President's Postscript | On Friendship
by J. Derek Halvorson ’93
How many friends do you have?
According to Facebook, I have 2,307. According to Snapchat, I have zero (because I don’t have a Snapchat account). The truth is somewhere in between. Large numbers of social media “friends” ought to prompt us to ask ourselves: What do we mean by “friend”? How does our culture’s view of friendship shape ours, and in what ways might we want to push back and live differently?
Friendship is one of the greatest blessings we enjoy as human beings, and yet true friendship is undervalued in our society. It has been cheapened, and we desperately need to nurture and cherish it—perhaps even revitalize or resuscitate it—in order for us to flourish as those created in the image of God.
The ancient world was marked by strong bonds of kinship and strong allegiances to kingdoms. You were expected to be loyal to your family, as well as to those who ruled over you. A friendship that was elective—in which you chose to bond with, or commit to, someone not because of one of those pre-existing connections or because of amorous desire, but simply because you chose to—was considered exceptional, extraordinary, and sometimes even a little subversive.
This vision endured through the medieval and early modern periods of history, and found one of its most articulate Christian spokesmen in C.S. Lewis. In his book, The Four Loves, he distinguishes between and describes at length affection, friendship, eros, and charity. First, Lewis points out that humans don’t have a biological need for friendship, nor is it a feature of the natural kinship structures that exist in human societies. “It has no survival value,” he writes, “rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
In addition, Lewis says friendship arises when two or more companions discover “that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste.” In his words, “The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Lewis says this “least jealous of loves” is a relationship honed via conversation that is aimed toward bringing out the best in each person involved, propelling them toward the good, the true, and the beautiful.
True friendship draws out the best in us, even as it exposes some of our faults or weaknesses or proclivities for sin. It hones our God-given gifts, even as it chips away at the aspects of our character that need refining. It serves as an arena for the pursuit of virtue, for the common effort to develop in ourselves via our relationship with one another the qualities of a Godly life that are so difficult to nurture in isolation. We need true friendship as Christians. As Proverbs 27:17 reminds us, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (ESV). We need the support and encouragement of fellow believers as we struggle with our own sin and seek to walk faithfully in a world that doesn’t understand us.
As Christians, our friendships will be fullest and richest when they are built on a common love for Christ. May Christ be the root and ground, and the end and aim, of our friendships, that through them He might be glorified and you might enjoy the fullest blessing of this remarkable gift.