By Paul Koch –
When I am asked to explain just what the hell we are doing on The Jagged Word, I usually begin my explanation with some reference to friendship. “It’s a few of my friends and I that write weekly in areas of theology and culture…” Or “My friends get to write freely and courageously as we sort of think out loud and try to encourage a conversation…” Or something along those lines. Friendship is deeply embedded within the ethos of what this is about, and I believe it is why we continue to grow and produce quality posts.
Our podcast, Ringside with the Preacher Men, is likewise a product of friendship. If no one wanted to listen to Joel, Ross, and me banter around a few topics each week, I think we would still put forward effort to have the conversation because we actually consider each other to be friends. We would tell the same jokes, make fun of the same things, and encourage the same examinations if it were just the three of us sitting in a bar (however the language would probably be a little more colorful).
I think for most of us, we know that a true friend is a rare commodity. For me, I know who I am in the company of my friends, which makes them indispensable in the living out of my vocations. Friendship is that rebellious act that draws a tight circle of trust and openness around a particular few within a much larger community. These few are the ones I trust, the ones I rely on, the ones whose voice matters most.
This past Sunday, I traveled south to be a guest on the Thinking Fellows podcast. I recorded two episodes sitting with my mentor Dr. Rosenbladt and my friend Scott. First, we talked about preaching Law and Gospel, which I felt could have gone on for hours. But then, to my surprise, we shifted our focus in the next episode to talk about friendship. Scott read a quote from C.S. Lewis’ masterful The Four Loves, and then it was like the dam broke as we began to talk about the power and necessity of friends. It was fascinating to see how quickly the conversation became emotional like we are pining for the love of our life.
As the conversation went on, I began to see how I have been blessed with friends in my life. There are those few who would be there through thick and thin, be there to get done what needed to get done (even as my friend Tim would say, to bring the shovel and meet you in the desert with no questions asked), be there to go to war with you or to tell you when you’re being a complete idiot, be there to sit in the darkness of depression or join you in the celebration of a new day, be there to call you on your sinful bullshit, and be there to speak the sweet Gospel into your repentant heart.
Such a blessing as a friend must come from the wisdom and love of our God. What else could be the source of something so strong and unwavering as the love of a friend?
This then got me to thinking about what happens when friendships fail. Not necessarily when someone fails to live up to the demands and standards of being a friend, and not what happens when you lose a friend. Rather, what happens when you try to live without a friend altogether. What becomes of a man that is friendless?
I would suggest that a friendless man is a terrifying and sad creature. They become an individual driven by fear on the one hand and impulse on the other. Without the external word of a friend to speak correction, guidance, and forgiveness, a friendless man will become his own god—his own arbiter of good and evil, accountable only to his own desires and fears. What the Church might often consider a failure of faithful Law and Gospel proclamation is perhaps actually a failure of friendship. Possibly a friend is a crucial requirement for what it means to speak the truth in love.
“So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Eph. 4:14-16