Along The Way: Our New Friendship

​On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gathered with his disciples.  John records it in chapters 15-17.  The evening was filled with one treasure after another, which we can read and re-read for our edification.

One gem was Jesus’ definition of the relationship he had with his followers. “I call you friends,” he said (John 15:15).  That simple sentence changes everything.

Can you imagine sustaining a friendship with someone who constantly demeaned you and repeatedly criticized you?  Of course not.  Yet, many have accepted that idea of their relationship with God.  To them, God is thought to be mad at us, looking for any opportunity to enact retribution upon us.  But that is not the picture Jesus painted and left with his disciples.  Jesus gifted us with the portrait of God as our friend, not our foe.

So, how have we hung the “God Is Foe” painting in our soul’s gallery?  Several factors have caused us to do so.  First, the courtroom metaphors in Scripture have shaped the theological paradigm which many of us accepted.  God is the Judge.  We are criminals.  And even if we factor in the presence of the Spirit as a defense attorney and Jesus as the one who bears the punishment we deserve, it still leaves us a with a legalistic sense of our relationship with God, not a friendship sense.  We hang the “God Is Foe” portrait in our souls because of a theological perspective advanced in large segments of the Church.

A second reason we hang the wrong picture is psychological.  Many have been nurtured in a family system and/or social environment where love was overshadowed by a performance-oriented relationship in which we never “measured up” to the standards set for us by others, often including the expectations of our parents who gave us our primal, but deformed definition of love–one which remains inside us even when we move beyond it.  When we are strangers to grace, we hang the “God Is Foe” portrait in our hearts.

The third factor integrates the first two and creates a false self.  We do the very thing on the inside of ourselves that we refuse to do on the outside.  We travel through life with a companion self who demeans us and lies to us about who we really are. The voice of the false sends us many bogus messages…
          –“you are stupid, ugly, no good, distorted, damaged goods, lost, etc.

          –”you exist as an object of gratification and exploitation for me/us”

          –”you are not white, male, heterosexual, patriotic, or Christian”

          –”you are only as valuable as your possessions and achievements”

          –”your acceptability is determined by whether or not our group accepts you”

          –”you are a failure in a one-strike-and-you’re-out system”

          –”you are hopeless, no longer worthy of attention and investment”

Depending on the moment in which we find ourselves, these are the impressions which come when the “God Is Foe” portrait hangs in our soul.  These are what the voice of the false self speaks and what it tries hard to convince us to accept and believe.

But there is another voice.  The True Voice, delivering the message from God that we long to hear, that we are made to hear.  He says, “I call you friends.”

From him, we receive this invitation, “Say no to your false self and follow me. Take down the “God is Foe” portrait and throw it away.  Hang the “God Is Friend” painting in your heart. Don’t listen to what an aberrant church, a sick family member,  a toxic human being, demagogic leaders, or your own wounded spirit has been telling you.  Listen to me.  Take your cues, define yourself, and order your life by what I call you.  I call you friend.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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