In one of history’s great ironies, we live in a world that is both more connected and more disconnected than ever before. Smartphones, social media, e-mail, and other technologies make it simple to stay in contact with friends and loved ones even when they live thousands of miles away. And yet, there is a dearth of true intimacy. The sexualization of human relationships in the West makes it increasingly difficult to have a close friend of the same gender without raising suspicions of homosexuality. With the click of a mouse, we can be listed as the friend of someone whom we have never met—and probably will never meet—in person.
Scripture offers a key corrective to these problems by offering us a high view of human friendship. Today’s passage, for example, lauds the benefit of true friendship, a relationship in which we receive love from another at our best and at our worst. “A friend loves at all times,” Proverbs 17:17 tells us. Human beings have a deep need for acceptance by and fellowship with fellow human beings. This is not surprising, as we were made for community as image bearers of the One who is Himself a loving communion of three coequal persons (Gen. 1:26–27). We long to experience something of that undefiled communion and intimacy between the three persons of the Godhead, and true friendship helps meet that need.
Proverbs 17:17 also states that “a brother is born for adversity.” This parallels the first half of the verse and indicates that the true friend is as close as a brother and willing to walk with us through our deepest struggles. Blessed is the person who can find at least one faithful friend.
As wonderful as human friendships are, they are never perfect in this fallen world. Even our most self-sacrificial relationships tend to be rooted in what we find admirable in another person. Our friendships are harmed and often destroyed when our friends reveal their flaws. Sadly, this means that our friendships are often quite tenuous, prompting us to look for a friendship that is secure because it is not based on what the other person finds lovely in us. The only one who can provide this friendship is Jesus Christ. In his sermon “The Unrivaled Friend,” C.H. Spurgeon says: “The love of man to man is sustained by something drawn from the object of love, but the Love of Christ to us has its deep springs within Himself. … If it had to subsist upon us, and what we do, and what we merit, ah, it would always be at the lowest conceivable ebb! But since it leaps up from the great deep of the Divine Heart, it never changes, and by His Grace, it never shall!”