Wisdom for Ordinary Time: Eugene Peterson on Abraham, the “Friend of God”

The Long Walk. Photo by amrita bhattacherjee

During Ordinary Time this year, I am reading and meditating on Eugene Peterson’s book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God. It captures sermons from Peterson’s twenty-nine years as a pastor in Bel Air, Maryland. Occasionally during this season I am posting some reflections on the wisdom I’m finding therein.

• • •

Abraham was not called the friend of God because he was singled out for special benevolent attention by God, a kind of teacher’s pet. He did not live a charmed life. He was called the friend of God because he experienced God accurately and truly. He lived as God’s friend. He responded as God’s friend. He believed that God was on his side, and he lived like it.

• Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire

I chose this Peterson sermon because I have also begun reading James K.A Smith’s book on spiritual formation called, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. In the spirit of Dallas Willard, Smith emphasizes that we are formed more by what we love than what we think. And, Smith emphasizes, “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love.” We’ll begin our consideration of some of Smith’s thoughts tomorrow.

As for Eugene Peterson, his sermon about Abraham, the friend of God, is directly in line with Smith’s arguments. In the quote above, he notes that Abraham lived as God’s friend, that the portrait we have of Abraham in the Bible is of one whose life was a journey of discovery and formation as God and the patriarch related to one another long ago.

And get this: being God’s friend didn’t meant that Abraham was heroically good or above average in virtue or untainted by sin. Abraham is not conspicuous in the human qualities that we usually admire. He lied to protect his own skin in exchange for the sacrifice of his wife’s reputation. He laughed at God when the divine promises sounded absurd to him. He played the coward with Abimelech.

What friendship means is that two persons are in touch with each other and share important interests. And that is what the friendship of God and Abraham is all about. Abraham was in touch with the God who was in touch with him. He accepted God’s concern for him as the reality of his life, and he returned it by making God the center of his life. He obeyed, he journeyed, he prayed, he believed, and he built altars. He did none of this perfectly. But perfect is not a word we use to describe friendship relationships. Perfect is a word that refers to inanimate things — a perfect circle, say, or a perfectly straight line. With persons we talk of response, growth, listening, and acting. Abraham did all of that in relation with God, whom he was convinced was determined to be a good friend to him. (p. 20)

Photo by amrita bhattacherjee at Flickr. Creative Commons License

11 thoughts on “Wisdom for Ordinary Time: Eugene Peterson on Abraham, the “Friend of God”

  1. Mixed metaphor for sure. A 10 year old with a Macanudo and a wise crackin’ smile is kind of a funny image though. In that world there is no ill effect. At any rate, that particular Image of smoking cigars usually comes up when were sitting around admiring the creation. Usually saying something like, “Nice idea that rainbow. How did you come up with that?” Or, “I’m digging your whole waterfall concept. Very nice touch. Very nice touch indeed.”


  2. Now of course the very obvious way to be a friend of the Lord is to be a friend to my neighbor. To love my neighbor, and even my enemy which is the hardest thing of all, is friendship with God plain and simple. Lest I come across a little too ethereal.


  3. John famously is said to have laid his head on Jesus’ breast. It is possible for us to do the same through the amazing and miraculous gift of imagination. Seeing what cannot otherwise be seen but which in fact becomes a reality as we image it. Sometimes I sit down and smoke a stogie. Sometimes I prop my feet up on his legs while sitting in an easy chair. Sometimes I give him a big kiss on the lips (which is neither homosexual nor asexual but some other thing – perhaps like the Russians or Italians) Sometimes I place a hand of healing over the wounds of crucifixion. Crazy, makes no sense I know. The thing is that none of it need fit into categorical frameworks. Sometimes I become a molecule of his blood and do a run through his heart and veins only to emerge again in conversation. (There are no drugs involved here). Through a blend of contemplative mindset and imagination those imagined moments of friendship become realities. I know how loopy all that sounds but we don’t enter unless we become like children and that is one way of opening up with the free thinking of childhood with the added benefit that over time it begins to instill a distinct sense of friendship and ease in prayer. He desires our personalities, not just our ‘prayerful’ personas.


  4. Would you say this book is more about practical insights and stories from Peterson’s time as a pastor, and less of a theological or sermon book? I’d definitely be interested in the former. I’ve been enjoying reading practical memoirs and life lessons learned type books lately.


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