Jesus is Not My Pal

One of the elements of modern (often Evangelical, but sometimes Catholic) spirituality that I find most foreign is when people talk about Christ as being “my best friend.” It seems an even more familiar form of the relationship suggested by hopeful missionaries, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

It’s possible to err in either direction on these things, and I make no representation that I am a perfect Christian, but I don’t think of myself having a “personal relationship” with Christ, certainly in a “best friends” kind of way. The ways in which I would normally envision Christ are not guy-next-door, my-buddy-the-savior kind of images. Christ the King, enthroned in eternal splendor into union with whom all Christians wish to enter for life everlasting. Christ Crucified, pouring out his blood for the sins of the whole world. Christ Risen, triumphing over the reign of death which had doomed humanity since the Fall. Christ in the Eucharist, kneeling before the glittering monstrance in which the Body of Christ forms the center of a sunburst of golden rays, with the crucifix above and the tabernacle behind.

This is not to say that I see Christ as distant. But while not a sparrow falls without the Father knowing it, you can hardly expect a sparrow to understand God, much less consider himself God’s friend. God knows us better than we know Him, because we are understandable to Him in a way that He is not to us. I wouldn’t say that I feel distant from God. Indeed, the reality of God is as foundational to my ability to understand the world as are the non-material qualities of Good, Justice, Mercy and Beauty which spring from Him, and as basic to life as the physical laws and order of creation.

Though in many ways a classical liberal, in personal as in political life, suspicious of too much power concentrated in one person — Christ is the king to which my knee bends eagerly, the perfection which deserves utter love and obedience, the authority which is at the same time absolute and freeing.

Certainly, all this represents a relationship between persons. Christ is one of the three persons of the Trinity; we are persons made in God’s image. Yet I find it hard to think of it as a “personal relationship” in the sense that I take the phrase to be meant. And it certainly is not what I would think of as a “best friend” relationship. When I look for Christ, my gaze is naturally upward. I don’t picture throwing my arm around His shoulders and asking, “How’s it going, buddy?”

41 Responses to Jesus is Not My Pal

  • Henry Karlson:

    I don’t suppose you’ll also provide us a link showing an ancient desert father wearing a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, no?

  • I believe the correct title for that book is Buddy Jesus and the Early Church: A Historical Study. More seriously, while I find the image interesting, I’m curious about why Henry linked to it. I think there are a wide variety of plausible interpretations for what that image says about the Christian’s relationship to Jesus.

  • No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

    John 15:15

    And that icon is an ancient one, btw.

  • John Henry

    I pointed to it because years ago, one of my Coptic friends pointed out how it was an icon of Jesus as our friend.

  • One is urged not to judge a book by its cover, but with a cover that bad, it’s sure tempting… Wow.

  • Henry Karlson,

    The icon may be an ancient one; however, the modernist interpretation you place on it to advance your liberal views concerning it, isn’t.

    Not only is it flawed; it is also anachronistic.

  • E.

    What’s anachronistic about what I said? The idea that Jesus can be our friend is anachronistic? Really? Seriously??! So I guess John 15:15 is a modernist scripture which was sent back in time?

    And as I pointed out, I was told the interpretation by a Coptic friend of mine, one who was I believe a deacon at the time (might have only been sub-deacon) and was, before moving to the Americas, active in Cairo at one of the churches (and this one a monastery-church) which is built upon a site the Holy Family hid at. I wouldn’t call him a “modernist” either.

  • Well, look, I see no reason to say that anyone is ‘wrong’ here. What we have here are different images to explain something that is basically indescribable: the soul’s relationship with God. Darwin thinks that some of this imagery – the “my pal Jesus” kind – is not to his taste because while it may convey familiarity (one aspect of the relationship between the individual soul and God), it is very misleading when considered as a description of the equality (or lack thereof) between the soul and God. Henry is pointing out that Jesus used the language of friendship to describe His relationship with His disciples, and so it is perhaps a richer analogy than the post acknowledges.
    This is not a serious disagreement, I don’t think.

  • To Jesus, Our Friend
    St. Claude de la Colombière

    O Jesus! Thou art my true Friend, my only Friend. Thou doth take a part in all my misfortunes; Thou doth take them on Thyself; thou doth know how to change them into blessings. Thou doth listen to me with the greatest kindness when I relate my troubles to Thee, and thou hast always balm to pour on my wounds. I find Thee at all times; I find Thee everywhere; Thou never goest away; if I have to change my dwelling, I find Thee wherever I go.

    Thou art never weary of listening to me; Thou art never tired of doing me good. I am certain of being beloved by Thee if I love Thee; my goods are nothing to Thee and by bestowing Thine on me, Thou never growest poor. However miserable I may be, no one more noble or learned or even holier can come between Thee and me, and deprive me of Thy friendship; and death which tears us away from all other friends, will unite me for ever to Thee.

    All the humiliations attached to old age or to the loss of honor, will never detach Thee from me. On the contrary, I shall never enjoy Thee more fully, and Thou will never be closer to me than when everything seems to conspire against me, to overwhelm me and to cast me down. Thou doth bear with all my faults with extreme patience.

    Even my want of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound Thee to such a degree as to make Thee unwilling to receive me back when I return to Thee.

    O Jesus! Grant that I may die praising Thee, that I may die loving Thee, that I may die for the love of Thee. Amen.

  • John Henry

    Right, I am just wanting people to appreciate the great spiritual tradition which does look at Jesus as our friend, and realize it is not all sub-par, but that there is a richness to it that has inspired, and continues to inspire, saints.

  • The modern (perhaps, more precisely, the “Protestant”) interpretation of “personal relationship with Jesus” has often been, as even in our current day, the kind not unlike that which rappers and R&B singers notoriously demonstrate & subscribe to, which even large congregations of Protestant churches themselves as well as youth groups nurture even still; where one can be so buddy, buddy with our homey, Jesus, that a supposed Christian can even cuss the hell’outta him and talk to him as if he were some 21 JumpStreet gangsta.

    Apologies, but the kind of “friendship” that I subscribe to as concerning Christ is not unlike the original kind espoused in the ancient Fathers of the Church, where it acknowledges and pays due homage to one divine aspect of him that the notorious modern interpretation so often neglects and, worse, deplorably disrespects: that He happens to be not only Lord & Saviour but also God, deserving of such due homage and utmost respect.

    So, go tell yo homeys, “e.” don’t play dat.

  • (seeing Henry’s comment that it’s an actual ancient icon, and not an in-the-style-of as I’d taken it):

    1) It would be appropriate to at least ask whether the arm-on-shoulder posture shown in the icon merits the “icon of Christ and his friend” title which some people apparently now give it. (Googling around, it is a 5th century Egyptian icon of Christ and Abba Menas currently hanging in the Louvre.) Gestures do not always maintain continuity of meaning across time and cultures — as with the fru-fra over medieval lord/vassal ceremonies which involved the exchange of kisses being interpreted by modern people as “gay marriage” ceremonies.

    2) Just because a piece of art is old doesn’t mean that it’s good or expresses truth well. Perhaps I’m simply bringing my modern understandings of symbol and gesture to it, but this looks to me about as egregious as a lot of the 19th century devotional paintings of Jesus which make him look like a pale, European, emaciated and somewhat effeminate youth.

    That said, I’m not trying to argue here that Christ should never be seen as a friend. As Henry points out, Christ tells his disciples that they are not merely servants but friends. In another example of close relation, we are told that we are sons of God. Clearly, if God is our Father, he is not wholly other.

    What I wrote here is not meant to describe the only way of understanding one’s relationship with Christ, not to insist that mine is the best one. If you’re looking for someone with the deepest possible understanding of and relationship with God, I’m not the person you’re going to turn to. I’m an ordinary Catholic struggling as we all must to understand the eternal and perfect.

    But at the same time, I did write it not merely because it describes my personal experience, but also because I fear that in the laudable desire to bring Christ into their lives rather than leaving Him as some distant influence that does not impact their day-to-day actions, modern Americans are particularly tempted towards a view of Christ which is essentially humanistic and horizontal — losing the vertical sense of God’s power and majesty.

    In any given age, we often need most the images which are contrary to the spirit of the times. Through much of Christian history, it was perhaps important to remind people that Christ truly came for all, and loved the peasant at least as much as the lord. But in our day, I think we’re much more in danger of losing any sense of Christ’s divinity and kingship — living as we do in a society which celebrates egalitarianism. I think we need Christ as King now more than ever.

  • I think John Henry states the correct mean.

  • DarwinCatholic:

    I, for one, happen to laud your post, which your above comments even further explains with even greater clarity and deeper meaning.

    The fact that Henry Karlson imposes his conspicuously modern interpretation on the ancient icon, to make it appear as though the current modern interpretation of “friendship with Christ” in our day is actually not unlike that of those in the early church is as seriously flawed as it is anachronistic; not to mention, self-serving.

    Indeed, such a markedly familiar notion has exactly been what has led to a rather notorious lack of respect toward Our Lord in our modern times and the many egregious profound displays of irreverence not only in our several churches but, ultimately, in modern-day Christianity as a whole.

  • The above band will be playing at Mass in a church near your — look for it!

    Coming Up in Future Performances:

    “Down wid Christ! Hell ya, mutha******”

    by Rapper, Kenya Christian

    — end sarcasm.

  • S.B.

    Didn’t you know that was an ancient hymn written by one of the Desert Fathers?

  • In the last days of her life, St. Teresa was ordered by the Lord to go found yet another convent. Traveling through the winter weather and snows of the mountains, she fell into a freezing river.
    “That’s the way I treat all my friends” said the Lord.
    “No wonder you have so few” she replied.

    And for real friends it seems to me that “Sell all you have and come follow me” is the applicable text.

  • But in our day, I think we’re much more in danger of losing any sense of Christ’s divinity and kingship — living as we do in a society which celebrates egalitarianism.

    I agree, although every individual has their own struggles. For some, the break down of traditional family and community structures as well as the peculiar forms of isolation resulting from modern technology make it difficult to conceive a loving, caring God.

  • Not to mention, those who mistake a vulgar familiarity with Christ as actually a “personal relationship” with Him due to some sordid notion of amity, prevalently fostered by Protestant churches and unfortunately imported into our own Catholic churches by certain parishoners given to such, make it very difficult to ever conceive that Christ is, in fact, “God”; instead, one would think he’s simply some homey residing on 21st street.

  • DarwinCatholic:
    Icons are not pieces of art. For the Eastern Christians they are sacramentals. They are meant to induce prayer and meditation and avoid anything that is too much of this earth. That is why they may look strange to Western eyes brought up with a Renaissance view of art. Friendship is a noble virtue. There is a difference in degree between “friend” and “buddy”.
    Elise B.

  • Wow, very strong reactions here, mostly to that poor man posting that Icon.

    Anyhoo…wanted to add that I agree with the post and add that I think that most Catholics of a certain age have a bit of hurdle to overcome when contemplating Jesus as our “personal savior” and “best friend” and other such Evangelical and Born Again phrasing. I think it’s because the eternal view of the Church has consistently been that of “community” and “communal salvation.” Indeed, we come to Christ, not through a personal relationship with him, but through the Church, the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. All the mass emphasizes our fellowship duties to salvation for ourselves and each other.

    Just my thoughts. Peace.

  • Jesus in the most classical sense is more like a mob boss than a friend, or the local cacique in Mexico that everyone wants to their kid’s padrino (godfather). He has his tender moments, he can even seem like your friend at times, but don’t piss him off, and don’t mess with him. And he can hook you up with all sorts of goodies if you do what he says. That makes the saints akin to mob captains. If you want anything done in Heaven, you gotta know somebody who knows somebody.

    At least that’s how I understand it.

  • Re: John 15:15, I realize that Christ could be speaking to all of us through the scripture, and there are probably multiple layers of meaning there, but I read it as speaking to the disciples — men who really were his friends — his natural, human friends. You know, human beings he spent a lot of time with in the flesh.

    We can’t have precisely the same kind of natural, human relationship with Jesus that these men did, even if we can look to it as a model and sign for our own, supernatural relationship with Him.

  • 1. When the Lord Jesus had commended the love which He manifested toward us in dying for us, and had said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He added, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” What great condescension! when one cannot even be a good servant unless he do his lord’s commandments; the very means, which only prove men to be good servants, He wished to be those whereby His friends should be known. But the condescension, as I have termed it, is this, that the Lord condescends to call those His friends whom He knows to be His servants. For, to let us know that it is the duty of servants to yield obedience to their master’s commands, He actually in another place reproaches those who are servants, by saying, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?”1 Accordingly, when ye say Lord, prove what you say by doing my commandments. Is it not to the obedient servant that He is yet one day to say, “Well done, thou good servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”?2 One, therefore, who is a good servant, can be both servant and friend. (Augustin on John 85)

  • He both is abundantly and infinitely rich; and He desires and earnestly endeavors to obtain our friendship; we do not thus earnestly endeavor. What am I saying, ’do not earnestly endeavor’? We do not wish to obtain the good things as He wishes it. And what He has done shows that He wishes it more [than we]. For while, for our own sake, we with difficulty think lightly of a little gold: He, for our sake, gave even the Son who was His own. Let us make use of the love of God as we ought; let us reap the fruits of His friendship. For “ye are My friends” (he says) “if ye do what I say to you.” (Jn 15,14). How wonderful! His enemies, who were at an infinite distance from Him, whom in all respects He excels by an incomparable superiority, these He has made His friends and calls them friends. What then should not one choose to suffer for the sake of this friendship? For the friendship of men we often incur danger, but for that of God, we do not even give up money. Our [condition] does indeed call for mourning, for mourning and tears and wailings, and loud lamentation and beating of the breast. We have fallen from our hope, we are humbled from our high estate, we have shown ourselves unworthy of the honor of God even after His benefits we are become unfeeling, and ungrateful. The devil has stripped us of all our good things. We who were counted worthy to be sons; we His brethren and fellow-heirs are come to differ nothing from His enemies that insult Him. (Chrysostom He 2307)

  • I think part of the problem is that we have a rather cut-rate notion of what it means to be a “friend” today. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I have to think the term Jesus uses in the scene in John is a lot richer and more meaningful than what is usually meant by it in the Age of Facebook.

  • I appreciate the quotes from the Fathes, Henry, but I’m not entirely sure what you’re driving at — assuming that you’re driving at something rather than just sharing some good quotes with us all.

    I’m not trying to suggest that it’s wrong or never appropriate to refer to Christ as a friend — if that’s what’s concerning you. But I am trying to argue against a certain approach to spirituality or to talking about Christ which is highly egalitarian and familiar in it’s approach. I’m thinking, for instance, of Protestant or Catholic carismatic friends I’d had who tend to talk about prayer as, “I’ve gotta go talk this over with my best friend,” or “I’ve got to run that by my buddy upstairs.”

  • Henry is just upset that there remains genuine Catholics like DarwinCatholic who uphold the Traditions of the Church rooted in both Scripture & Oral Tradition, passed onto the Ages, from the Apostles themselves.

    The modernist enterprise of nihilistic emancipation is the very core of crusade Henry Karlson et al are prominently engaged in; to make it seem that the novel Protestant interpretations that only came about in the 16th century and, even worse, the subsequent modern versions that arose from these; are exactly the kinds of interpretations (wherein the very hermaneutics employed are believed to enjoy a certain legitimacy by the likes of these) that Catholics today should likewise adopt to the point of forming a “friendship” with our Lord in the hip-hop, faddish fashion that are of the “What Would Jesus Do?” and “Hoes Down Wid Jesus” variety.

    Is it then any wonder why even in the Masses celebrated today, these days, the Greatest Prayer of the Church has become little more than merely a liturgical performance replete with irreverence and vulgarity?

    I applaud DarwinCatholic and all those who in spite of these Pop fads that come & go, nevertheless continues to heed the High Call of the Ancient Church and cherish with right fondness the precious Treasures of Tradition contained therein and give due worship to our Master, who is both Lord & King.

  • DC

    Those were quoting explaining John 15:15 for bearing.

    Can someone explain to me where I am modernist? What has been the modernism in what I’ve shown and said?

  • Did Jesus really fully identify with us in our humanity, or, didn’t he?

    Does he have a courteous and humble familiarity with every aspect of our being, or, doesn’t he?

    He asks us to believe that he is one with us, and some seem unable to bear that thought…

  • were *quotes* sorry, typo there — I’m tired today

  • markdefrancisis:

    If you should actually believe that merely because your rather vulgar interpretation of the kind of “humanity” or “friendship” with Christ is somehow accomodated by Scripture or the Ancients themselves, then, by golly, go ahead and be “buddy, buddy” with your Homey, “J.C.”, enjoy conversations replete with profanity and utterly vile colloquialism, perhaps even have the Mass celebrated at a local strip bar — hey, why not?

    Didn’t Christ identify with us in our humanity and even entertained prostitutes?

    You might even take your peeps, Henry K., and all other homeys with you that are down wid dat.

    As for me, I prefer the pristine worship of Our Lord the way He should be worshipped and reverenced; giving due respect deserving of Lord & Creator and most especially Saviour & God!

  • e,

    Let him in…

  • Henry,

    I don’t think you’re being a modernist. I’m not sure where e. is getting that.

    e.,

    Please throttle it back a bit. While “Jesus is my homeboy” talk can be egregious, no one is advocating it on this thread so far as I can tell. And while we’re personalities with history, we should try not to view things through that lens too much.

  • DC,

    Thank you.

  • Etienne Gilson [GOD AND PHILOSOPHY] notes that the God of the Deists was something like “my pal”, le dieu des bonnes gens, a supremely good fellow.

    Which is also to say, a gentleman “one who never offends”.

  • If there is anyone I found who qualifies as self serving it is ” trad catholics”. e. is a prime example. They will stop at nothing to shove their ” infallible ideas down everyone’s throat!

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