The greatest and most irretrievable wreck of friendship is the result of a moral breakdown in one of the associates. Worse than the separation of the grave is the desolation of the heart by faithlessness. More impassable than the gulf of distance with the estranging sea, more separating than the gulf of death, is the great gulf fixed between souls through deceit and shame. Said a sorrowful psalmist who had known this experience, “Mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” And another psalmist sobs the same lament: “It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; . . . but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked into the house of God in company.” The loss of a friend by any of the common means is not so hard as to find a friend faithless. The trustful soul has often been disillusioned thus. The rod has broken in the hand that leaned on it and has left its red wound on the palm. There is a deeper wound on the heart.
The result of such a breakdown of comradeship is often bitterness and cynical distrust of man. It is this experience that gives point to the worldling’s sneer: “Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.” We cannot wonder sometimes at the cynicism. It is like treason within the camp, against which no one can guard. It is a stab in the back, a cowardly assassination of the heart. Treachery like this usually means a sudden fall from the ideal for the deceived one, and the ideal can be recovered only, if at all, by a slow and toilsome ascent, foot by foot and step by step.
Failure leads to Distrust
Failure of one often leads to distrust of all. This is the terrible responsibility of friendship. We have more than the happiness of our friend in our power; we have his faith. Most men who are cynical about women are so because of the inconstancy of one. Most sneers at friendship are, to begin with at least, the expression of individual pain, because the person has known the shock of the lifted heel. Distrust works havoc on the character, for it ends in unbelief of goodness itself. And distrust always meets with its own likeness and is paid back in its own coin. Suspicion breeds suspicion, and the conduct of life on such principles becomes a tug-of-war.
The social virtues, which keep the whole community together, are thus closely allied to the supreme virtue of friendship. Aristotle had reason in making it the nexus between his Ethics and his Politics. Truth, good faith, and honest dealing between one person and another are necessary for any kind of relationship, even that of business. People can do nothing with each other if they have not a certain minimum of trust. There have been times when there seems to be almost an epidemic of faithlessness, when the social bond seems loosened, when people’s hands are raised against each other, when confidence is paralyzed, and people hardly know whom to trust.
The prophet Micah, who lived in such a time, expresses this state of distrust: “Trust ye not any friend, put ye no confidence in a familiar friend. A man’s enemies are of his own household.” This means anarchy, and society becomes like a bundle of sticks with the cord cut. The cause is always a decay of religion, for law is based on morality, and morality finds its strongest sanction in religion. Selfishness results in anarchy.
The story of the French Revolution has in it some of the darkest pages in the history of modern civilization, due to the breakdown of social trust. The revolution took to devouring her own children. Suspicion, during the reign of terror, brooded over the heads of men and oppressed their hearts. The ties of blood and fellowship seemed broken, and the sad words of Christ had their horrid fulfillment, that the brother would deliver up the brother to death, and “the father the child, and the children rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death.”
There are some awful possibilities in human nature. In Paris of those days, one had to be ever on his guard, to watch his acts, his words, even his looks. It meant for a time a collapse of the whole idea of the state. It was a panic, worse than avowed civil war. Friendship, of course, could have little place in such a frightful palsy of mutual confidence, although there were, for the honor of the race, some noble exceptions. The wreck of friendship through deceit is always a step toward social anarchy, for it helps to break down trust and good faith among men.
The Wreck of friendship is a blow to Religion
Many have lost their faith in God, because they have lost, through faithlessness, their faith in man. Doubt of the reality of love becomes doubt of the reality of the spiritual life. To be unable to see the divine in man is to have the eyes blinded to the divine anywhere. Deception in the sphere of love shakes the foundation of religion. Its result is atheism, not perhaps as a conscious speculative system of thought, but as a subtle practical influence on conduct. It corrupts the fountain of life and taints the whole stream. Despair of love, if final and complete, would be despair of God, for God is love. Thus, the wreck of friendship often means a temporary wreck of faith. It ought not to be so, but that there is a danger of it should impress us with a deeper sense of the responsibility attached to our friendships. Our life follows the fortunes of our love.
Art for this post on Friendship: Cover used with permission; Featured image used with permission of Pixabay.
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