C. S. Lewis on the Practical Value of Friendship

imagesA mark of the digital age is a dearth of genuine friendship. Relationships today are largely mediated through pixels and measured by the length of a Snapchap streak or the number of Facebook “likes” received. The plague of superficiality spreads as we forget how to look others in the eye, carry on a conversation, and simply be together. The end result is an epidemic of loneliness.

Loneliness is not what God had in mind when he created us. We were created to know and be known. We were created to be in relationship with others: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husband and wife, friends and lovers, Creator and creature. While friendship is a great good, something valuable in and of itself, it also has practical value. As C. S. Lewis reminds us,

It could be argued that Friendships are of practical value to the Community. Every civilized religion began in a small group of friends. Mathematics effectively began when a few Greek friends got together to talk about numbers and lines and angles. What is now the Royal Society was originally a few gentlemen meeting in their spare time to discuss things which they (and not many others) had a fancy for. What we now call “the Romantic Movement” once was Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Coleridge talking incessantly (at least Mr. Coleridge was) about a secret vision of their own.[1]

This practical power of friendship points to at least two deep truths.

First, we flourish by being in relationship with others. As Lewis puts it, “friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.”[2] We were created as social beings. Our relationships with God and man fuel and enrich our lives.

Second, we impact the world for good (or ill) as we band together with friends over a cause bigger than self. “The little knots of Friends who turn their backs on the ‘World’ are those who really transform it.”[3] There is a deep human longing to matter. We want our lives to count. Paradoxically, our greatest impact in life comes when we give up our claim to self-assertion and self-exaltation and find joy and pleasure in joining with others for a cause. Is there a cause big enough to sustain genuine friendships and transform the world? Yes, it’s the Gospel story. Jesus invites us to join with him and all those who follow him to live a life that brings glory to God and flourishing to all.

May we all learn to be better friends to each other as we live for a cause greater than self. And as a by-product, may the world change for the better.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1960), 100.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] Ibid., 101.

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