I don’t know how many of you are readers, but I thought I’d briefly follow-up a reference in my sermon Sunday. I mentioned a short story about a woman who disappeared gradually because people never paid any attention to her. The story, if anyone is interested, is called “The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,” and appears in a book by Steven Millhauser called Dangerous Laughter.
The book also has a very funny story, called “Cat’N’Mouse,” that deals with the theme of friendship.
In the story the author imagines those old enemies of Saturday morning cartoons, Tom and Jerry, nearly giving in to the temptation to abandon their war and become friends. A glimpse into the thoughts of each one reveals that the two only remain enemies because they have always been enemies. Their hatred is merely an old and hard to break habit, a habit that masks the considerable admiration each has built up for the other through long days of observation and acquaintance.
In their quiet moments, both cat and mouse acknowledge, even if only to themselves, that there are certain qualities in each other that they admire. The mouse admires “the cat’s coarse energy and simplicity,” displayed in his fierce pursuit of the mouse; the cat, in turn, has to admit “that he admires the mouse’s elegance, his air of culture and languor.” Nevertheless, their feud goes on.
Near the end of the story, Millhauser’s astonishingly reflective mouse wonders if it has to be this way:
Is he perhaps too much alone? He thinks of the cat and wonders whether there is some dim and distant possibility of a connection, perhaps a companionship. Is it possible that they might become friends? Perhaps he could teach the cat to appreciate the things of the mind, and learn from the cat to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures. Perhaps the cat, too, feels an occasional sting of loneliness. Haven’t they much in common, after all?
How often, I wonder, do we carry on in our lives like the cat and the mouse, missing out on friendships just because this is “the way it’s always been”? “We don’t talk to those people.” “I know their kind.” “I know what he’s done in the past.” “How could I begin a friendship with her?”
These people with whom “we could never be friends” might just be people God has brought into our lives so that we could meet Him in a whole new way.
The relationships we have with others are often a reflection of our relationship with God. The Bible consistently tells us to be toward others as we are toward God, beginning with the two great commands, “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbour as yourself,” and continuing on to Jesus’ teaching that as he as loved us so we ought to love one another. If we’re bad at friendship it’s going to be a struggle to be close with God.
The great theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, used to say that our ultimate destiny as humans is to be made friends with God. We were created for the purpose of friendship with our Creator.
In the Bible, we read about Abraham, who is called in a number of places “the friend of God.” God was said to speak with Moses “as one speaks to a friend.”
Jesus brought this friendship down to earth, as he related to people human to human. He was called the “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Before he died he said to his disciples, “I have called you friends.”
Jesus, being both God and man, makes it impossible for us to separate our friendship with God from our friendships with people. God designed us for interpersonal relationships. If we ignore that, we’re missing out on a huge blessing and we will never be fully what God wants us to be.