Rudyard Kipling’s work is full of friendship. His poem The Thousandth Man talks specifically about a type of friend that can be found, one that he says is worth more than all the others.
One man in a thousand, Solomon says.
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it’s worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
He goes on to describe the value of finding this friend, speaking of how loyal the individual is to the friendship, a loyalty that extends far beyond what the world would consider worthy. It’s a beautiful poem, and I believe it paints a great portrait of the necessity for friendship.
In the last study, I posed this question: Why Friendship?
C.S. Lewis said this about the nature of friendship.
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
I think he makes a valid point. At the same time, I believe that friendship does play a neccesary role in survival, in that a friend can sometimes will another to keep pressing on. Still, I see his point. A friend won’t be found in a survival kit, unless that friend comes in the form of a hatchet.
So what then is the purpose of friendship? Why does it seem natural to agree with Kipling’s statement that a good friend is worth searching for, even if it takes half a lifetime?
One of the best examples I can think of that illustrates the power of a devoted friend comes from the Biblical story of Ruth.
The story begins with a Judean man named Elimelech, who leaves the land of Judah during a famine and goes to the land of Moab with his two sons and his wife, Naomi.
Some time after they arrive, Elimelech dies, and Naomi is left alone with her two sons. They marry women from Moab, but after ten years, they both die as well, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land with her two daughters-in-law.
Later on, Naomi hears that the famine has ended in Judah. She seeks to return there, but insists that her Moabite daughters remain in Moab and remarry, claiming she has nothing left to give them. Both daughters weep, but in time, one daughter, Orpah, does as Naomi asks. The other daughter, Ruth, clings to Naomi and refuses to leave her. Ruth’s words to Naomi have often been quoted at weddings for the beauty of her devotion, and as a result they have become probably the most familiar passage in the entire book. In spite of this, her words are often cut short in public readings. Take a look at what she says about her devotion to Naomi.
Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
Ruth’s devotion is striking and inspirational, but keep reading, because she doesn’t stop there.
Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.
The power of this is not just in her words. Think about the state that Naomi is in. She came to another country as an immigrant with a husband and two sons, and now she is returning home with nothing. She’s now a widow, and later on she will even speak about her state. When they return home, people remember her as Naomi, but she instead tells them to call her Mara, which means “bitter” or “sorrow.”
Does Ruth not see this? Perhaps she does but maybe she has wishful thinking. Even so, the only expression we receive from her in the story is that of her devotion. She loved Naomi so much that she essentially asked God to put her to death, and worse, if anything but death should separate her from Naomi.
Imagine a bride and groom stating that at their wedding.
And despite Naomi’s initial state of sorrow, Ruth’s devotion to her ends up redeeming them both in the end when Ruth marries Boaz and bears a son named Obed, the future grandfather of King David.
In the case of Ruth and Naomi, friendship had immense survival value. Ruth was the one in a thousand friend that Kipling spoke of. I love that Kipling references Solomon in his poem as being the one who presented the thought about how close a friend will stick, considering Ruth was Solomon’s great-grandmother. The truth that he was speaking of, and that Ruth lived out, was the truth that Jesus spoke of in John 15:13.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
If there’s one thing that can be said to sum up these past three studies on friendship, it’s that there is more to friendship than can be stated in an essay. Friendship is not something that can be proven by argument, and its worth cannot be weighed on a scale. For that reason, friendship remains a deep mystery, one that I feel most of us only catch a glimpse of in a lifetime. If anything, I hope that this study has caused you to take a closer look at the friendships you have in your own life. There is much more about friendship that I wish I could say, but I struggle to find words to express those thoughts. As I have already stated numerous times, friendship is a great mystery. But while we can only see it in part, that does not hinder us from being active partakers in this divine mystery. Let us not settle merely for what we can grasp, but instead remain active in peeling away at the infinite layers of the great mystery that we call friendship.