Does God Need You?

I remember the moment. The painful moment.

The pastor hadn’t been expecting the VBS coordinator to be giving a special announcement, but he looked up and saw her standing at the back of the sanctuary, waving her recruitment sign.

Vacation Bible Study was right around the corner, and she needed help.

So the pastor invited her up to make her announcement. After enumerating the myriad tasks that needed to be done, the VBS coordinator concluded: “We need you. The kids need you. And God needs you.”

The pastor was in a bind. He rightly hated manipulative appeals for help, and he was afraid we’d just been given one. And so, the theological reinterpretation commenced:

“God doesn’t need you. The kids might need you….” probably followed by a reframing of the plea to consider serving our kids.

It was a Presbyterian church, with strong Reformed theology. And at the heart of it lay this deep conviction about the sovereignty of God.

“God doesn’t need you.”

There is a sense in which I have to agree with the idea that God doesn’t need us. The crucifixion-resurrection complex stands as an eternal judgment upon the self-righteous religious who become so convinced that we are at the center of things that we rise up against God’s plans and inadvertently destroy them.

In that sense, then, God doesn’t need us, because God can raise the dead. God can call the things that are not so that they are.

“Don’t think to say to yourself, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!”

The Radical Vulnerability of God. Image courtesy of Artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ah… there’s the rub. God might not need me to be a child of Abraham, but God still needs children of Abraham–or else God and God’s story are a failure.

God might not need the first century law-keeping religious leaders to bring about God’s promised salvation, but God still needs a faithful human king–and that risen king’s only remaining item of business before leaving the place was to send out a handful of folks on mission.

When I started writing this blog, I called it “Storied Theology: Telling the Story of the Story-Bound God.” The sub-title was a nod in the direction of deconstructing the idea that God’s “otherness” leaves God completely free to act as God will.

God has chosen a different path.

God has chosen humanity, Israel, David, and Christ. God has chosen the apostles, prophets, preachers, and servants.

Recently, Andy Crouch gave a talk in which he outlined the main thesis of his new book; namely, that right use of power only comes when we properly embrace both the gift of power and of vulnerability.

God, of course, embraced the vulnerability of power in not only becoming human but even in the death of the Beloved Son.

But I don’t think it ends there.

God continues to depend on people, to subject Godself to the vulnerability of the fact that people must recognize God’s work in the world, enact God’s work on the world’s behalf, and be the enactment of the saving story God is writing.

God can do whatever God wants.

What God has chosen to do is to enter into a gifting relationship with the world and the church that leaves open the real possibility of being ignored, even of (on the small scale) failure.

This is the vulnerability that is true expression of power in a relationship of love. This is why, I think the VBS coordinator was right.

God needs you. And so do the kids. And so do we.

27 thoughts on “Does God Need You?”

  1. Great post, Daniel.

    Reminds me of something one of my professors once said that I have been pondering since then (20 years now): “God’s will *will* be done. The questions is whether we will act so as to be a part of it.”

  2. Intriguing paradox, which I guess is related to notions of immanence/incarnation and transcendence.
    A similar question I have pondered myself is ‘Can God be illogical?’ Does He choose to fit within ‘our’ logic? Is our logic from him, or is his some kind of ‘other?’(Can there be more than one type of logic?) It seems to raise all sorts of questions related to omnipotence eg square circles. How does all this relate to “Come let us reason together…”?

  3. Daniel, this is a wonderful post to continue the last discussion. THE question that must be asked is this: What is God’s fundamental need for man? Is it for the fulfillment of specific goals, or something more enduring? Is man’s being present before God essential to God’s own Being. If so, then what beyond this does God require of us. To love? Isn’t the highest expression of love allowing another to have a share in your becoming? Thus, the covenant of marriage. Two people promising to be present to one another. Marriage is the ultimate redefining of the word “I”. Also the commandment to “love your neighbor as YOURSELF.” You are at stake in the loving of your neighbor. Love is the result of a promise “to be” together. It isn’t just about “nice people doing nice things for other nice people.”. Daniel, it is still unclear to me what you think God’s need of man might be. I don’t need someone telling me what to do, but I expect to hear something more concrete and tangible from an accomplished scholar such as you.

  4. Daniel I would like to amend one statement in my last post. I would like to replace the word expect with hope.Expect is an inappropriate word for me from you. We are not in direct relation with one another. The word I mean is hope. Please forgive. Thanx.

  5. On God “needing” us. I really like the post but, given Azion’s comment, feel that something needs teased out. It’s what is meant by need. My understanding is that a central part of the Hebrew (and the Christian) essential narrative is that God is ‘other’ from creation to the point of not needing any part of it. (Even as I type this, I’m struggling for words as I’m conscious of anthropomorphism/anthropoconceptualisation being applied to God, so please bear that in mind). However, what He ‘desires’ is communion with his Creation – indeed that’s why it was created i.e. I have taken that your post, Daniel, is a starting point for teasing this out. However, I’m concerned at the potential for conflation of desire and need. I think there is a danger in Azion’s approach, in that it seems to take a (rather modern, and Western) notion of marriage and apply it retrospectively to the time of the Biblical writers. In the centuries either side of the Christian era, one party in a marriage was much more dependent on the other, both for the initiation of relationship, and for sustenance during it. Similarly I infer a conflation between Creator and created in the context of a mutual “shared becoming.”

    1. Slicer, I wonder, in which of your encounters with the Divine did He communicate His lack of need for you? I would like to hear how that was made known. Please note, my reference to marriage is more from the bible than any culture. I am not that well versed in different cultures, but I certainly did not get it from ours. It was God who said the two should become one flesh. Gen. 2:23-24. Isn’t that the great mystery of Eph. 5:32? Also,why would someone commune with someone he doesn’t really need? Isn’t the point of communion to bring to pass the mystery of shared being? Jesus said “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in yourselves”. Now how’s that for conflation? Many disciples left Jesus just over that. Communion with God or man is a great mystery that can only be understood out from the actual meeting itself. I am however very much in agreement with your insistence on otherness. Otherness must remain in order for there to be a “true relation”. There is though, a third option to either one absorbing or being simply absorbed by the other. Maybe we can go further if you are willing to endure the mystery.

      1. Azion, I claim no special personal revelation. I sense a surprising and rather vigorous response from you, to which I’m tempted to issue the same challenge of personal “encounters with the Divine” with regard to your perspective (but I’ll resist that for the present). I’m more than happy to accept mystery. (Needs must at the very least). However, I don’t think there’s any doubt that a central part of Hebrew apologetic c 700BC is that the God of Israel sets himself against alternative theologies of the time where the gods were more part of/tied into competing elements of the created order/the way things are. This puts limits on “shared being.” Equally the NT is clear insofar as Jesus incarnation involved “humbling himself,” whereas our “sonship” is by adoption. These are hardly novel concepts that I’m referring to…

        Of course I recognise that the NT in multiple places uses marriage symbolism but we can’t impose upon/import into these concepts 20th/21st C understandings of equal partners (maybe that’s not what you meant).

        Your reference “You have no life in yourselves” is, ironically, a NT affirmation of dependence on God (rather than any sense of his need/dependence upon us). Clay and potter spring to mind rather readily as well in this context. So I can’t accept a kind of vague and potentially mutually-exchangeable “one absorbing or being simply absorbed by the other” as being in any way consistent with either NT or OT revelation.

        1. I will take vigorous as a compliment. I hope for the same from you sir. You mistake my comment for a challenge. What I simply mean– is the basis of our theology simply on what some “theologians” we don’t even know have said or through an actual lived life together with God. As for me, I have no use for a God who cannot arrange or endure a real encounter with His own creation. That is no God at all. That is an idol. In no encounter with my Father have I ever come away with the slightest inclination He doesn’t need me. In fact, quite the opposite. I will tell you this though–the greatest challenge of God’s prophets is not simply “to see”, but to endure the revelation of God.

          1. Thanks for coming back on this, Azion. Well now, you’ve got me a little puzzled. I don’t understand how you could infer from what I’ve said that I’m proposing “a God who cannot arrange or endure a real encounter with His own creation.” The whole NT in conventional understanding is a description of that, and more. In mainstream Christian understanding, the “humbling himself” that I mentioned refers to the incarnation and obedience to the will of his Father. As for “endurance”, I have understood the Christian Gospel (proclaimed as early as Gen 1) to be more about transformation than merely endurance – and that transformation to be not my/our achievement, but God’s.

  6. You still haven’t answered me about which one of your encounters has informed you of God’s lack of need for man. Also, you are the one who brought up having had no special revelation.

    1. I’m sorry, but you’ve lost me here. Whilst I do espouse and enjoy/benefit from personal relationship/encounter with God, I’m not making an appeal on that basis. (We can all claim all sorts of things on subjective experience, including healing by crystals and having insight into the lottery). My understanding (such that it is in its current state) is based upon a reading of both the individual text, the wider NT/OT canon, and insights gleaned from talented individuals such as Brueggemann, Goldingay, NT Wright and, em, JRDK….

    1. Oh it’s absolutely not about me, Azion. Peace be with you too. The foundation of my argument is that it’s less about me/us, and more about God and his will/desire revealed in OT & NT. What I have been arguing against throughout is a suggestion of equal footing between Creator and created, a tenet at least as old as the Book of Job.

  7. Not sure how God needs us. Maybe accidentally, but not ultimately. God desires his plans to come to fruition (which involve humans) but does not necessarily need us. How are we defining ‘need’ here? Concerned we are seeing human self-centeredness (is that a word?) in this.

    Even if God has decided to live in a vulnerable partnership with us, which I believe he has, are we not still in need of him? Obviously the two are not mutually exclusive, but isn’t he just waiting for us, not needing us?

    I suppose covenant plays an important part here.

    1. Pious sounds rather pejorative of what I have been attempting to articulate. I think many people would associate being pious with a sense of self-righteousness. I have been arguing the opposite – a position of natural unworthiness to be a partner. And No, it doesn’t leave out man’s responsibility. Rather, it clarifies it – the immense privilege and miracle of Grace by which we are transformed and empowered to be partners in God’s kingdom, and the call to respond and avail of that power.

      1. Sorry it took so long to get back. Big bowling league night tonight. Too hard to do both. Did not intend pious to sound self righteous. I didn’t get that impression from you at all. The main problem with this format is people don’t actually know one another. A natural lack of trust exists that makes it difficult to speak clearly. It’s easy to throw ideas out, but takes time to get to know someone. People who are new to each other can misinterpret each others intentions. I do thank you for all your responses to me. I understand you believe very strongly in what you have said. One thing about the Bible is you can make it sound like it says whatever you believe it is saying. Truth is, we all do that to varying degrees whether we admit it or not. For over 40 years, the bible has been to me a precious affirmation of God’s promise to be “present” to man in Christ. This presence to me is not a doctrine I can argue or convince anyone of. It is that presence that I value above all else. There is nothing God can give me to compensate for His presence. It is His being with me that redefines me. This is no mere spiritual experience I speak of, this is the ontology of the Twofold life. This is why it is about you and me. If the creator cannot satisfy and fulfill His creation then how great is He really? But how can I be satisfied with a Creator who is not present to me? If all I can do is read about Him in the bible then what does that do for me? I’m left to simply speculate. A God who is present to me causes me to wonder rather than guess. Too many people out there use the bible and theological ideas to shield themselves and others from direct contact with the living God. I don’t want to be one of them.

  8. Azion, I wouldn’t argue with the points you make in your last comment. I do think incarnation and ongoing presence and communion with God are vital (literally). However, just I as agree that folk can shield themselves behind constructs and abstract theological ideas, so some can also imagine the God who’s in relationship with them to be how it suits them for him to be. Because of this risk of subjectivity, it seems important to me to be open to God, as He has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, and the written word, rather than how I might like him to be. I recognise the challenge of letting those texts speak rather than bringing to them my assumptions and impositions, but that’s where good Biblical scholarship helps. I think Philip’s right about the risk of self-centredness, which can of course apply both to how we perceive the nature of our relationship with him, and how we read the Bible.

    1. Great point on subjectivity. A real life together with God or man just won’t allow that. One must give up his own life in order to truly know the shared life. The true partner stands over against me demanding I come out of my subjectivity and address him. This must be done without me forgetting myself, while being fully aware of the other and his essential need. What results is an understanding that can become our life that is neither subjective nor objective but between the two. My “I” now includes my other but is not consumed by him. We can know this with both man and God. In fact the two go hand in hand. I believe this is truly at the heart of loving my enemy. That love is not simply a warm feeling. The end of all this is both God and man can help redefine my “I”. The ability for God to be included in man’s “I” is the greatest witness to the power of the blood of Jesus. For me, Inclusion without absorption is what it means to be in Christ for both God and man.

  9. Best wishes Azion. Also keen to see JDRK give extra info on his thoughts/understanding on all of this. Also, apologies – just realised there’s a typo in the hyperlink from my screen name here to my own site. This one should be correct – don’t know if the edit will affect the earlier posts.

    1. By the way, I’ll betcha a pint prof Kirk doesn’t touch this with a ten foot pole. After all, besides God Himself, who’s crazy enough to get between two Irishmen goin back and forth?

  10. I believe your conclusion that God needs us is unbiblical, to wit, Paul addresses the Athenians in Acts 17:24-25, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is he served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things;….” Your comment that the risen king’s “only remaining item of business before leaving the place was to send out a handful of folks on mission,” implying that the Lord needs us to spread the gospel, is also refuted by Peter in 1 Peter 4:11, “…whoever serves let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” We serve only by the grace which the Lord extends to us. He doesn’t need us; we need Him.

    1. Hey Charles, just saw your post a couple days ago. Allow me to respond. First off, what do we mean by “need”? Does God need man to maintain His existence–to be Almighty…so on so forth? Probably not. But doesn’t even the greatest king need subjects to be a true king? How, indeed, can the glorious riches of His grace be known apart from wretched slobs like me? Doesn’t light need darkness to be fully appreciated? What of a father– does he not need his children? My son (of blessed memory) was not necessary for my continued existence. He was however, essential in who I have become. Undoubtedly, I would not be who I am today without him. In Exodus 3:13-15 God’s “I AM” is clearly, inexorably, and eternally linked with man. So, does God need us to sustain His existence? I won’t argue that point. However, to be able to say “I AM” and thus have a “concrete” presence in this world–that’s a whole nother story.

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