Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can You be Friends with Unbelievers?

I just watched this video journal from Mike Donehey from Tenth Avenue North, and it spurred so much thought. I'm still learning this stuff as I write this, so I'm excited to share my thoughts on what I've learned and believe. I'd love to hear yours, too. Here's the video first:

Ooh, this is interesting! I always struggled with this one. I could never quite understand why pastors or leaders told us we shouldn't get too close to people who don't believe in God. I even cringed just now writing that. I started to see why, though, in some of my personal relationships. Before I say anything more about my relationships, I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about any one specific person, so if you're my friend and you don't believe in God, that doesn't mean this about you. I promise. I come in peace.

1 Corinthians 15:33 "Do not be mislead: Bad character corrupts good company."

2 Corinthians 6:14 "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

These are the verses I always heard used to tell us that we shouldn't date or have close friendships with people who aren't Christians.

One weekend, when I was home from school, I was at church in young adult group, and we were talking about this. I said that I kind of didn't buy that we shouldn't be friends with unbelievers. Jesus was. He was friends with the worst sinners. One of my best friends was an Atheist. And if we don't become friends with the world, how will the world ever see Jesus?

And then someone said something that opened my eyes. One of the other young adults said something to the effect of, "I have seen it true in my life that Christians just make better friends is all." BAM.

And then I started paying attention in my friendships. Here's what was happening: Not to toot my own horn, but when I decide I want to be someone's friend, I don't half-ass it. So, I was giving all my best to all my friends. Okay. But not all my friends were giving me all their best. Hmm. I noticed that my Christians friends were there for me in ways my non-believer friends weren't. My Christian friends built me up. I left them feeling encouraged, uplifted, and happy. I oftentimes left my non-Christian friends feeling torn down, discouraged, and drained. It wasn't always as black and white as this, of course. My Christian friends didn't always do everything perfectly, and we had disagreements, and we pissed each other off. My non-believer friends made me laugh and I felt close to them at times. But still...there was a clear distinction once I started paying attention.

And I didn't understand why. People are people regardless of their beliefs. So, it didn't make sense to me why my Christian friends were better friends to me.

Until I was having coffee with one of those friends one day, and she started talking about a past relationship of hers that didn't work out. She said something like, "I was expecting him to love me like God loves me, but if he doesn't know that God loves him, how can he love with that kind of love? And I shouldn't have expected that from him! It was like asking someone in a wheelchair to get up and run with me. They just can't." BAM.

That was the second moment things became even clearer to me.

"I have tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves, where my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone." -Kim Walker, Jesus Culture

If I know the way God treats me, then that is my standard of love. That is my standard of friendship. It's hard to be happy with less once you have tasted more, you know what I mean? It's like if someone made you the best lasagna you ever had (my mom's, by the way), and then took your plate away to serve you seconds, only...when the plate comes back, it's lasagna made from a different recipe. It's still lasagna, but it's not the recipe with your favorite ingredients.

Not that friends are like lasagna.

So, because my Christian friends know the God love since they have experienced it themselves, that's the kind of love they pour out. Non-believers pour out the kind of love they experience, and while it might be good love and they are doing the best they can, it's not my mom's lasagna. It's not my Father's love. Does that make sense? In my friendships with non-believers I was becoming frustrated when they failed to give me the kind of love I needed. It's easier to be gracious with them now that I see they are doing their best. I can't ask them to make me my mom's lasagna if they have never watched her make it. They simply don't know the recipe. If I expect it of them, both of us will end up disappointed and frustrated.

I still have friends who are Atheists or Pagans or Agnostics, but I don't count them as my best friends. They may be great friends. My love for them may even be the same level of love I have for my Christian friends, but the difference is that they are not my best friends. They can't offer me the things that are most important to me because they don't know how. I don't hold it against them or think less of them or think my best friends are better people. It would be like if you looked for a best friend who can play or talk about sports with you. I could try to be the best friend I can to you, but if you need a sports analogy when you're feeling bummed, I can't give that to you. I might be a good friend, but I don't have what you need. You're going to want your best friend to be someone who can give you sports analogies to make you feel better. For me, my best friends need to be the people who will pray with me and remind me of God's promises and speak life into me.

So, when Mike, in the video, talks about getting off the chair and serving, I think that's great. Like Mike said, Jesus wasn't standing on a chair. For me, standing on a chair would be me holding everyone up to the standard that they will love me like God loves me. Not going to happen! If I get off the chair, I will recognize that I can still give my best to someone even if they don't return what I have experienced as the best.

Jesus was friends with all sorts of people. But He called His disciple, John, "The one I love". I don't think that means He loved John more than the others. It's just that John knew Jesus loved him--and he believed that love more, I think, than the others. Click here for message by Jamie Englehart that explains that better if you're interested.

 I absolutely believe we could all be friends regardless of what we believe. I think we could even be great friends. Some of the people most important to me don't believe in God.  I can still give them my best and accept their best. But when I am heartbroken, it won't serve me best to go to these friends because they can't give me what my heart needs. When my heart is broken, I need my Father's love, and I know which friends can help me with that.

I hope this doesn't offend anyone. All my friends and family are irreplaceable and incredibly valuable to me no matter what they believe. Every single friend of mine is unlike any of my other friends, so if you are my friend and not a Christian, I really don't mean we aren't tight. You bring things to the table no one else can simply because no one else is you. You're awesome just as you are.

So, what do you think or believe about the chair? Share your thoughts! Like I said earlier, I'm still learning this. I don't know everything. Tomorrow I could have a new BAM revelation that will knock today's beliefs about this out of the window. For now, though, this is simply what I have experienced in my life so far.

[ADDED NOTE] I did offend someone important to me whom I admire and love and whom I would never want to hurt. She was hurt by my words, though, and for that I am truly sorry. It was not my intention. I want to clear something up. There are plenty of Christians I'm not close to for one reason or another. Being a Christian doesn't automatically make them BFF material. And just because someone doesn't believe in God doesn't automatically disqualify them. It's not a black and white thing. I may tend to be closer to people who can pray with me and build me up with God's Word because it's the best way I feel comforted and strengthened. It's just natural to feel closer to people who give you what you need. I need lots of things because I am not one dimensional. I need people who don't always agree with me. I need people who believe different things. I need people for all sorts of reasons. The most important to me personally, though, is someone who can encourage me in faith.

Another clarification about the God love I mentioned. You do not have to know God to love well. You can be an Atheist or Pagan or Agnostic or anything and have a huge, loving heart. I don't know how to explain, though, that God love still feels different from that. It's a one hundred percent unconditional, gracious, all-consuming, life-changing love. When people accept that love from God, it's what they pour out. It's just different. One of my best friends and I have knocked heads so many times because we are so similar and at the same time so different that we grind each other the wrong way, but we also compliment each other. The world says "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..." If that friend and I held everything we have ever done to each other in offense and not forgiven, we wouldn't be friends. But God gives us chances again and again, and so that's what we do for each other because God has first done that for us. I don't get that in most of my friendships with non-Christians, and ironically they are the ones who don't want to be judged. I'm surprised when I get in fights with my non-Christian friends and they bring up something old against me. Like, wait, you haven't forgiven me of that?? I value grace in my friendships, and Christians simply do that better because we get it from God time and time again. Again, it's not black and white, though. Sometimes my Christian friends fail at it because they are human. I fail at it because I am human. God is the only one who all of the time pours out pure love. I'm only saying what I have experienced in my friendships. [END OF ADDED NOTE.]