and I were kind of in that category though I bowed to peer pressure more than he and tried to "fit in." But there was a kind of understanding between us and the things we discussed when we had opportunity were more like mental chess than true analysis... after all, we were pimply teenagers in the sticks. But that common ground provided a foundation for respect and genuine mutual appreciation. He went on to get advanced degrees at the USM and wound up being a Baptist and then a Methodist minister. His early life was hard in many ways and I think he had some troubles that rocked his middle years also, but I cannot comment on those. However, though we lost touch with each other, I valued his life and I commend him to the Lord's hands with genuine, though nostalgic, sorrow at his passing.
Howard came into my life much later and in a different capacity. He was one of those "genuinely nice guys" that it is impossible to dislike entirely. A staunch Presbyterian elder, I first encountered him during my credentialling trials and he and I were on different sides regarding several theological points. It was a difficult time for me and for the committee and yet, throughout it all, Howard, in particular, commended himself to me as a man of integrity and humor. In the subsequent 20 years or so that we interacted, sometimes on committees (in due time I also served on the credentials committee with him) and most often at Presbytery meetings, his steady, reliable convictions and encouraging, humorous friendship were a joy in my life. I saw him occasionally at other church functions and we often discussed mutual concerns about various issues, but most often it was that sincere, friendly delight that crossed his face when we crossed each other's paths that I will most miss.
I have no doubts, at all, about my brother Harold and his present happiness with his Savior and I thank God for his life and my privilege of having know him.
True friends and family are two points on the same line. It is only in degree of covenant relations that they vary and the quality of affection between them varies only in intensity. It is entirely possible for people to be "blood-family" and not be friends. It is equally possible for "friends" to be more closely tied to each other than either to their blood relatives. Therefore, linking true family and true friends together, I think we see an essential component of God's design for the human race. To be fully human we must live in, experience, and delight in, friends. We truly are an organic unity in God's overall plan and vision. Man corporately is saved in its unity. We are saved in Christ, by being united to Him and then, ultimately and teleologically, united to others. The true foundation, the rock, on which the house of our lives is to be built is the Lord Jesus Christ, but the house that is constructed is not "our" house understood individually, but "our" house understood corporately. We live in Christ with others in a relation of deep friendship and caring, or we do not live "in Christ" at all.
As I have said before, there are no "Lone Ranger" Christians, by definition.
Through Satan's devices, friendship, as desirable as it is, now appears scary and intrusive. In his strategic design to cut us off from all human flourishing, Satan warps us into self-orientation and promotion and renders true friendship with us virtually impossible. Even within families we see this quality of friendship often lacking. We see fathers and husbands, who are moral, responsible and distant. We see moms who exist in the world of pressure with little or no resources for friendly relations, either at home or outside of it. Throughout the wider culture we see the idea of "friendship" perverted and degraded into a selfish, semi-contractual relation where people are tolerated as long as they make us feel-good and don't try to "abuse" the relationship by intrusively asking us for stuff, or stifling us with demands.
Friends are objects of admiration much as one admires fine art. They are a delight in and of themselves... not for what they provide and not for what they do for us, even though that reciprocity is inevitable. True friends are sparse, by necessity, since relationally we can only handle so many, but they are among the greatest blessings in life.
God has given me the privilege of friendship throughout my life, often in times when survival virtually depended on them. Gary and Howard were such, from my perspective and I hope from theirs, and I thank the Lord for them and praise Him for His wisdom and grace in providing such as they to sinners such as I.