Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friend of God?


I had a worshipper from our second service relate to me in passing that she didn’t like the new song we were doing called, Friend of God. She insisted that it wasn’t biblical. I have to admit, it’s not my favorite song. But I countered that the idea of friendship with God was biblical. For that reason and some others, I’ve introduced the song into the repertoire for the second service.

But when someone challenges me, it always sets me to thinking…

I agree that our relationship with God should not be conceived in a cavalier manner such as, “the Man upstairs” or “Buddy-buddy.” Such a conception of Christian spirituality is certainly not how the Scriptures frame who God is. He is the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the Universe. Indeed, the Scriptures say, the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) I doubt that the prophet Isaiah was singing Friend of God when he saw the Lord sitting on a lofty throne. As I recall, his first response was “woe is me!” (Isa 6:5)

It is all the more mysterious then, that God should stoop to call men His friends. But that was the case with Abraham as King Jehoshaphat referred to him as a “friend of God” in his prayer for deliverance from a menacing army in 2 Chronicles 20:7: “O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land when your people arrived? And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham?” There are very few references in Scripture as someone being “a friend of God.” Abraham had special favor with God and Jehoshaphat leveraged that place of privilege for “the children of Abraham” to gain protection from their enemies. As presumptuous as it may seem, Jehoshaphat’s prayer was common practice for the Israelites who lived within their covenant with God. (See Nehemiah 1:5-11.) God was bound by his word and promises to his people. Abraham had found favor with God to be even called His friend and that favor was passed down to his descendants forever. (Genesis 17:1-7)

In the New Testament, Jesus extends the same privilege to us as He distinctly called his disciples “friends” in John 15:15: “I no longer call you servants, because a master does not confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” It is quite a mystery that the Sovereign Lord of the universe should call us His friends. But that is, I believe, the wonder of His grace.

I think that some of the discomfort with the song, Friend of God has to do with the music. As a musician, I find it quite fun (and relatively easy) to play. It has lots of positive energy. I suspect that when the casual fun nature of the music is wedded to the mysterious and wonderful concept that we can be friends with the Almighty and Sovereign Lord, warnings against a watered down and human-centered Gospel start going off in many folks’ mind. That’s understandable. Perhaps if the music was more dignified, some would find the concept of friendship with God more palatable.

OK. Some hymn writers also mention the idea:

“He is our Guide and Friend, to us He’ll condescend…” Come, Christians, Join to Sing  by Christian H. Bateman

“Jesus! What a Friend for sinners…” Our Great Savior by J. Wilbur Chapman

…and the well-loved What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Joseph M. Scriven.

Still, Jesus called His disciples friends. I take it that the invitation to friendship with God is still open to us. Friendship with God is a deep mystery and full of wonder. We can celebrate His deep love and affection for us even as we stand in awe of the Almighty.

VERSE
Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me
When I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me
It's amazing

CHORUS
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

BRIDGE
God Almighty
Lord of glory
You have called me friend

CCLI Song No. 3991651
© 2003 Integrity's Praise! Music
Vertical Worship Songs
(Admin. by Integrity Music, Inc.)
Israel Houghton
Michael Gungor

4 comments:

  1. Hmm... that's a song I have struggled with for a while. I haven't ever been able to put my finger on why it bothered me, though, because in spite of the potential "buddy-buddy" chorus, the verse is a quote from a Psalm and the bridge inspires wonder of why this God-of-all would care about befriending us.

    You solved the riddle for me, though - it's the music. The "casual fun nature of the music" makes it feel like it should be a song about fun rather than a song about wonder.

    I think another reason might be that I'm not sure how often we really put a whole song together in our minds. I think we often think of the chorus of a song outside the context of the song (I am certainly including myself in the "we" here.)

    With this song, then, we only remember the "I am a friend of God" repetition without the verse or bridge. So instead of seeing it as a celebration of God's grace to us, we are left with a bouncy melody of buddy-buddy-ness (partially because the chorus is the part that runs through our head for the next 4 days). Maybe the format of the song takes away from the teaching function of the song...? Maybe not, though. I'm just spit-balling here.

    You still make me think, Dr. Myers... thank you for that.

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  2. Thanks, Kyle. I always enjoy your posts. As I said, it's not my favorite song. But it still has a place. At least it is provocative and I think it is helpful to talk about it.
    Blessings to you, my friend!

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  3. I've struggled with this song in the same way I struggle with many praise songs. It is difficult for me when I know that folks in the church service who are decidedly not friends of God will be singing. If worship is formative, and it is, I'm given pause by that song for the potential it has to make people FEEL justified before God when they may not be. The song lacks enough depth to give an understanding of how or why one is a friend of God. As such, it can have the effect (and I think this is why the likes of Osteen use it) of pronouncing cheap grace on the church in a frenzy of warm and fuzzy feelings.

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  4. Oh, Aaron. You have a way with words! Thoughtful and very well-put. Many praise songs? As a whole, I think they're getting better. And there were a few romantic hymns that kind of fall into the same category. ("I Am His and He is Mine" comes to mind.) I think the problem is greater today, however, because our culture is more self-absorbed than two generations ago. At least we're talking about it.

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