Monday, April 27, 2009

God Doesn't Need You

The least understood aspect in the redemptive work of God is also the most important.

It is this—the first cause and highest motivation of God’s redemptive work is for His own sake, or more specifically, for the sake of His own holiness. Contrary to the most popular “Christian” mantra of the day—Jesus Loves You and has a wonderful plan for your life, God’s chief concern is not the manifestation of His love towards men; rather, it is His own holiness.

But what is holiness?

“Holiness is self-affirming purity. In virtue of this attribute of his nature, God eternally wills and maintains his own moral excellence. In this definition are contained three elements: first, purity; secondly, purity willing; thirdly, purity willing itself “ (A.H. Strong).

Wholly other is often how holy is described. Dorner writes, “that is holy which, undisturbed from without, is wholly like itself.”

Most often we associate “self-affirming purity” to holiness and less often its equally important counterpart—“maintain(ing) his own moral excellence.” However, scripture makes no such distinction:

“Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, ESV).

From Ezekiel (as well as I Jn 1:5 and elsewhere) we learn that the primary cause of God’s restorative action among men is “for the sake of (His) holy name” and the vindication of his holiness. The secondary effect is man. If He is as He is revealed by His word, then God must be holy. And to be holy is to remain holy--“it is the part of goodness to protect goodness” (Dorner). “God must maintain his holiness, for this is his very Godhead. If he did not maintain it, love would have nothing to give away, or to make others partakers of” (Strong).

While it is ever so popular to sing about holiness during praise and worship, it is equally as uncommon to ever hear about it during teaching. (At this point the smartly attuned reader might grab a towel to wipe the drops of sarcasm in my use of distasteful and inaccurate modern church vernacular). Among the reasons that the holiness of God is confined to the modern praise song genre--where verse twelve was established from verse one and reemphasized in six, seven and eight--is that mindlessness often substitutes for the mysterious in contemporary “Christianity.” And the mysterious is rarely explored or taught and hardly ever preached (sans HB). As such, the mystery of God's holiness just isn’t practical enough for the modern “Christian” mind, so it largely lies unexplained and unexplored.

As I have tried to grasp the significance of this idea--God’s vindicating holiness as the first cause and primary motive in setting His Kingdom aright—admittedly, I’ve struggled to find its practical import. Seemingly, this truth would set man further from God rather than closer. That God, and only God, is fit to satisfy His own wrath and maintain His own holiness must be true. But what does this mean for man? For me? How does the high truth of His holiness affect our daily lives? Are we merely an afterthought to God? And as weeks passed by, I found no good answers.

Then, this past week, it hit me.

As I was reading an essay from a particular Swiss theologian, I encountered an idea that I hadn’t considered in a long time—God doesn’t need you.

God doesn’t need anything.

While we are creatures of need, God is not. Further, I thought that this must be an all-important aspect of His holiness, His wholly othernessGod does not need. One of the key truisms of His being “wholly like itself” is just that--God does not need. Otherwise, every being not “wholly like itself” has need. Thus, they are distinguished as creatures.

This underestimated truth—God doesn’t need you—suddenly made the essence of God's holiness more understandable. The practicality of holiness is that at its highest level, in the essence of the Godhead, it isn’t very practical at all. Practicality always necessitates need. If something is to be practical it must first be needful, right? But God doesn’t need us in order to be God. In other words, God does not need to be practical. If He is so, then He wants to be so, but He does not have to be so. Contrary to popular thought, His high truths do not have to be contextualized to man in order to be any truer or effective or relevant. And he certainly doesn’t need you to establish His holiness, nor does He need you in order to preserve His holiness. Thus, the origin of holiness is not practical concerning men—it needs not men in order to be what it is.

“Neither is (God) worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Paul, Acts 17:25, KJV).

But if you insist on practicality, here it is--one practical implication of God’s holiness is for us to realize and rest in the truth that our God needs nothing.

Nothing from us makes Him any more or less God, any more or less holy, any more or less capable of carrying out His will.

But wait a second...Or does it?

I would submit that most “Christians” live as if God does need them. How else could He accomplish His will without our testimony, our prayer, our sacraments, and our efforts? The theological error that comes from this line of thinking—that God does need man in order to accomplish His will—is abundant and popular.

If you doubt what I am saying, then consider these common lines of thinking born from our false sense of God’s need, or just visit any run-of-the-mill church, look and listen:
God needed to create man because He was lonely;
God needs your decision and your cooperation in order to save you;
God needs some men to accept His invitation because He loves them all;
God needs you to help restore His creation and its culture in order to prepare the way for His second coming;
God needs to establish a physical kingdom on earth;
God needs a priest in order to establish His true church, one who perpetually atones for the sins of His people;
And on, and on.

The principle that holiness is a manifestation of love, or a form of benevolence, leads to the conclusions that happiness is the only good, and the only end; that law is a mere expedient for the securing of happiness; that penalty is simply deterrent or reformatory in its aim; that no atonement needs to be offered to God for human sin; that eternal retribution cannot be vindicated, since there is no hope of reform. This view ignores the testimony of conscience and of Scripture that sin is intrinsically ill-deserving, and must be punished on that account, not because punishment will work good to the universe,--indeed, it could not work good to the universe, unless it were just and right in itself. It ignores the fact that mercy is optional with God, while holiness is invariable; that punishment is many times traced to God’s holiness, but never to God’s love; that God is not simply love but light—moral light—and therefore is “a consuming fire” to all iniquity. Love chastens, but only holiness punishes in judgment” (Strong).

Where holiness is not seen as the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God’s action, men will generally have an inaccurate and exaggerated view of their own importance and a theology marked by “a summer ocean of kindliness, never agitated by storms” (Dale). They will also misunderstand God’s love. Where “holiness is a manifestation of love” or worse (ie. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life), then God must have need, since He would need everything to work towards “the securing of happiness” as “the only good, and the only end.” Since we know that this does not always happen, it would make God needy if true--if God is incapable of always accomplishing His will, then He is no longer wholly like himself if anything happens against His will. Incidentally, this is why Joel Osteen can never reconcile a 9/11—ie. certain bad things happen against God’s will. When “holiness is a manifestation of love” it must be this way since it is up to man to meet God’s need, to respond to God’s call, and to help secure the “happiness” God so desperately needs people to experience.

Let me introduce the God of modern America. What an impotent, namby-pamby God!

How different is a true understanding of God, where holiness is the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God's action.

A true understanding of God realizes that He loves us not because His need is to love, but rather, He loves us because His desire is to love. He loves us because He will love us, not because He should love us. His love isn’t bound by need like ours is; His love knows no bounds. Born out of His holiness, the transcendent nature of the love of God (ie. greater than need since God doesn’t need) meets exactly what men need! If “holiness is the track on which the engine of love must run”(Strong), then all other imitations of love—love not born of holiness--are but malfunctioning trains soon to be derailed. Think of how this implicates our loves here on earth; think of how this should implicate our love towards Him--not solely born of need but of desire as it is reciprocated as best we can.

Only God can meet our deepest need because only God has no need Himself. And as we more fully understand that God needs nothing, perhaps we as his children can more fully know the depths of His holiness, His justice, and ultimately, His love.

Perhaps too, we can live with less need ourselves as we are holy as He is holy, shunning our fleshly idols more often, saying with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As we become more holy and we need less and less, the fear of the Lord will become grafted into our souls more and more as it was with Solomon and Job. We will come to understand how His wholly otherness makes His love possible and ultimately meaningful.

In light of these truths, we should live then not as if God needed us, but rather we should more fully live because He loves us.

19 comments:

The Militant Pacifist said...

A preacher whose sermons were quite influential upon me in my youth used to say, "God doesn't want you happy; He wants you holy."As I have grown older I have found that in magnanimous kindness, God often links these things - so that as the Christian finds joy in God's holiness, he is enabled to rejoice as God sanctifies him.

Beau Morgan said...

MP: really like the last phrase of your comment here. Thankfully, being a "stranger and pilgrim" does not necessarily mean an either/or scenario. I'm thinking any lasting happiness must be found in holiness, or it gets really, really expensive, really fast. And expensive "happiness" only lasts until death anyway.

Another thought occur to me after this post relating to the necessary needlessness of God and the deity of Christ. I haven't fully fleshed this out idea (which I am certain isn't novel), but the next encounter with a JW or mormon or someone struggling with an errant view of Christ, it might be worth a try.

If God, by definition and revelation, must not have any need, to which they should agree. And Christ at the same time is the only "possible" ("possible" only to stay consistent w/ their own vernacular) atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, to which they should also loosely agree--with the caveat that He mustn't be God or fully divine as the Father. Then how can God remain God when he must needs Christ to perform the work of atonement if Christ is in fact less than or other than God Himself?

Were this true--that Christ were not fully divine--then God must not be fully divine either since He needs Christ to accomplish a work that He should have done Himself if He truly were God and without need (again, as is established by definition and revelation).

Of course, the only explanation is that Christ, the great High Priest and the fulfillment of the law and all of its atoning sacrifices, must be God Himself. Else God would be relying, even more than that--would be in need of a creature in order to accomplish His will, which would make Him no God at all.

Anyway, just an idea that perhaps might plant a seed of doubt into an unbeliever as many of them aggressively try to plant their own seeds of doubt within us as well.

criscros said...

A good point made by the blogger:
Christians should focus on holiness more and happiness less.
Ten of the twelve apostles of Christ died as martyrs. They were far more concerned with holiness than with happiness.

Problem with the blogger's logic: God does need us, He desires us. We are His creation because He desires our company. There is a difference between need and want. God wants people to be saved and spent eternity with Him. He doesn't need this.

KeWa said...
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KeWa said...

If God doesn't need anything, then God doesn't need God. Circular logic - nonsense. This is also demonstrated in the reasoning you give that God doesn't need "you" - you can't stop God from being God. Nothing can stop God from being God - not even God. The Bible doesn't say "God doesn't need you" - so why are you saying it. Acts 17 is speaking to the Greek religious system - their gods were served by human hands. Our God is not like their Gods - but "God doesn't need you" cannot be supported from Paul's statements. The argument is ludicrous - to say that the God who chose Paul, changed Saul to Paul, prepared Paul, appointed Paul, sent Paul, gifted Paul, died for Paul, protected Paul, taught Paul - doesn't "need" Paul. So Paul is precisely where he is NOT NEEDED? Why did God make a record of Paul being where he was not needed?

KeWa said...
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Beau Morgan said...

Criscros and KeWa,

Thanks for the comments, and apologies for a gross delay in my response.

In considering the "wholly otherness" of God, my point is that we should also consider as Criscros says "a difference between need and want." Need necessarily implies contingency upon something other than oneself. One only needs if one's own ability is somehow insufficient. A self-sufficient Being will never need anything, because that Being is wholly sufficient and never contingent upon another.

Meanwhile, desire or "want" might come from "need," but it might not.

That God does not "need" to love us (you might consider this for further thoughts on God's love as it relates to His nature: http://spurgeonscigar.blogspot.com/2014/06/god-gave-them-up.html) but that He does love us (His people) can only mean He desires to love us.

And desire is a higher, better and more holy motive than is need. Thus, "thy lovingkindness is better than life." We need water, air and food for life, but His "lovingkindness" is greater than our greatest needs, even for life.

The better question - why should He desire to love us at all?

KeWa said...

Beau,
Your terms are undefined as is the relationship God has with us as is what God has committed himself to. First, when you use the term "need" the question must follow - "For what?". There are many kinds of needs. For example, Jesus needed a donkey in Luke 19:31. Jesus was God and he said he needed. So God does need. What does God need? To put it simply - God needs what he says he needs. Does God need to love us? This question has many answers - all of the YES. God "needs" to love us because he is God and he cannot lie - he said he loves us, will always love us, will never abandon us - God "needs" to love us to continue being God. If he stopped loving us, he would no longer be God. And God has promised us that we can experience the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:19). The only way to make good on all of God's promises and avoid being a liar is to love us. God NEEDS to love us. God needs us in many ways - all the ways he said he needs us. God needs us to pray - pray that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. God said "If my people will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land." God's will on earth cannot be done unless we pray as Jesus said and as God's Word clearly shows. The fallacy of your use of "Need" is in assuming God doesn't "need" us to continue being God. When Paul was contrasting the gods people worshipped with the true God, he was talking about how they thought they had to perform deeds for their gods in order to serve their demands - like religion demands that we do religious things in order to please a god. Paul was not saying God can carry on without us. Paul knew God needs us - because he said he needs us. When you mix "need" and "want" you are mistaken to think that God only wants to not be a liar. God more than wants to not be a liar - he needs it. And God has said he will not unless his people will - have faith, trust him, believe him, act on his word, obey him. Jesus could not do miracles where there was no faith - because God needs our faith to act. There is much God needs. We are created in His image. He sees us differently than we see us and others. It is nothing more than religious high sounding piousness to ask why God wants us or needs us - Jesus came to show us why, God wrote his word to show us why - so we would know. Paul prayed that would would know with confidence - Ephesians 1:18 "I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called - his holly people who are his rich and glorious inheritance." We can know why. It is a lie from hell that there is no reason God should want you! God WANTS and NEEDS you. If you want to know why - read his word - listen to or read someone who can tell you why. GOD NEEDS YOU!!!

KeWa said...
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KeWa said...

Question - Can anyone name one person or show where God told someone that he didn't need them?

Beau Morgan said...
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Beau Morgan said...
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Beau Morgan said...

KeWa,

While I appreciate your reply, I am at a bit of a loss for an appropriate response. I would challenge your logic on several points here, but I am not sure that I should. Simply stated, we likely view the sovereignty of God through different lenses.

Although not discussed, we seem to possibly connect on the common ground of the inerrancy and supremacy of scripture. So, to that I will defer from the prophet Isaiah:

"I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure...yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it."

Does this sound like a needy God to you?

To think of our Creator as needy, in the way that we view ourselves, his creation, as needy - would defy the essence of what it is to be God, at least according to Isaiah here, and elsewhere.

That Jesus had need for a donkey or water or that he "must needs go through Samaria" corroborates perfectly with his incarnate nature at that time, as God-man on a mission to Calvary. To say that since Jesus had needs on earth = "God does need" is illogical, since according to Phil 2 (and elsewhere) there were certain attributes of divinity Jesus temporarily (with emphasis) set aside while on earth - omnipresence (this is certain for any being bound by a human body) and omniscience ("and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature") being the most obvious.

If God needed me in order to bring to pass His counsel (were that even possible), then I am afraid He would only be continually disappointed, frustrated and discouraged.

I can pray with assurance that God use me, but I can only have assurance He will because I know He will never need me.

KeWa said...

Beau,

Isaiah spoke to God's people who were worshipping other gods. Read the beginning of Isaiah 46 and you will see this. God was constantly reminding his people of what he had told them would happen. God needed his people to believe him and worship him as God in order for them to receive the blessing and avoid the curse. God could not lie and bless his people if they did not do what he said was required to receive the blessing. God needed his people to believe him. When God spoke the words you quoted from Isaiah 46:9-10, it was a reminder that what he had spoken would come to pass. Isaiah was not saying God doesn't need his people - just to opposite - God needs his people to believe him in order for them to receive what he wanted them to have. God could not do what he desired to do - bless his people - if they did not believe him by worshipping him and obeying him. And because God's purpose is to bless us, he sent his Son in the likeness of human flesh. In order for God to carry out what He had already promised and purposed to do, he needed many things. He needed Mary and Joseph because He had already promised that the Messiah would come through the line of Judah and be born of a virgin. God needed a donkey for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem because he had already promised that Jesus would ride a donkey into Jerusalem. God needed Jesus to have a human body so he could die on the cross and be raised from the dead. God needed his risen son Jesus to have a body that continues to live on the earth - the church - to carry out his purposes - like he promised he would. The mistake you make is in thinking that God's sovereignty eliminates all need. The truth is God's sovereignty embraces his need because He needs what he said he needs. You have gone outside of scripture by saying that God's sovereignty means he needs nothing. This is your assumption - a human invention which is illogical. The truth is, God is sovereign and in his sovereignty he has entered into a covenant relationship with us. We are the bride of Christ. The groom needs the bride. That is God's sovereign purpose. Nowhere in scripture does God say he doesn't need us. There is no other God like him - what he determines will be. He has determined to be in a covenant relationship with us to bless us. He cannot bless us unless we put our faith and trust in Him. He wants to bless us, but he needs us to trust Him.

Yes, Isaiah is written about the God who delivered his people from slavery and gave them a choice between life or death - a blessing or a curse. Because his people choose death, the curse - God could not bless them. God needed them to put their faith and trust in him. Because they did not trust God, but worshipped other gods who were not gods, God sent Isaiah (the prophet he needed to go and tell his people his word) to remind them of what he had promised. Then his people, when they saw that things would turn out the way God said they would - meaning they would be cursed because that is what they choose to receive - then they would realize that God is God - there is no other - and turn their hearts to him - as he needed them to - so he could do what he desired to do and bless them.

God needs us to accomplish his sovereign purpose. God wants us to join him in his work. God wants all people to put their faith and trust in him. But God needs people to put their faith and trust in him or he cannot bless them. God has purposed that the church is the body of Christ. God needs the church to carry out his purposes on the earth. Jesus taught us to pray that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. God needs us and wants us.

The fact that God is sovereign doesn't mean that everything that happens is according to his purpose. That God needed Isaiah to prophesy to his people means things were happening which were not according to his purpose.

Beau Morgan said...

KeWa,

If in this last reply you'd be willing to replace every time you use the word "need" in relation to God with "causes" or "uses," then we'd be in agreement :)

Again, we view God's sovereignty through two different lenses - yours I would call anthropomorphic, and mine is theocentric.

The danger in saying "God needs" is we are stealing from his divine nature in order that He might be more like us - creatures who live in a world of cause and effect.

You might consider the term "Jehovah" or "I AM THAT I AM." Matthew Henry does a good job of explaining what this implies: "1. That he is self-existent: he has his being of himself. 2. That he is eternal and unchangeable, and always the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. 3. That he is incomprehensible; we cannot by searching find him out: this name checks all bold and curious inquiries concerning God. 4. That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in his word as well as in his nature; let Israel know this, I AM hath sent me unto you. I am, and there is none else besides me. All else have their being from God, and are wholly dependent upon him."

"What is man that thou art mindful of him?"

KeWa said...
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KeWa said...

Beau,

I'm behind in my reading of the One Year Bible. So today, I'm on May 18th. The New Testament reading is in John 10:1-21. I thought it appropriate for our discussion. While you argue that God should not be robbed, I argue that God's people should not be robbed. You're argument is that to say God needs us is robbing God of his sovereignty. My argument is that to say God doesn't need his people is robbing God and us of the the life Jesus said he came to give us - life in all it's fullness. Your statement that God doesn't need us sounds like the thief who climbs over the wall instead of coming through the gate. Telling someone that God doesn't need them robs them of what God has for them - his need of them to participate in the fullness of life that Jesus came to give them - a life of purpose and meaning that God sent his son to give us.

I looked up the word "need" in the dictionary.

synonyms: require, be in need of, have need of, want;
synonyms: have to, be obliged to, be compelled to
synonyms: necessity, obligation, requirement, call, demand
synonyms: requirement, essential, necessity, want, requisite, prerequisite, demand, desideratum

Based on the list of synonyms here, I'm sure you will agree that it is NOT true to say that God does not need us. To give anyone such an impression is to rob them of the life Jesus came to give them. The church (us) is a requirement which God has obligated himself to - He NEEDS us. We are a requirement of God's. We are essential in His purpose.

I urge you to refrain from putting words in God's mouth. Jesus is the Word - not your theology. And Jesus came to give life in all it's fullness - zoe perissos -

g4053. περισσός perissos; from 4012 (in the sense of beyond); superabundant (in quantity) or superior (in quality); by implication, excessive; adverbially (with 1537) violently; neuter (as noun) preeminence:— exceeding abundantly above, more abundantly, advantage, exceedingly, very highly, beyond measure, more, superfluous, vehement (- ly).
AV (10)- more 2, beyond measure 1, vehemently +g1537 1, more abundantly 1, advantage 1, superfluous 1, very highly +g5228 +g1537 1, exceeding abundantly above +g5228 +g1537 1, exceeding +g5228 +g1537 1;
exceeding some number or measure or rank or need over and above, more than is necessary, superadded exceeding abundantly, supremely something further, more, much more than all, more plainly superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon pre- eminence, superiority, advantage, more eminent, more remarkable, more excellent

KeWa said...

Beau,

For May 19th, the Old Testament reading is 1 Samuel 24-25. This contains the story of David when he went to kill all the men in Nabal's household for the insult Nabal spoke to David. Abigail, Nabal's wife, quickly took gifts of food and wine to David and apologized for her husband's behavior. I think 1 Samuel 25:32-35 illustrates both God's sovereignty and his need of us. "Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the L ord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband." David said the Lord, the God of Israel, kept him from killing Nabal and all his men, but it was Abigail who was needed by God to do what she did in preventing it. Abigail's actions saved lives and protected David from murdering to get vengeance. God needs us to do the works he created us for in order for His will to be done on the earth.

Coby said...

It doesn't say "holiness." It says, "vindicate my holiness." Vindicate is the verb, and it implies a need. "Therefore your argument is invalid."

I really wish we would get off this topic of proving how bad we are. It's dysfunctional. Would you ever tell your child, "I don't need you, but I love you"? Would you say that to your fiancee on bended knee? No, because then there would be no child to say that to, later.