Does God need our help, love, and praise?
—Orville Rutschwan, Hesston, Kansas
This question raises the underlying issue of whether or not God has needs. If so, in what sense?
The Bible commands us to be helpers as members of the body of Christ and to love and to praise God. Does God need our help, love, and praise because he is lonely, and we are an important piece of the puzzle for him to be fulfilled within himself?
No, according to the biblical view. Rather, God is perfect, complete, and entirely self-existent. This view assumes that there is no deficiency within God's inner being.
Paul addressed this issue on the Areopagus in Athens in his debate with philosophers who believed God needed the world. Disagreeing, Paul pointed out that God is the creator of the world and is "not served by human hands, as though he needed anything" (Acts 17:25). Paul believed that God has no inner unmet needs because he is the source of all things. To put it in the form of a mathematical equation, one can say that God minus the world equals God, but the world minus God equals zero.
Theologians who believe God's interaction with the world shapes his inner being hotly debate this traditional view. Trinitarian theology rejects their premise. As Kierkegaard once remarked with irony, it would be very embarrassing if, after having created the world, God should become dependent upon it.
A corollary has to do with divine grace. Grace means God extends unmerited favor to us, but if he created the world because of an unmet need, grace would no longer be grace because what God does for us would be in part selfishly motivated by a deficiency within himself.
Why then did God create the world if he did not need it? Did he create out of a sense of sheer power? The biblical answer is that God was motivated by love and not by inner need (John 3:16 1 John 4:8). It is the nature of love to give and to share, and creation reflects the superabundance and overflowing nature of God as love.
Redemption through the incarnation of God in Jesus is also a testimony to the nature of God as love. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus is able "to help in the time of need" because he himself was tempted in all points as we are (Heb. 3:15-16). Not only does God suffer with us and infinitely "feel" our pain, God also takes delight in our successes and rejoices in our happiness.
One word of caution about saying that God suffers. This should not be confused with the ancient heresy of Patripassianism, which taught that the Father suffered on the cross. Jesus as the Son of God suffered on the cross, but it is entirely appropriate to say that God suffered the loss of the Son, and it is appropriate to say that God grieves when things go wrong for us. God identifying with our feelings is an important truth that encourages believers.
Unlike primal nature-gods, who were said to need various offerings in order to appease their darker emotions, God desires our worship not because of need but because he is love. The Judeo-Christian faith is the only one whose essence is love. Because God is love, he desires our worship. As a father loves his children, God derives infinite joy when we praise and worship him. It is not just for our sake that God wants to be worshiped; he takes delight in our worship (Ps. 44:3 Prov. 15:8 Isa. 62:4).
God's love transforms the whole of reality whenever one participates in the Trinitarian life of God. When the Holy Spirit gives us love, we are no longer moved by the self-centered life of our own needs. Instead, divine love moves us to do the will of God in accomplishing his purposes for the world.
It is not necessary to view God's call for our help in doing his will, though, as his "need" for it. God privileges us to help in the same way that a father chooses to allow his children to help him achieve what he could accomplish otherwise.
We are called to work for the world's salvation with the triune God who delights in our praise. There may be disagreements about the meaning of predestination and free will, but there is consensus that preaching the gospel is God's way of reaching the world for Christ.
Laurence W. Wood is Frank Paul Morris Professor of Systematic Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.
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C.S Lewis addressed a similar issue in Reflections on the Psalms, saying that he used to see God as a vain woman seeking compliments. But, he added,
The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars … My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.
Earlier Good Question columns include:
Are some people lost "just a little bit" in the same way that others are saved "only as through fire"?
How can I reconcile my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture with comments in Bible translations that state that a particular verse is not 'in better manuscripts'?
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