Monday, August 27, 2007

what kind of "friend of God?"

After church at Bethany yesterday, I was thinking about one of the choruses we'd sung and how much it bothered me. I was debating in my head bringing it up to Julie, when she said, "I don't think I like that song, 'Friend of God.'" Whew! Now perhaps I can give my opinion without seeming like some bitter, formerly-Evangelical-convert-to-something-else, outside observer. If you're not familiar with the song, here are the lyrics:
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!

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

God Almighty,
Lord of Glory,
You have called me friend.
It looks deceptively short, because there's a lot of repetition. Part-way through it, I got bored and stopped singing, so I had time to think a while about the message. To my knowledge, there's only one passage in Scripture that uses the term "friend of God":
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:20-24).
In one of the strongest arguments for faith fulfilled by works, James calls Abraham the Friend of God, not because God loved him, but because of Abraham's tangible response, as he worked out his faith by willingly sacrificing his own son. But this chorus says nothing about obedience or sacrifice or works of faith. It speaks only of God's love for us. Perhaps if the background is a strong Calvinist view of limited atonement, we could say that it applies only to the elect--those for whom Jesus died, because they alone would be saved--but it doesn't strike me as the sort of song you'd get from that camp. Instead, we have something that verges on universalism--that to be a friend of God requires only that God love me. But if God loves all mankind, that means every person who has ever lived is a friend of God. Are we supposed to bask in this realization while acknowledging that perhaps the majority of God's friends will end up in hell, or is it more logical to conclude that all these "friends" will be saved? In a song that doesn't even seem to require faith as a human response, universal salvation seems the only likely outcome.

To be fair, the song hardly has enough content to draw hard and fast conclusions about the underlying theology. Perhaps we should give the benefit of the doubt that it was never meant to say much of anything except that it feels good to know God loves us. And presumably it's enough to know that a person who didn't love God back would probably not sing it. Still, the choice between heresy and contentless emotion doesn't seem very appealing.


Roland said...

The passage that immediately occurred to me was John 15:13-15. But when Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you," that supports your point.

Trevor said...

Thanks for the reference--it's possible, though it brings up another issue with the song, which is that it really doesn't even imply the deity of Christ, the Trinity, or even monotheism. (I could easily hear the song on the lips of a polytheist isolating one particular god for praise.) This is not to say that whoever wrote the song does not hold any of these beliefs or intentionally made the song vague on these points. It does, however, highlight a fairly minimalist trend when it comes to theological content in a lot of the music being produced these days.

Jennifer said...

I am in the middle of a debate about this song with the music minister at my church. Your post has been very helpful in helping me articulate my own point.

I don't like the song at all. He has defended it adamantly and tells me we shouldn't be overly theological about it all!