Monday, January 03, 2005


How much do our friends become part of us? This was my thought this morning. Many of my friends are away for the summer, and I feel like I’m in a way missing parts of myself. I initially thought this was quite weak really – that I should be so affected by my friends.

But then I realised that’s the whole marvellous thing about friendship – that you let other people have a place in your heart. Obviously, when they go, you’ll miss them – and you’ll miss the piece of your heart they fill.

I used to think that if I were mature enough I should be quite happy being perfectly alone. An almost oriental idea, isn’t it? But fortunately I have learned the value of friendship. It’s something I find myself reflecting on quite a bit, promising myself never to take friendship for granted.

But then, it strikes me how our friendships are on so many different levels. I wonder if my friendships are at good levels. Then I read in the Bible how “this is how they will know you are my disciples, that you love one another,” (Joh 13:35) and “We understand what love is when we realize that Christ gave his life for us. That means we must give our lives for other believers.” (1 John 3:16). And upon reading that, I conclude my friendships are by in large much shallower than they ought to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have friends who, as I mentioned, I treasure. But how much do I love them? Would I die for them? These are challenging thoughts I find, because I’m not sure I’d be willing to die for many people, if any. Of course, I’d like to think I could rise to the heights of noble love and, like the proverbial stranger saving a child from a bus and being killed himself, lay down my life for others. But when it comes down to it, I’m really not sure I’m more self-centered than I think I am… and I already think I’m quite self-centered… but then we all are… that’s another post.

Which makes me wonder how I could become more loving a less self-centered… to be more of a true friend, who’s interest lies with others instead of myself. Of course, I should ‘be more like Christ’, and other such well-known answers. But I know saying these things is merely talking of nice ideas that never actually make me change anything.

No, it’s quite clear to me when I think about it. As I thought about Mat 25:42-46 it hit me how practical Jesus’ advice is. I cannot ‘love my friends more’ in my mind without doing anything to actually be more loving toward them. If I want to be more loving, I must love more. I must be more kind and generous in practical ways – because I cannot pretend to be more kind and generous than I actually am, otherwise I would be a hypocrite, deceiving myself.

It’s the little things in life that reveal our character. It’s in those little things that I could show love, things like getting someone a drink, doing the dishes, actually listening when someone’s talking to me… the list goes on and on.

So, I could improve my friendships by being a better friend. Nothing new there. It reminds me of a quote: “the only consistent thing about all your dissatisfying relationships is you.”

If I want more friends, I know how to go about it. But the irony is I’ve already decided how many friends I want by how I live. And so, I wonder if I really want more friends… or whether I just dissatisfied because I’m not being a good friend to the friends I have, and my friendships aren’t as close as I’d like them to be. I wonder if other people have this trouble.

After all, you can’t be close friends with everybody. You only have so much time in the day, and you can’t spend all day with everyone. So, it makes me realise it’s probably quite necessary to have some friends who are closer than others (again, hardly a breathtaking revelation). And I guess that’s the way it works: many shallower friendships, or fewer deep ones.

I wish it didn’t work that way.

Yet, you can be friendly to everybody… even strangers. And that I think is the challenge, the simple act of putting the happiness of others before one’s own, as one goes about daily life. If only it were that easy to do.

Brings me back to a comment I’ve made before about self-centeredness. It truly is the root of everything evil.

So, I think I’ll try and be a bit less self-centered, and be a better friend to those I know.

The wonder of doubt

Doubt, I think, is the sign of a healthy mind. See, I’m not even sure. But that is exactly why it is healthy, because if I doubt my own ideas it at least means I’m not so foolish to think my own ideas are always right, and at most it most encourage me to find the right idea.

So, it’s a pity doubt is so frowned upon – particularly in Christian circles, where I think a good bit of doubt could do some serious good. Doubt is the soil out of which knowledge grows, and if you take away the opportunity to doubt, lo and behold you are brainwashed.

I doubt everything. I doubt myself. I doubt whether I am good, and I seek to find reasons why I am not, and reasons why I am. It lets me see myself in perspective. I doubt others. I doubt whether anything they say is true; and I seek reasons why what they say is false, and why is it not.

In the end, I find what they say is true about as much as what I say is true – and that we are both entirely prone to error… errors of logic, errors of discernment, errors of character… so many errors. Which is why I doubt myself so much, because if other people are often mistaken – what makes me think I would be any different?

We have limited knowledge and so should have an appropriate caution about what we do with that knowledge. At most, we are only doing what we think is best given what we know. Even the worst criminals and most rebellious teenagers are doing what they consider best given what they think. What they think is based on their experiences. The problem is that their thoughts are often unhelpful to themselves or to others.

And that’s where a good measure of doubt would be useful, because doubt encourages us to seek out more information on which we can base our ideas – and that makes us wiser. As an example, Jesus didn’t criticise Thomas for doubting, He simply filled in the gaps of his doubt by showing him his hands and feet. Thomas was being careful about what he believed, and that, I think, is a good lesson.

So, needless to say, I think little of the idea that doubt somehow has no place in Christianity. I have heard of “blind faith”, and people quoting “we walk by faith, and not by sight”. They conclude we must not doubt anything about God or Scripture, for real faith does not doubt – and I can well understand why they’d think that. Most Bibles use ‘doubt’ for a Greek word which means “to waver”, with reference to the word for ‘faith’.

As discussed previously on this blog and on Andrew’s, this word for ‘faith’ means not belief, but carries ideas of devotion and faithfulness. So, really, being unwavering in devotion is really quite different to having doubts. In fact, true devotion is being committed in spite of doubts. It does not mean we as Christians should not have doubts, but that we should remain committed in our devotion to God.

I question whether God even exists, although such doubt is vastly outweighed by the reasons I have to believe He does. So, I decide, based on my limited knowledge, to believe He exists. Thus, I choose to devote my life to Him, who is my rightful King. But that doesn’t mean I have no doubts – it simply means I am devoted in spite of them.

In the same way, perhaps the landlord of my flat does not actually own the property, and so does not actually deserve my rent. Yet, I believe he does, and so I faithfully pay. Perhaps the account number I was given to pay the rent was incorrect, yet I believe it was correct and so I pay it.

I suppose the conclusion is this: that what we believe is never certain, but that we must believe something whether we want to or not if we are to do something about it. If something is true and right, it should withstand as much doubt and sensible questioning as we can throw at it, while if it is not it will be revealed as such. And so, I am comfortable to question everything, including myself, because I know it will shed light on what is real and dispel the shadows of what is not. And, as what I see is of a God who deserves my devotion, I will be devoted to Him, even though I still have unanswered questions and things I do not know for sure. As I grow up I am more and more convinced about a loving God, and so I am confident questioning things will reveal Him more.