I’ve been reading Edward T. Welch’s When People Are Big And God Is Small. In it, he says this:
We know that we are created to live in relationship with other people, and in these relationships we are to love, encourage, and comfort each other, but is the purpose of these relationships to bolster our self-esteem? At first glance the Scripture can support the idea that we have a need to show love to others, but it is more difficult to find Scripture that says we have a God-given need to receive love so that we can feel better about ourselves. (p140, my emphasis)
It certainly is difficult to find the idea in Scripture. It is, however, effortlessly easy to find it everywhere else, which is perhaps why the idea seems so right to us. Of course we need to be loved by others in order to feel “complete”.
Pluck a song almost at random, assuming of course that you are as worldly as I am, and your iTunes library doesn’t consist entirely of unabridged Puritan audiobooks. Chances are, you’ll hear a sentiment like the one expressed in Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life: “For once in my life, I have someone who needs me / Someone I’ve needed so long / For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me / And somehow I know I’ll be strong…. / For once, I can say, this is mine, you can’t take it / As long as I know I have love, I can make it.”
Turn on Shuffle and hit Next. Before you know it, Morrissey will be bawling, “I am human and I need to be loved / Just like everybody else does.” (The Smiths, How Soon Is Now)
Hit Next. Now you’re listening to LL Cool J’s I Need Love. I’ll quote the lyrics if you like, but hopefully you’ve seen enough. In popular culture – and even in Christian culture – our being loved by others is often trumpeted as a non-negotiable need, as essential and inviolable as the human need for food or water.
Counterintuitive though it is, the Bible is clear that our most important need is not to be loved by others. Our greatest, our most pressing human need is to love. To give, rather than receive.
In fact, according to Jesus in Mark 12:30-31, it is much more than a need. It is God’s command to us – and there is no greater:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
As Welch points out,
we are called to love not because other people are empty and need love (to feel better about themselves) but because love is the way in which we imitate Christ and bring glory to God. (p147)
Is your desire to be loved a non-negotiable “need” that must be fulfilled before you can “imitate Christ and bring glory to God”? If so, Christ may not be enough for you.
If I stand before [Christ] as a cup waiting to be filled with psychological satisfaction, I will never feel quite full. Why? First, because my lusts [as a fallen person] are boundless; by their very nature, they can’t be filled. Second, because Jesus does not intend to satisfy my selfish desires. Instead, he intends to break the cup of psychological needs… not fill it. (p149)
This blog post immediately brought to mind the quote by Allan Chalmers, “The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” I enjoyed reading your interpretation of the Bible that we most desire to love not just to be loved.
Hey, thanks Stephanie. What’s the weather like in Harrisburg these days? (I’m in DC in a few weeks time doing an internship until Christmas).
Thanks for this Barry! And how are you doing these days? Wouldn’t it be true though that seeing as we love because God first loved us, we help others to love better by loving them first? I’ve been wondering about this for awhile, but I’m not sure that the idea of needing love is really so unbiblical. What do you think?
Brooks, great to hear from you my friend.
I agree. We’re certainly motivated to love by Christ’s love for us, and love for others can certainly help them to love too. But I think Welch is on the money when he says, “we are called to love not because other people are empty and need love (to feel better about themselves) but because love is the way in which we imitate Christ and bring glory to God.”
Hope all’s well – are you still at Trinity?
I am no longer at Trinity, but am back home in Minneapolis. I’m working here now at a half-way facility for men and women coming out of prison. It’s been a great experience for me. We will see what the future holds. Great to read your thoughts Barry!