Growing up, my grandmother was a large part of my life. Whether it was Christmas sleepovers with the cousins, garden chores for quick cash, or mall trips to Game Stop and Taco Bell, she was always around, and I always enjoyed that. As I got older and started to define my own values, I realized at some point after my teenage years that we disagreed on some really important issues. She liked Fox News. I thought Tucker should be off the air. She campaigned against abortion. I thought the government shouldn’t have any say. And so on.
Throughout that movement away from each other ideologically, we never moved away from each other emotionally, and that was one of the biggest blessings of my entire life.
A friendship that looks past differing values is a friendship that is hardly ever endorsed, let alone utilized, in present day America, and my generation certainly did not grow up with it. In the world I grew up in, polarizing politics, social tensions and, partly, the Christian church have given us hatred, disunity and self-centeredness to work with—which is not much.
Recently, I read excerpts from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics for a Jerusalem-Athens Forum discussion on friendship. Aristotle says there are three types of friendship:
- Friendship of utility: Two people are friends because they each can provide something for the other
- Friendship of pleasure: Two people are friends because they each can provide something for the other
- Friendship of virtue: Two people are friends because they share similar values.
I’ve thought about those. I’ve thought and thought, and I certainly see some of my different friendships falling into these categories very clearly. But where would my grandmother go? We weren’t just friends because we were of use to each other; that would be tragic. And surely our presence was pleasurable to the other, but we must have been more than the second type — we weren’t just a means to an end for the other. But we don’t quite fall into type three— we disagreed over some things, and strongly.
I suggest there’s a fourth type of friendship. Aristotle, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, missed the important one.
Christians are called to a certain type of love; just as Christ loved us unconditionally, we ought to love Him and our neighbors unconditionally. This is different. This means that we don’t befriend someone just because they’re useful, or pleasurable, or even because we believe the same stuff. This is the type of love that says, “I love you and it wouldn’t matter if we were the opposite. I’ll still love you.”
My grandmother, Nancy Elliott, one of my best friends, passed away recently on October 20th, 2021, and all the ideological disagreements we had are things I will never fault her for.
I struggle with the fourth type of friendship. I struggle to love and to keep loving when things change. My friends know that.
Aristotle’s writing came from his observations about how the world works, and that makes the lack of the fourth type even sadder- perhaps he never saw it. If Aristotle observed millennials and Gen Z, would he write about the fourth type?
And yet, whether it’s here or not, it would glorify the name of Jesus for my generation to display it, which they will only be able to do with the power of the Holy Spirit.
We live in a world defined by difference; questions a person might ask when getting to know another betray this. Some common ones are: “Where do you stand politically?” or “Are you affirming?” or “Do you stand with BLM?”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus never asked these questions when He sat with sinners for dinner, before He chose Judas and Matthew for His disciples, after He publicly protected the adulteress from stoning. In the same way, we cannot “decide” to befriend or to oppose a stranger based on what they said about an election, we cannot forsake friendships that were based on shared values because someone had a heart change, and we cannot abandon people because we didn’t like an answer.
It would help the church immensely if, instead of standing to our feet and marching boldly in the name of “the right causes”, we fell to our knees and prayed boldly in the name of Jesus, who models for us what unity with others looks like. Until the church has learned to love like Jesus did, their efforts to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven will be in vain.
Lord, give us the strength to pursue the fourth type of friendship.