‘The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David’ (1 Samuel 18:1); ‘your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing that of a woman’ (2 Samuel 1:26).
In China’s past, close female friends sometimes bound themselves to each other in friendship by means of a voluntary contract called Laotong — a contract in which they vowed to be sisters for life. These vows were often formalised and sealed with a small religious ceremony in a Chinese temple.
In Chinese thought, such friendships were to last for eternity. Marriage, children, distance, illness or age would not erode the commitment of friendship each had made to the other. These friendships between two females were not of a lesbian nature, but grew out of respect and natural affection, without sexual overtones.
Comrades in arms
Similar relationships have developed between men, yet without the formality of a contract or religious ceremony. Thirty years after World War 2, a married American soldier had this to say about his army buddy who was killed in the last days of the war: ‘We loved each other deeply. Not a sexual love, but the type of love that men have for one another when they have gone through the same battle experiences together’.
A British tank commander from that same war said this about the tank crew who had fought through the war with him: ‘We had a real friendship and a deep respect for one another, that could only be described as love’.
Poignantly, he added that, in all the years since returning home to Britain, he had never again experienced such deep, loving, manly friendships as he had formed with those men on the battlefield. The fact he was a Jew had not lessened their love one for the other.
One more illustration of deep, non-sexual, male bonding comes from the Vietnam War. A special task force of Australian soldiers skilled in jungle warfare had been sent to South Vietnam as advisors, to train indigenous fighters in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare.
These men felt that they couldn’t just train their Vietnamese counterparts and send them into danger while they stayed safely in camp. So, this highly decorated special task force, among who were a number of Victoria Cross winners, were soon fighting alongside the Vietnamese.
In an interview, long after this war, one of those tough, Aussie fighters said that he and his comrades had come to love deeply the men they trained and fought with — again, an example of male bonding without sexual connotations.
What is particularly telling about the love of those military specialists for their Vietnamese colleagues was that those who survived the war showed what their Vietnamese counterparts meant to them, in that they began a grass-roots movement to sponsor South Vietnamese families for resettlement in Australia, when that nation still held to a ‘whites only’ policy.
David and Jonathan
In spite of what many homosexuals claim to dig out of the two biblical texts above, and in spite of the completely false reasons some churches allege from them for ordaining practicing homosexuals, the love David and Jonathan felt for each other was a natural male bonding; there was no sexual connotation in it.
It was the type of love, like other examples in this article, that men express toward one another when hurled together in battleground conditions, or experiencing together continuing difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Such bonding, as expressed by Jonathan and David, goes deep and is strong. It is altogether different from homosexual attraction. Its stability is not affected by distance or time. It cannot be destabilised by class structure, cultural difference or educational attainment; and it is not hindered by language difficulties, nor weakened by the faults, foibles or oddities of the other person.
Surely such an ingredient of genuine love should arise between a Christian husband and wife in their marriage, along with the sexual love they rightly feel for one another — a love, which unlike homosexual love, is pure and honourable (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)?
Lasting marriages need this kind of ‘tough love’ too. Your husband or wife becomes your greatest friend, confidant, ally and human support. This deep love perseveres, even in the face of the all-too-obvious defects in one’s marriage partner.
Such love accepts; it is not blind. It sees what is unlikeable — the fallings and failures — but still accepts the other for what they are. It doesn’t try to turn that person into someone else. It is accepting and giving, not demanding.
The kind of love shown in 1 Samuel 18:1 and 2 Samuel 1:26 also points to the love Christians ought to express toward one another, but which is all too frequently lacking in the church of Jesus Christ.
In the context of our spiritual warfare with the world, flesh and devil, we Christians should express a deep, committed, Spirit-given love toward one another. Our closest, dearest friends should be brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our Lord exemplified this love to his disciples. Out of the twelve close disciples, Jesus had one of whom it was said that he was ‘the disciple who Christ loved’, the apostle John (John 21:20). Am I reading too much into that text when I say that that the love our Lord expressed for John was this kind of special friendship, this deep manly love?
Whether or not it was so, it is to our great shame that self-sacrificial, self-giving, tough love — the expecting-nothing-in-return love — is so lacking between brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is all too true that we will not like every believer, but we ought to and indeed are commanded to love every believer (John 13:34).
Liking someone is a gut reaction, rather like two dogs meeting for the first time, who either wag their tails or snarl and bite. But Christian love, relies not upon gut feelings, likes or dislikes, mere emotion and transitory affection, but upon an act of the mind and will. It is a determination to act and behave toward a fellow soldier in Christ for their best, rather than prioritising our own good.
On that basis alone, we all too frequently fail this real test of discipleship: ‘By this’, says our Lord, ‘will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other’ (John 13:35).
Don Haddleton lives in New South Wales, Australia