Each of us is designed for deep, experienced, intimate friendship with God. It’s what we all long for most in the core of our being.
We are never more spiritually healthy than when we not just know about, but really know by experience, the profound love and acceptance of our heavenly Father. And when we are unsure of his love and acceptance, or reject it as being either unreal or beyond our reach, we look for substitutes to fill the void of God’s friendship. But these substitutes only do damage to us and others — and still leave us with the aching void.
“Where Are You?”
How do we know that we’re designed for intimate friendship with God? We know it because of the way Adam and Eve fractured this friendship.
We get a glimpse of the nature of their relationship with God when they hide themselves from him in the garden over shame for what they have just done. We know something is very wrong, something precious has been defiled, because of God’s question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8–9).
That may be the saddest question in the Bible. It was a relational question, not so different from what a heartbroken spouse asks a wandering, relationally distant spouse, or a heartbroken parent asks a withdrawn prodigal child, or a friend asks a friend who was once very close but now is relationally cool and aloof. Where are you? Why is this distance between us?
Adam and Eve suddenly, uncharacteristically no longer wanted to be with God. They had cheated on him. They had rejected him and all they once shared together. They had ceased to trust him. He was no longer safe. His very presence exposed their shame. They were choosing separation.
Separation was indeed inevitable. Holiness cannot abide with sin, nor vice versa. God would remain faithful (2 Timothy 2:13), but they would not. And their progeny would take faithlessness to then unimaginable levels, growing in their alienation from him, increasingly futile in thinking, dark of heart, and ungrateful (Romans 1:21).
In the Absence of Friendship
In the absence of God’s friendship — and the ocean depth of love, purity, peace, and security it provided — evil began to grow and take root in the human soul. As people’s identity became increasingly unhinged from God, they became increasingly and profoundly selfish, insecure, fearful, and indulgent.
This gave rise to all manner of pride-fueled sins to fill the void. People became boastful and posturing and domineering. They became overly self-conscious and deferential out of fear of what others would think. They developed an inconsolable soul-loneliness no earthly relationship could satisfy, though they tried. They developed a chronic sense that no matter what they achieved, it was never enough. They lived with a relentless shame that drove them to maintain an appearance of success in others’ eyes while hiding their dark depravity, no matter what. And when in positions of power, they learned to manipulate and use others for their own sensual pleasure as ways to enhance their self-perception as significant, alluring, and glorious.
In other words,
Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28–31)
These are what grow in the human soul — our souls — in the absence of God’s friendship.
God and Sinners Reconciled
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4), did not just leave us here in our wretchedness, like he could have. He conceived the plan and took the initiative that we not only couldn’t take, but in our condition never would have taken even if we could: to bridge the great divide separating the Holy from the defiled.
Advent is God coming after us — unfaithful, ungrateful, insecure, over-achieving, indulgent, lonely, deceitful, posturing, shy, manipulative, abusive sinners — in order to reconcile us to himself. The Word became flesh to heal the friendship fractured in Eden (John 1:14). Jesus came to make us friends of God once again.
That’s what Advent is all about: God wants you to have deep, experienced, intimate friendship with him.
God’s Gift to You
If you’re a Christian, you know this theologically, which is good. But Jesus didn’t come, die, and be raised again merely for your theoretical understanding, nor merely for your ability to teach the truth of a restored friendship with God. Jesus came, died, and was raised that you might experience friendship with God — not just in heaven, but now:
“He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . . And my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:21, 23)
This is what God wants: to manifest himself to us. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit: that we might have the very presence of the Father and the Son dwelling in and with us.
The filling of the Holy Spirit is not merely power to perform works of ministry, but to experience God’s friendship to the extent that we can’t stop speaking about him to others (Acts 4:20). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not given to us to enhance our identities, but to mediate God’s gracious friendship to others.
Advent is about your friendship with God. It is God in Christ pursuing you to the furthest end that you may have his friendship forever. He means it to be a real friendship — deep, intimate, and experienced. Advent is God’s offering you the gift you long for most in the core of your being. Believe it, receive it, lean into this friendship this Christmas. Soak in the Scriptures and listen to him speak to you.
For those who trust in Jesus, the cross removes the relational distance. The Father says “come” (Isaiah 55:3), the Son says “come” (Matthew 11:28–30), the Spirit says “come” (Revelation 22:17). Draw near to your greatest Friend and he will draw near to you (James 4:8) and give you the grace you need (Hebrews 4:16).