Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Good News When Friends Fail
I am convinced that the gospel isn’t just good news, it’s better news than I currently realize.
For instance, the gospel doesn’t just provide forgiveness, it provides friends. And it doesn’t just provide friends, it redeems friends who fail us, and us when we fail our friends.
We turn to friends because we need them. We aren’t strong enough or smart enough to go it alone in this life. When we suffer we reach for the sympathy of friends. A friend looks me in the eye and says, “Me, too,” reassuring me that I’m no longer alone in my trial. When we struggle we lean on the strength of friends. We turn to them for counsel or we ask them to lend us a hand. The fact is, we count on our friends. That’s why it’s so difficult when friends fail us.
The fact of failure isn’t the only trouble. Friends fail us in different ways, and that can be confusing. One friend doesn’t return my emails. That’s annoying, but not crushing. Another friend distances herself, deserting me at the very time I need her. That’s upsetting. A third friend betrays my confidence and tells secrets that do permanent harm to me. That’s another category all together.
Silence. Desertion. Betrayal. Jesus experienced all three kinds of failure. We can count on his sympathy and strength as we encounter them, too.
Weak Friends, Failed Friends, and Enemies.
Jesus’ friends failed him in different degrees and he responded in different ways. What can we learn? He is our counselor in this area, his earthly life is the textbook.
First, his best friends, Peter, James, and John, failed to stay awake, watching and praying during his greatest time of need. They were weak friends. That’s a category I need to add to my vocabulary. Sometimes friends fail me because they are weak. I don’t have to rebuke them or cut them off. I can try “waking them up” and reminding them of what I’ve asked. But in the end, I need to forbear with their weakness and continue counting them as friends. They need my help as much as I need theirs.
Second, Peter’s denials of Jesus were a more serious level. His failure wasn’t passive like forgetting or falling asleep, he actively denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times. I have failed friends in my life, too. They dropped out of my life and acted as if they didn’t know me. This distancing amounted to desertion. Failed friends need a more active approach. Peter had already repented privately, but Jesus took him aside and gave him the opportunity to reaffirm his friendship. Restoring failed friendship requires confession, forgiveness, and reaffirmation of the commitment.
Finally, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. This symbol of friendship mocked the utter dissolution of their bond. Judas had sided with Jesus’ enemies, becoming an enemy himself. Enemy is the biggest friendship failure, changing sides in the war. Yet even this failure was not beyond redemption. Judas could have repented and stood beneath the cross. “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing,” could have applied to him that day. When my friend becomes an enemy, I must be clear about the change of relationship. I must forgive them and pray for them. I must love them, but as an enemy, not a friend. The friendship is not beyond redemption, but repentance is the first step.
I Am That Friend.
These categories have helped me sort through various failed friendships in my life. But they have also brought me to my knees before my friend Jesus. At different times I have been a weak friend, a failed friend, and yes, even an enemy to him.
I see my weakness when I simply fail to think of him. Days, weeks pass and I haven’t prayed. My life is busy or things are going pretty well. I forget him. I leave my Bible at church and don’t realize it until Thursday. Or a month from Thursday. He is gentle with me. Nudging me awake, reminding me he’s there. Calling me to stay awake with him. Receiving that mercy gives me mercy for my weak friends.
I fail him more actively when I am ashamed to name him before outsiders. When I go along with the latest godless perspective, when I join the crass humor, when I actually deny him with my words or actions. At these times he seeks me through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. I turn back to him and find him ready to restore our friendship. This gives me grace for my failed friends.
I become his enemy when I make friends with the world. For me it comes when I seek glory from people, instead of from him. When I do this, I’ve run to the other side. I’m acting like his enemy. Even there he pursues me, much as he pursued Judas up to the last minute. The fact that he came to turn enemies into friends gives me hope for my enemies.
The gospel is good news for friends who fail, including me.