The Gospel Doctrine lesson was titled “The Lord Be Between Me and Thee for Ever.” It was a lesson about the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible.
The two weren’t exactly run-of-the-mill chums. Just as “holy matrimony” involves three people — the husband, the wife and the Lord — Jonathan and David had a “holy friendship,” a friendship involving God.
God held them together.
It was friendship elevated.
It was a “covenant friendship.”
Theirs was the kind of friendship home teaching and visiting teaching were designed to be.
But we just don't catch the vision.
For one thing, according to Bible scholar L. Gregory Jones, friendship has never been a major concern for Christians. Christians are after bigger game — loving their enemies, loving their neighbors (i.e., everyone else). Even more, friends can be a distraction. At their worst, they’re a bad influence. Think of Job’s friends, or the pals of the Prodigal Son.
So, for many Christians (Mormons included), friendship is nice, but not always necessary. Oh, we love our friends, but — as Jesus said — what reward is there in that?
When friends move away, we make new friends.
In the gospel, there seems to be an endless supply.
That’s why the words of the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve caught me off guard. He’d invited me to lunch and as he blessed the food, he asked that our friendship be made “eternal” and “everlasting.”
I’d been taught that families were forever, but friendships?
That was something new.
Today, I think Elder Maxwell could see the need for “covenant friendships.” Did he believe that friendships, with God in the middle, were vital to the kingdom?
Years ago I was chatting with Bishop Ronald L. Frandsen, our 5th ward bishop, when he said:
“Jerry, if we could get everyone to do their home teaching as it should be done, we could carve this ward out at the boundaries and take it to heaven.”
I think I laughed out loud. I was thinking of the mean-spirited old coot up the street.
“You’ve never had to home teach old so-and-so, have you?” I said.
But now, years later, I think the bishop was on to something.
(Today, by the way, he’s Stake President Frandsen, still stressing his vision of a “Zion People” and helping us hie to Kolob.)
Bishop Frandsen, I think, could see that true home teaching made Davids and Jonathans of us all. It was the one friendship where the Lord was “forever between us.” God was central to the relationship.
Home teaching is a covenant friendship.
We show up each month at someone’s door with heaven on our minds and we usually leave with a prayer. We understand the Lord is between us. And I suppose in a perfect world, the same covenant friendship fostered by home teaching would expand to include our business partners, sports competitors and political foes.
When a salesman sold us a car we’d say, “The Lord between me and thee for ever.” When we committed a foul on the basketball court or argued for a new zoning ordinance, the phrase would hang somewhere in the air.
Soon, the Lord would be between us and every other person in our lives, holding us together like the thread in a patchwork quilt.
It sounds Jewish, doesn’t it — ancient and orthodox.
It sounds like the friendship between David and Jonathan.
But before we join them in Zion, there’s still that little matter of home teaching.
Like so many, I go at it half-heartedly. I have a long, long way to go.
It makes me realize that — President Frandsen’s efforts aside — Zion may be even more remote for me than it was for the Saints looking west from Nauvoo, Illinois.