Sunday, April 8th
Our Best Friend
By Thomas Groome
In the First Letter of Saint John, we read this extraordinary three-word description of God: It boldly states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is the cumulative punchline to God’s self-disclosure over the previous 2,000 years, first to the Israelites and then in God’s own Son, Jesus, the Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal many attributes of God—of mercy, justice, loving kindness, compassion, graciousness, and so on. Now, encouraged by the teachings of Jesus, John summarizes “God is love.” And to say God is love is to say that God is in love—with us.
Note well the Greek term here is agape. So God is love toward us with the fullest form of altruistic love. God does not love us because we earn or deserve it, but out of infinite generosity. And God continues to love us unconditionally—even if we don’t return God’s love. There is literally nothing we can do to stop God from loving us.
From ancient times, philosophers have also recognized this kind of agapaic love as the highest form of friendship. It is not based on utility, nor on familial relationships, nor on eros. It is love, pure and simple, given without deserving or even expecting return. That God is infinite agape toward us means God is our best friend.
The first part of 1 John 4:8 is the clue to how we are to respond and live into our friendship with God. The full verse reads, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” In other words, our friendships are precisely how we can come to “know” this God who is love. This could not be otherwise. Created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), we are made to love and be loved. To live without love/friendship negates who we are and blocks us from experiencing God’s love/friendship. As John says a few verses later, “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Might our divine friendship prompt us to share our friends with God and God with our friends? We can surely raise up our friends before God, praying for them, asking God to bless them, that we be good friends together. And, as appropriate, why not share our divine friendship with our friends? To witness that God is our best friend can inspire human friends to consider or deepen their own divine friendship.
Professor Thomas Groome is a professor of theology and religious education and the director of the Church in the 21st Century at Boston College.