The writer of Proverbs says “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17). The Scripture says so much about friendship that it is staggering really. I am thinking through a future book on friendship to follow my current writing on the relational Trinity and how we live life in the Triune God. Clearly friendship is important to a healthy life, spiritually and emotionally.
The apocryphal book of Sirach adds this rather amazing wisdom:
Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand. When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily. For there are friends who are such when it suits them, and they will not stand by you in time of trouble. And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace. And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble. When you are prosperous, they become your second self, and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you, and hide themselves from you. Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends. Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whosoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also (Sirach 6:6–17).
If you are not in the habit of reading the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament I encourage you to read them now and then. There are, as most readers well know, debates among Christians about their inclusion in the canonical Scriptures but by never reading them many miss the wisdom and counsel of this precious ancient wisdom. The quote from Sirach alone demonstrates my point.
I thought about these various text recently when I discovered a new Website called Rentafriend.com. This site really does exist, as you can see, and it really does work. One employee of the site, named Jennifer Morrison, is a double, serving as a “platonic friend” to people in need. Rentafriend.com will provide “friends” who will show you around town, spend time listening to you and just be a human presence when you feel like you need one.
For those who think this is a cover for an escort service it is immediately apparent that this is not true. Jennifer Morrison earns anywhere from $20 to $30 an hour for her service. She is a mother of a two-year old who began work with her husband’s blessing. She admits that her first response was to think how sad it was that people need to “rent” a person to be there friend for a period of time.
Rentafriend.com receives 100,000 unique views every month and has nearly 2,000 members who pay $24.95 a month, or $69.95, a year for a login and password so they can peruse the photos and profiles of 167,000-plus possible pals. The dangers here seem obvious and several Web-based stories suggest scams.
Over the last few years the word friend has become a verb and often includes nothing more than a connection with someone via Facebook that you will never personally meet. Research indicates that loneliness can lead to depression, suicide and high blood pressure, to name only a few problems.
Does this work? Some say it helps get some people back into circulation and thus helps in the short run. Others are less sure.
This site is modeled after ones already in existence in Japan and other parts of Asia. Ori Brafman, co-author of the book, Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, said the concept “seems really tragic, kind of surreally tragic.” It clearly represents the tendency in our society to the worst kind of social isolation.
Question: If so many people are more and more alone, and lonely, in a busier and more distant world of communications what should the Christian response be? It seems obvious to me that “love your neighbor as yourself” provides all the incentive and perspective that we need to befriend the stranger and invest kingdom life into socially needy souls.