Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Fridays with Fred: Like Friendships in the Night

Fridays with Fred: Like Friendships in the Night

Last year had an opportunity to speak on a topic close to my heart: friendship. It wasn’t recorded but you can listen to a discussion of it, here;you can also read various articles on friendship across Rekindle. My aim for the talk was to argue that friendship must be both organic and intentional. Put differently, I showed that lasting friendships are rooted in two things. Firstly, there’s what C. S. Lewis described as the “You too?” moment. We might call this a mysterious chemistry, unlooked for and coincidental, but powerfully palpable. It’s like love at first sight. Secondly, however, friendship requires commitment or even a covenant, not unlike vows. By this I mean the best friendships build on that initial connection with promises of fidelity.

None of us will be strangers to the first experience above. We’ve all delighted in that moment when you realise you’re profoundly—often inexplicably—drawn to someone. Timothy Keller referred to “comprehensive attraction.” That is, at a fundamental level of being you feel suddenly and almost irrevocably connected. It’s exciting, exhilarating. And it’s verdant soil from which you can grow a glorious friendship.

Sadly, however, most of us also aren’t strangers to another experience: broken friendships and betrayal. We’ve all loved and lost, failed our friends, and squandered relational riches. Most of us have experienced both deep hurt and regret. We’ve had a precious friendship slip through their fingers; or seen it snatched from our hands and dashed on the rocks. As I suggested in my talk, I believe that one of the reasons for this is our unwillingness to bind ourselves to friends; we’re hesitant to formalise friendships, let alone make promises within them. Thus friendships are always precarious and often heartbreakingly ephemeral.

Taken together, intimate friendships are a splendid gift, but one that we often lose hold of—for some reason or another. But in his Joyous Science, Friedrich Nietzsche claims that this is exactly what we should expect.

The Joyous Science of Friendship

Addressing an estranged friend, either rhetorical or real—both possible—Nietzsche writes: “We are two ships, each of which has its destination and its course; we may well cross paths, and celebrate a feast together as we once did—and then the good ships lay quietly in one harbour…so that it might have seemed that they had already reached their destination, and they they had the same destination. But then the irresistible forces of our tasks drove us apart again into different seas…and perhaps we shall never see each other again.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nietzsche prefaces this passage with an exhortation against being ashamed or embarrassed that friendships end. He insists on unblinking realism. And for someone who regularly railed against notions of fate, he seems quite content with surrendering relationships to them.

But it isn’t my purpose to critique Nietzsche. Instead, he provides us with what is an observable reality and therefore a live option for how we conduct our relationships. In other words, Nietzsche presents us with an approach to friendships. Sure he reduces them to being situational or seasonal—which relates closely to his view that when it comes to making friends we’re either ladders or circles. Only isn’t that a hard fact of life, especially for the upwardly mobile?

Look again at the language and particularly the analogy from Joyous Science. “We are two ships, each of which has its destination and its course.” Nietzsche rules out the possibility of sailing together, apart from those delightful moments we “cross paths [and] celebrate a feast together [when] the good ships lay quietly in one harbour.” But, he continues, neither have “reached their destination.”

Here the German assumes at least two things, neither of which I’m going to get into. The first is that there is no shared or “same destination.” This is owed to his intensely individualistic and existential outlook. For Nietzsche, all of us all need to—indeed we have to—plot our own course and make what we can of our lives. On the balance, people hinder rather than help that process of becoming, bringing us to the second assumption. There can be no sailing together; no fleets, if you’ll permit me to stretch his analogy. Every ship must brave “different seas,” lest we end up abandoning our ambitions to sail alongside another.

A Better Way

Though we might word it another way, Nietzsche’s view of friendship is often our own. In fact, we might even draw comfort from his analogy, because it excuses decisions that have damaged friendships. It reassures us that, however wonderful, friendships are only ever fleeting and we shouldn’t expect anything else—we shouldn’t aspire to anything more. Nietzsche helps us to justify our reticence to commit in costly ways to our friends.

However, Nietzsche presents us with only one vision for friendship. So we must ask ourselves if it’s the one we want? Whenever I’ve spoken about avowed or covenanted friendships, the majority of people raise their eyebrows. They ask, ‘Isn’t that sort of language exclusive to marriage?’ That certainly wasn’t always the case. But even if you find the idea of binding friendship with promises too odd, I’d argue it’s a far better alternative than abandoning them to the open seas.

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