A young man asked a girl's father for his daughter's hand in marriage. I know the father and the questions he asked the young man come as no surprise to me. 1. Have you prayed about this? What has God said? How do you know? 2. Of all the girls in the world, why our daughter? 3. Tell us what love means to you. 4. What does it mean to you to be a godly husband? What does it mean to be a godly father? 5. What does it mean to you to serve your wife? To sacrifice for her?
For anyone in this young man's shoes these questions should be taken more seriously than a shotgun in the father's hands. How prepared are these two to face where life is about to lead them?
The scene as I imagine it also makes me ponder the futility of the questions. All are great questions, well meant, but in some ways unanswerable. I increasingly feel like Oscar Wilde when he said "I am not young enough to know everything." Even in affluent, insured, predictable North America we have no idea what decades will bring any young couple.
I recently found The Tolkien Professor, the podcasted lectures of an English Professor. In one recording he and another scholar were considering Tolkien's view of knowledge and evil. They looked at a place in the Fellowship of the Ring where Elrond was selecting the team that would take the ring to Mt. Doom. Merry and Pippin, two of Frodo's friends demanded to be included. Elrond puts them off explaining that these young hobbits have no idea of the danger and difficulties they will certainly face and that must color their volunteering. Gandalf surprisingly backs the hobbits saying, "Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom."
I regularly ponder the value of Christian advice. The church so quickly and glibly offers prescriptions and formulas for abundant living or a successful marriage. Most of us either can't meet the standards or can't make it work. Churches bring the AA adage "fake it till you make it" to a whole new level. I attribute the long seepage of cultural capital from Christendom to the failure of Christian advice. That isn't to say that the advice hasn't often been good, but the pace of change has made it too inaccessible or not applicable.
Christian advice rightly sees God as our help, which is obviously needed, but makes him out to be an impersonal utility dependent upon the application of the advice. This is the heart of every other religious tradition. John 15, the great passage of vine, fruit and abiding turns into a discussion on friendship. Jesus no longer calls his disciples (and via them, us) slaves, but friends. Jesus entrusts the very treacherous journey of his disciples (and via them, us) to friendship.
I recently watched a comedy show on "Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black" on the History Channel. It poked fun at religious practices and ethnic subcultures, but when it wanted to wrap things up it turned to express its own religion, "the moments shared by family is all that really matters". The danger of Christian advice is that it can turn God into our instrument. The danger of friendship is its reduction to mere sentimentality. This young couple likely filled with enthusiasm, imagining that they will escape the wreckage endured by others has no idea of the strength of the ties they are binding both for good and for ill. The difference between naivety and courage is often information, but information alone can't carry them. What is required is faith in the friendship of our master towards us. It is not our capacity to be his friend that should lend courage, but rather his capacity of friendship towards us. That is the friendship from which all blessings flow, including good advice and great wisdom.