Reflections on Literature & Friendship
Several years ago I was reading or re-reading various old books. As I read, a theme struck me. It was the theme of companionship or friendship. For example, in H. G. Well’s strange little book, The Invisible Man, the man invisible, named Griffin, is an unfriendly loner. He is completely isolated from everyone and even those with whom he associates are mere accomplices rather than friends. People are to be used. One gets the same sense when reading Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows. This is a truly wonderful read.
However, Toad is very much like Griffin. Yes, he is more jovial and outwardly inviting and even humorous at times but he has the same failing. People are to be employed for his designs. For example, when Mole and Ratty turned up on Toad’s doorstep the glorified reptile said, “I was just going to send a boat downriver for you…I want you badly – both of you!” But that was the way of Toad. Never seeking friendship but rather making use of whoever happened along to ensure his adventure.
But this relationship is balanced by that of Ratty and Mole. These are two unlikely friends but isn’t that often that case? Mole has been locked up and is now itching for adventure. Ratty is the river loving, hard working melancholic type. But this is friendship. When Mole lunges for the rudder, Ratty and Mole work through the damage caused by Mole’s foolish behavior. Again, when Mole slips away to the Wild Wood Ratty goes in after him. Mole is again apologetic and Ratty is forgiving. And when Ratty is less than sensitive regarding Mole’s longing for home we find Ratty apologetic. The story is filled with one example after another of the ups and downs of a friendship well lived.
And then, who can forget Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Christian is alone in the early part of his travels until he emerges from the valleys. Those were exceptionally difficult places. In the first valley he encountered Apollyon and then in the second valley he encountered demons who whispered anything but sweet nothings in his ear! However, a perplexing thing happens as Christian reaches the end of the valley. He hears the voice of another pilgrim. His heart leapt with joy. And so he walked faster in order to meet this brother. However, strangely we find that not only did Christian overtake his brother but he looked back at Faithful and smiled vaingloriously. Pride. And then he stumbled. However, here too we find friendship at its beginning when Faithful caught up and helped his brother to rise.
Do not all of these examples and many others remind us that friendship is a joy? However, the Bible tells us that a man of many companions may come to ruin “but there is one who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Surely, this is the Lord Jesus who is the best of friends. For indeed, He is the One and only who could lay down His life that we might have life in Him and that He did. Let us remember to be thankful for the friends that God has placed in our lives. However, let us remember that these friendships only imperfectly model the our friendship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.