I was speaking to someone who clearly had a great reverence for God. “You can’t call God a friend or your buddy,” he said. “You’ve got to have respect and fear of God.” For this person, he could not imagine God as someone you’d sit down and have a beer with. For him, God merits much more respect than that. So can we call God a friend?
The easy answer is “Yes!” But we can’t work from a narrow definition of friendship. I can understand this man’s hesitation. The buddies he’d go with to the bar gets a different kind of respect than he would give his Creator. After all, our God is the life force of the universe. Saint Ignatius could find no way to fully repay the love God has given. Indeed, Ignatius had great fear of God, that is, respect and reverence. Yet, he could still call God friend. Why?
Friendship is one of the most important relationships a person can have outside familial relations. Healthy friendship requires great respect and reverence. And friendship is a sign of God in this unique bond between two people. C.S. Lewis, in his great book The Four Loves, says, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” It is a critical relationship we all yearn for and need, and ought to respect. But respect and awe doesn’t negate the casualness of hanging back with a friend.
God’s friendship in prayer
In the Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius suggests ending most prayer periods with a colloquy, or conversation between you and Jesus. He asks the person praying to speak to Jesus as to a friend. This allows the pray-er to relax into the conversation and not hold back.
Sometimes the “fear of God” turns from reverence into actual fear and we end up holding back in prayer. We fail to fully be open to God as we would with a friend. By imagining God or Jesus as a friend we let ourselves open up more and become vulnerable. When I engage in this kind of imaginative conversation called colloquy, I like to sit down with a cup of coffee and just imagine chatting with Jesus as if he were sitting across from me.
It goes without saying that all relationships whether with a friend, spouse, or family member, require respect. But if you can have more transparency with your spouse or a friend over a drink than with God, there’s a problem. God can be like parent or teacher—God has the qualities of both—but at the end of the day God desires your friendship and wishes you to be as open and comfortable as a friend would be.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod