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Center for Action and Contemplation
Encountering God through the Bible
Encountering God through the Bible

Can We Be “Friends” with God?

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Author and scholar Diana Butler Bass describes friendship with Jesus as something that—contrary to some popular opinion—is the mark of a mature faith. Friendship with God is at the heart of the biblical story: 

The Bible tells a different story about friendship with God, especially in the Hebrew scriptures. Friendship is anything but immaturity; it is a gift of wisdom: “In every generation [wisdom] passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27). Two of Israel’s greatest heroes, Abraham, the father of faith, and Moses, the liberating prophet, are specifically called friends of God. In Isaiah 41:8, God refers to Abraham as “my friend,” a tradition that carries into the New Testament (James 2:23). Of Moses, Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11), a very rare intimacy, for such close proximity to the divine usually meant death (33:20). . . .  

The point is that friendship with God establishes the covenant—and that Israel is freed from bondage into a new family forged by friendship through the law given by Moses. Friendship with God is not a biblical side story; rather, it is central to the promises and faithfulness of being a called people, in which all are friends, companions, intimates, siblings, and beloved.  

Early Christians, most of whom were Jews, knew all of this and extended the idea of divine friendship to Jesus. The New Testament vividly recounts the closeness of Jesus’s circle of friends, women and men transformed through their relationship with him. . . .  

Butler Bass understands the “Our Father” prayer of Jesus to be ultimately about our mutual friendship with God: 

Indeed, Jesus instructed his friends to pray to “Abba” (as we can assume he himself prayed), a term most often rendered as “Father” in English, but one that contains shades of meaning denoting intimacy and familiarity, including that of fraternal relations like “brother” or “companion,” and is related to the Hebrew word for “friend” (ahab), used to describe Abraham.  

Thus, Jesus introduces his friends (the disciples) to his other friend (God) in the daily prayer known as the “Our Father,” perhaps the spirit of which is better captured by “Our Father-Friend” or just “Our Friend.” This idea of “Our Friend in heaven” was a revolutionary one, as Jesus, acting as a mediator of divine companionship, collapsed the sacred distance between God and us. . . . 

Friendship is contingent on love—real love: compassion, empathy, reaching out, going beyond what we imagine is possible. That is the command: love. And if we reach out in love, friendship is the result, even friendship with God. Friendship is mutual, a hand extended and another reaching back. . . . Friendship is an eternal circle, the ceaseless reaching toward one another that strengthens us and gives us joy.  

Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (New York: HarperOne, 2021), 3–4, 14. 

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 17 & 20 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., 1963 (detail), Photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The Bible reveals the ongoing work of liberation by God and God’s people. It is a bridge to our understanding of God moving through the ordinariness of time and space. Just like this river: symbolizing the continuing story of the struggle for justice as it flows around and through this freedom fighter of the 1960s.

Story from Our Community:

As a society, we have forgotten justice for those in need. In the Bible, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. By letting our neighbor live in poverty and without nourishment is not love. In Galatians, Paul says, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” Sometimes, I think that we remember the poor, but that is all. 
—Russell C. 

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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