These are pretty deep questions. But before you dismiss them, it is important to know what motivates us, because we all will face times in life when things are taken from us - and then we need to know the answer to this question. What keeps me moving on? What is left when everything else has been taken away?
Psychologists have grappled with this question for a long time. One of the most famous theories put forward is called Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In this theory there are 5 layers of needs.
- The lowest (or base) level is the Physiological level. This means satisfying things like food, water, breathing.
- The second level is the Safety level. This is safety of body, employment, family etc.
- The third level is the Belonging level. This is about friendship, family, etc.
- The fourth level is Esteem. Being respected by others, achievement, confidence.
- The top level is Self-Actualisation. This is creativity, problem solving, morality.
And so the idea is that the lowest levels must be satisfied first before higher needs can be satisfied. So, for example, you can be enjoying a great time with your family (level 3) but have a terrible headache (level 1). Even though the belonging need is met the more fundamental physiological needs spoils the event.
It is therefore important, according to Maslow, that the base needs are addressed first before we try and address the higher needs. So in a poor country we focus on the physiological and safety issues before we address esteem and self-actualisation.
THE ROAD TO UNHAPPINESS IS PAVED WITH...
So this theory suggests that if we have all our needs fulfilled, that slowly but surely they could be removed from us progressively leading us unfulfilled. So imagine that your ability to think freely was taken away. Then next you were no longer respected. Next your friends turned on you. Now you are feeling terrible…but still you have the two base needs - Safety and Physiological. However before you know it your life is threatened (safety), and then you suddenly contract a deadly disease (physiological). At this point the lowest need has been compromised and there is little reason to live.
According to Maslow, once all the needs have been stripped away a human essentially has little reason to exist. And this is true…if you do not have one other active need.
So what did good 'ol Maslow miss? Below what appears to be the most basic need - physiological - the foundation need, is another even more fundamental need - the God need. The problem is that because it is unseen it goes unrecognised. Yet it is a greater and more important need than all the others. Just because it is unseen does not make it any less real.
Think about an iceberg. Floating above the surface is a huge piece of ice - yet this is dwarfed by the huge piece that lies below the surface. The fact that we cannot see the ice beneath the surface does not make it any less real. Watch Titanic if you're in doubt!
Floating below our visible perceptions is a need greater than all others. A need more real than all others. The God need.
God says - "I have set eternity in your heart" (Ecc 3:16). He has placed in every human being a fundamental need to connect with him. This is the God need. It is coded into our very DNA. We can deny it, ignore it, disagree with it - but it does not change the fact that the need will remain.
THE GOD NEED IN ACTION
Over and over again we see the God need in action. Consider Job. A man who systematically had every one of his visible needs removed.
- Self-actualisation: He has his morality questioned by people - "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?" (Job 4:7)
- Esteem: He is no longer respected by others - "Your words are a blustering wind" (Job 8:2), "Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty." (Job 15:5)
- Belonging: His close friends have turned on him. "My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me." (Job 19:14)
- Safety: His home and family and possessions are all taken away. "A messenger came to Job and said, The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them." (Job 1:14-15). "Another messenger came and said, Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead." (Job 1:18-19)
- Physiological: And if this were not enough he then finally has his most basic need attacked - he gets a terrible disease. "The Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head." (Job 1:7)
And so according to Maslow, all 5 layers of his needs have been stripped away. In fact he might as well die as his wife suggests.
"His wife said to him, Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 1:9)
But notice what she is saying. She is acknowledging that there is a even more fundamental need - the God need - that keeps Job going. And it is this need that he never lets go of. Even though he is left wondering what is happening to him. Even though he is suffering terribly, his God need, a realisation that God is in him, is in his life, is always fulfilled. And so he does not give up on that need. For the God need cannot be taken away, it can only be given away.
In Job's reply to his wife he shows he will never abandon his hold on God - "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? In all this, Job did not sin in what he said." (Job 2:10)
JESUS - THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE
The same can be seen in the life of Jesus too. As he hangs on the cross, mankind tried to strip away all his needs.
- They challenge his accomplishment of his mission (self-actualisation). "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" (Mk 15:29-30).
- They try to remove his self-esteem (esteem) by putting him naked on the cross. "When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots." (Mk 27:35).
- His friends abandon him (belonging). "Then all the disciples deserted him and fled." (Matt 26:56).
- They are busy killing him on a cross (safety).
- His most basic need - just breathing (physiological), is becoming impossible.
According to Maslow he is broken, finished! Yet he does not given in. Why? There is something else that Jesus sees. There is something beneath all of this. Unseen, yet seen. Invisible yet eternal. For beneath all of these lies a more real need, a more important need - his God need. There is nothing that can take that from him. And in this power he conquers the ultimate test - death on the cross. As the writer of Hebrews says when reflecting on this - "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2)
OUR GOD NEED
We started with a question - What motivates you? It's time we answer this. Years before Maslow came up with the 5 needs Paul was writing to the people telling them of the need beneath all of these - the God need. He says that even if you remove all the other things - one thing will always remain - God.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble (belonging/esteem/self-actualisation) or hardship (belonging/esteem/self-actualisation) or persecution (safety) or famine (safety) or nakedness (esteem) or danger or sword (safety)?…For I am convinced that neither death (physiological) nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (THE GOD NEED)." (Rom 8:35-39)
Below everything lies this most important need. A need that if we recognise it, we will never be shaken. No matter what people take away from us, this can not be taken from us. So even if outwardly we experience problems, lets hang onto the unseen layer - the layer that Maslow missed - for it is eternal!
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
And so while in this life we may suffer, this suffering lets us see below the water in which we flounder. Below the water to where the huge bulk of what really matters resides - God. Sometimes we don't look beneath unless God makes us, and then we see the most amazing thing. Our most basic need. Our eternal foundation.
"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:11)
"But one thing is needful," Jesus said as Mary clung to him,
"and that will not be taken away." (Luke 11:42)
THE GOD NEED