The last time David sees Jonathan the son of King Saul, they kiss, they weep and David mourns knowing he will never see him again and says, “The love of Jonathan surpassed my love for women.” David had quite a few wives.
To this day one of the best chapters I have ever read in a book comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves in his chapter on friendship/phileo love. His argument is that while friendship is not the kind of love that is necessary for human survival, friendship is the kind of love that makes life worth living, that adds joy to life.
I think about this when I think of Jesus when he calls his disciples friends. Friends allow friends to know what they are up to and what their intentions are and this can be both fun and freeing. Friends agree to be a part of each other in adventure and interests.
This is the reason why I think losing a friend is so hard to bear. Friends are people we have given ourselves to in a social contract of complete choice. I have chosen to allow you in and you have chosen to allow me in. Obviously friendships can vary in depth of intensity and intimacy. The ones we have given more of ourselves to usually require a deeper level of commitment, accountability and trust.
If a friendship becomes too intimate without honesty it becomes confusing.
If a friendship becomes too committed without accountability and boundaries, it can become codependent and toxic.
If a friendship has trust without intimacy it is unbalanced and susceptible to collapse on an unknown foundation.
Here is the other side of friendship that is unlike affectionate familial love or romantic love. Those two require commitment to exist and sustain and to break commitment is neglectful. You fail to fulfill obligation and covenant in the case of family and love/marriage if you walk away. In friendship, that social contract can end without demand. Mourning is probably necessary, but friendship has no obligation because what it was based on in the beginning was mutual agreement.
This becomes slightly complicated in the context of the family of God. We can’t entirely walk away from family when we have the same Father so we have to learn to simply coexist despite the end of friendship because the implication and demand of the kingdom is to love even if a friend has become an enemy. The kingdom can have enemies even from within (David and Saul). Christians have in the past been known to kill each other over doctrine. Now they kill one another with ostracism or with bad doctrine rather than over it.
You might be wondering if you’ve made it this far, how do friendships end? In David and Jonathan’s case the urgency of their lives on different plains of trajectory and Jonathan’s eventual death marked the end of their friendship. The book of Acts gives us a picture of people who parted ways but there is no indication of if they considered one another friends or merely partners.
The fact that it does not seem that it was an easy parting of ways does suggest that there was some level of relationship that made it difficult to separate. But in 2021, it is easy the maintain friendship with people I rarely see.
It takes effort to end friendships in the Kingdom, concentrated intentionality to avoid people you see with regularity. Somehow despite that concentrated effort, it is unavoidable apparently to not coexist as family. So instead we occupy space as family in light of our reasons we have chosen to abdicate friendship.
Here are some of the reasons we make the choice to abdicate friendship:
-betrayal abandonment (John Mark, presumably the writer of the gospel of Mark is for a period of time uninvited by the apostle Paul to travel with their missionary party because of a perceived abandonment) When people feel like they were left in a moment when they needed partnership, they have an easier time leaving behind friendship.
-exploitation/being used, while this is something we tolerate in most areas, work, church, service without much thought, within the context of friends, there is mutual expression of give and take that often goes un-communicated among friends. There is usually a self awareness that comes with this give and take and usually an acknowledgement when the balance is titled in one direction. But there comes a point when someone perceives they have given too much or too much has been taken and a boundary has been crossed.
-discontentment with what or who you have, one of the complaints I hear most often among friend groups is people not liking when other people ask, “who is going?” Because of an abundance of options or social equity which I have discussed previously people try to evaluate who will be at places in light of many “good” options. It’s weird and in a way it’s still using people. I only ask who’s going to avoid people.
-triangles, whether they be romantic triangles or relational triangles, these are breeding grounds for miscommunication and hidden motives. Someone is usually hiding something and avoiding something in order for the triangle to break its bond. As is the case with triangles one person is usually left to be the side that gets dropped. This in some ways can strengthen the bond of friendship/codependency of the remaining sides.
-death, often the most permanent but also preserving of the friendship. When we mutually lose a friend there is a shared understanding of fondness with which the person is remembered. Death is a loss but one outside of our control. This in some way makes it the most tolerable if we are able to accept that there was nothing we could have done. And so we have the potential to mourn without the uncertainty of what could have been done differently.
Why even write or talk about a topic? Why even give voice or expression to the loss and process it in a public way. Because I think this loss is in some ways inevitable. We are prone to mistreat and use one another for our own benefit. We are prone to miscommunicate and say something hurtful. We are prone to walk away to pursue a greater desire or perceived need. And we are prone to exploit people until they become no longer useful to us.
And these are things we do to our friends not just our enemies. Maybe we will think twice or think more deeply about the way we treat one another. Maybe we will pause to think if we are treating someone as collateral to gain traction with someone else. Maybe we will learn how to be more selfless in our affection and lay down our lives for friends.
There is no greater love.