Few people would be crass enough to suggest that friends are unimportant. But how important are they? Really important? A little bit important? And what does friendship really look like? What does it mean to be a friend or to have a friend? After reading Drew Hunter’s Made for Friendship, I was left with the realisation that friendship is far more important and far more wonderful than I had ever imagined.

I’m always nervous to heap praise books on books lest it build people’s expectations unnecessarily. No one likes reading a book or watching a film that someone claimed was life-changing only to reach the end utterly untouched. But after some reflection, I’m near to suggesting that Made for Friendship is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Made For Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys

Made For Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys

Crossway. 192.
Crossway. 192.

As I’ve read Made for Friendship, I’ve thought not only of myself, but of the many people I know who have never really experienced friendship.

Perhaps I say that because I’m a single, never married man who has always longed for deeper friendships. Perhaps for that reason, the book speaks more to me than it speaks to others. But I’m inclined to think not. As I’ve read Made for Friendship, I’ve thought not only of myself, but of the many people I know who have never really experienced friendship. I think particularly of the many married men I know whose only friend, if they’re lucky, seems to be their wife. There are acquaintances, connections, but not really friends. There are people they do things with but not much beyond that. And I’m guessing, if that’s true for many men, it may also be true for many women as well. But into that situation steps Made for Friendship.

Friendship Everywhere and Nowhere

Hunter begins by asking what happened to friendship. Where has it gone? Why has it disappeared from our world? It was a relationship that was formerly cherished but now it seems to be forgotten. (19)

Hunter shows how many Christians from the past valued friendship as a key good, if not the key good in human existence. He quotes a multitude of writers who esteem friendship far beyond most of us. John Newton, for example, considered no pleasure equal to the pleasure of friendship. Jonathan Edwards thought friendship was the “highest happiness”. Gregory of Nazianzus noted that Basil the Great’s friendship was “the greatest benefit which life has brought me.” (20–21) Indeed, the subtitle of Made for Friendship is taken from the 19th century Anglican, J. C. Ryle, who suggested that “friendship halves our sorrows and doubles our joys”.

Friendship halves our sorrows and doubles our joys.

—J.C. Ryle

Hunter’s identification of the former esteem for friendship is backed up by others too. I have also recently been working my way through Richard Godbeer’s fascinating and unusual, The Overflowing of Friendship: Love Between Men and the Creation of the American Republic. Godbeer shows the quite astonishing openness and depth of relationship between American men in the 18th century. To quote just one example, in 1763, Joseph Hooper wrote to his friend, Benjamin Dolbeare:

The sun never rose and set upon me since I parted from you, but he brought to my longing imagination the idea of my bosom friend … My fancy paints him in the most beautiful colours, and my soul is absorbed in contemplating the past, wishing for a reiteration and longing to pour forth the expressions of friendship, and receiving those that would calm, soften the horrors, and wholly extirpate the distractions that your absence creates … [1]

As Godbeer notes, such language among friends today would make many of us feel more than a little uncomfortable. Most would suspect an underlying “romance” and sexual relationship between the men. Yet, as Godbeer carefully shows from countless examples, that wasn’t the case. Indeed, our suspicion reveals more about us and the sexualisation of our culture than it does about them.

Our suspicions reveal more about us and the sexualisation of our culture than it does about them.

But most importantly, the Bible, too, as Hunter shows, is also full of deep and committed friendship: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Paul and Timothy, Jesus and the apostle John—the disciple whom Jesus loved. (22) So, too, he observes, Proverbs is a book devoted to the exposition of friendship. (23)

Think, too, about the nature and quality of some of those friendships. Think of David and Jonathan: how their souls were knit together; how Jonathan loved David even as his own soul (1 Sam 18:1); how they made a covenant of love to each other (1 Sam 18:3; 20:17); how David said that the love of Jonathan was more than the love of women (2 Sam 1:26). Or what of John referring to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved (e.g. John 21:20)? Or leaning his head back on Jesus’ breast (John 13:23)? Or Paul embracing and kissing his friends as he departed from them (Acts 20:37). (E.g. 80–83)Who of us would feel comfortable with some of those actions? How many men, I wonder, would dare suggest that their soul was knit to that of another man who was his friend? How many would make a lifelong promise of support and friendship, let alone feel comfortable resting their head on their friend’s chest? But as Hunter quotes from C. S. Lewis:

On a broad historical view it is, of course, not the demonstrative gestures of friendship among our ancestors but the absence of such gestures in our own society that calls for some special explanation. (82)

From the vantage point, not only of history but, even more so, from the Bible’s portrayal of friendship, our modern experience of friendship looks incredibly thin.

The Cosmic Story of Friendship

Having asked where friendship has disappeared to, Hunter spends the rest of the book showing how friendship is built into the very fabric of who we are. In fact, he suggests that friendship is as essential to life as things like food, water and air. Friendship is the oil that keeps the engine going rather than the optional leather on the seats. (39–40) And the statistics show he’s right. It’s estimated that loneliness is as bad for your health as diabetes or high blood pressure, with lonely people 50% more likely to die prematurely than people who aren’t lonely. [2] Loneliness has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, cancers, eating disorders, drug abuse, sleep problems, depression, alcoholism and anxiety)[3]

When God created the world everything was good except for one thing—Adam, at first, was alone.

There is what Hunter calls an “Edenic ache” for friendship. When God created the world everything was good except for one thing—Adam, at first, was alone (Gen 2:18). No animal was sufficient company for him (Gen 2:20). Indeed, perhaps even more surprising is that Adam’s relationship with God was not seen by God to be sufficient for Adam’s good. God had created Adam with a need for human companionship. That companionship was not simply satisfied through marriage. Rather, marriage and family created the possibility of human relationships more broadly. (44–46) Yet the fact that Adam, even in his perfect state, was lonely without other human beings has profound implications for how we view ourselves. As Hunter quotes from Tim Keller:

Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect, but because he was perfect. The ache for friendship is the one ache that is not the result of sin … This is one ache that is part of his perfection. (42)

In fact, as Hunter shows, friendship is a key part of us because we have been made in the image of God and God is a God of friendship. Friendship and the intimate relationship of knowing and loving is at the heart of the Trinity. (122–24) Friendship and the need for friendship is built into us. In friendship, God has shared with us something of his very self. Hence, friendship is not just an optional extra but “the greatest of worldly goods”. (See chap. 3)

But Made for Friendship highlights, not only the importance of friendship, but the value of close friendships. Hunter suggests that most of us only know a kind of “fast food” friendship that doesn’t really satisfy. (77–78) Instead, the kind of friendship for which God created us is that the friendship in which your friend is “as your own soul”. (See chap. 4)

But perhaps the most important contribution the book makes is to demonstrate just how central friendship is to the storyline of the Bible and, hence, to the storyline of humanity as a whole. Again, quoting Keller, he notes “The entire history of redemption—in a sense—is a giant, cosmic act of friendship.” God’s goal in salvation history is that we might be one as he is one (John 17:11, 21) and might experience something of the inner love of the Trinity (John 17:26). (122) God’s commitment to friendship is exhibited in the Old Testament as he makes covenants with his people to “walk with him” in friendship, as he speaks to Moses as one speaks to a friend (Exod 33:11), (126–30) and as he takes up dwelling in a tent among his people. But it reaches its fulfilment when Jesus says that his disciples are no longer servants but friends (John 15:15), because not only has he opened up to them the very mind of God and let them know God’s innermost thoughts in salvation, but because he is about to lay down his life for them in the greatest and most precious act of friendship the world has ever seen.

Things to Learn About Friendship

As I worked my way through Made for Friendship a number of things struck me; some directly from the book and others just as I’ve reflected on the Bible, my own friends and my own life.

Most of us have an enormous problem: we need friends; we need close friends, but few of us actually have them.

1. We Need Friends

First, it has made me realise how much we need friendship. Most of us have an enormous problem: we need friends; we need close friends, but few of us actually have them. As I think about the many Christians I know, few have the kind of close friendships that we really need to thrive. We might not recognise the lack of friendship as one of our key problems. We might place the blame in other places. But Hunter shows that friendship is as vital to our existence as the air we breathe. Moreover, one friendship, even if it’s marriage, is not enough. We need a web of close friends who know and love us and whom we know and love.

2. We Need Close Friends

Second, I’ve realised how much we need close friends. We need more than just people we can take to the footy, go for a walk with, or invite over for dinner. We need people who really know us and love us and whom we really know and love. I think if we’re honest, that’s probably what most of us want anyway. And if we don’t, it may be because we’ve never actually experienced that kind of friendship.

I know that for myself I really want close friendships with people. I want friends who are “as my own soul”. I really want people who know me inside out and who I can share the very deepest things of my heart with; people that I can love, hug, spend time with and laugh with. In fact, reading Made for Friends has made me want that even more. Perhaps I am a uniquely tragic figure, but if I’m honest, the longing for friendship and love has at various times of my life left me perplexed, sometimes ashamed, often feeling as though I’m a bit needy and frequently worried that I’ll end up being an intolerable burden to others. But the ache for friendship, Hunter points out (as does the Bible!), is right. Made for Friendship has made me realise that the deep longing I have for friendship, to be known and loved deeply, and to know and love others deeply is not a weakness but actually a strength. It’s not a sign of some disproportionate neediness but a reflection having been made in the image of God.

3. Cherishing Friendships

Third, Made for Friendship has helped me to cherish the friendships I already have. I have been blessed with numerous wonderful friends in all kinds of places. People who know me deeply, some more than others. It’s helped me to realise that there are friends for whom I would sacrifice everything to see them prosper, friends whom I can trust, friends who are “as my own soul”, friends whom I have promised to love and support for the rest of my life even if it costs me dearly. Made for Friendship has increased my joy in those friendships, in those people, and in the God who has given them to me.

4. Expressing Friendship

Fourth, it has helped me to express friendship more openly. Hunter calls encouragement the “relational oxygen” of friendship. (109) Like the American men from Godbeer’s, The Overflowing of Friendship, friends in the Bible are not afraid to vocalise their love and commitment. Jonathan promised his love to David for the duration of his life. Jesus spent the last night with his disciples telling them how much he loved them and displaying that love (John 13:1). Paul wept for, embraced and kissed those whom he loved. Ruth left her homeland and everything she knew because she loved Naomi. As Hunter shows there is a biblical, creational, not to mention trinitarian reason for such expressions of deep affection and friendship. If we find that weird, it’s not because it is weird. It’s because we’re weird. Our society has conditioned us to find biblical friendship peculiar.

I remember an unmarried male friend once expressed to me how much he just wanted to experience love expressed through physical touch. Just a hug. That’s all.

As a result, I’ve started telling my friends how much I love and value them. I tell them what it is that I appreciate about them. And then I realised, if I do that for friends, I ought to do that for God. And so now I spend time telling God—Father, Son and Spirit—that I love them and why I love them. I don’t love them perfectly, but I do love them. And the more I say it, the more I feel it and enjoy it. But expressive friendship involves not only words but actions. I remember an unmarried male friend once expressed to me how much he just wanted to experience love expressed through physical touch. Just a hug. That’s all. But he was simply longing for something that is part of the very fabric of who we are.

5. Cultivating Friendship

Fifth, such friendships take time to cultivate and develop, and they take effort and sacrifice to sustain, and Made for Friendship has given me some useful ideas and suggestions on how to do that. Hunter spends a whole chapter on how to cultivate such friendships. The suggestions he gives are both helpful and practical. It has helped me to reflect constructively on how to build the friendships that I have, how to nurture them, and how to establish friendships that I don’t have. Perhaps one of the most obvious practical steps to take would be to read the book along with one or two other people, talk it through, pray about it and then seek to put it into practice. (15)

6. Being Realistic about Friendship

Sixth, Made for Friendship has also helped me to be realistic. Hunter refuses to set the unrealistic and overwhelming goal of deeply befriending everyone in the church. I belong to a church of over 300 people. Befriending all those people would ultimately result in befriending none of them. To be sure, the gospel calls us to profound and loving friendship with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, but there’s also the reality of human limitations—there are only so many people I can come to know deeply, not least because there’s only so much time in the day and friendship takes time. Nevertheless, cultivating deep friendships with some will also help to sharpen and cultivate deeper relationships with others.

7. The Source of Friendship

Finally, by setting human friendship in relation to the Bible story of friendship with God, it’s helped me get friendship in clearer perspective and to enjoy God more. Ultimately, of course, the greatest friendship is our friendship with God, but God has also made us for human friendships and relationships, and the two are not separate but mutually reinforcing. Friendship flows out of God’s heart of friendship and his friendship with us through Jesus. That flows into our human friendships. But our human friendships also reflect and refract our friendship with God.

The incredible love and joy I have and receive from my friends have helped me to understand the love God has for me and what it means to love him. The forgiveness and understanding of my friends when I’ve failed them or when I’ve shared with them the deepest struggles of my heart has helped me to understand, appreciate and accept God’s loving patience and kindness. The perseverance of my friends with me has helped me understand God’s perseverance. The patience of my friends has helped me accept the perfect patience of God. The honesty and openness of my friends and their desire to share their richest treasures with me reflects God’s desire to share his very self with me. In each of those (Christian) friendships I catch a little glimpse of God. That’s because all those things actually find their source in God himself. When my Christian friends love me and I love them, the friendship and love of God is refracted through us as Jesus’ life work its way out in us through the Spirit.

As I think about the many Christians I know, it strikes me that for many of us, we don’t know the first thing about friendship. We’re starting from square one. The temptation is to stay there. But Made for Friendship maps a better way forward—a way of deep and profound friendship anchored in God’s friendship with us through Jesus.

[1] Richard Godbeer, The Overflowing of Friendship: Love Between Men and the Creation of the American Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 1

[2] Denis Campbell, “Loneliness as Bad for Health as Long-Term Illness, Says GPs’ Chief,” The Guardian, October 11, 2017, sec. Society, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/12/loneliness-as-bad-for-health-as-long-term-illness-says-gps-chief.

[3] “Loneliness Is a Serious Public-Health Problem,” The Economist, September 1, 2018, https://www.economist.com/international/2018/09/01/loneliness-is-a-serious-public-health-problem.