God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.” Elijah obeyed God’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook.
Biblical book, 1Kings, ch 17, verses 2-6
In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published a work asserting that humans are motivated by an ascending set of needs. It is sometimes represented by a triangle with our most basic needs, our physiological needs, at the bottom and moving up towards our highest need, self-actualization.
While I doubt that the complexity of human behavior and motivation can be boiled down to a few simple categories, my own recent experience of needing has gotten me thinking about trusting God with respect to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Then, in my mind I contrasted my degree of trust in God at Level 5 with my imagined trust at Level 1, physiological needs. Trusting in God for my next bite of food or drink of water seemed in my imagination to require a deeper, more radical kind of trust than that at Level 5. Certainly achieving some level of self-actualization is not as life-or-death as one’s need for food and water. Could God really be trusted at this level?
I first began wondering whether the strength of my trust in God was somehow related to the stage of need in my life as represented by Maslow. For example, if I felt the four lower needs were met and I was striving for Level 5, self-actualization, I might find it easy–casual might be a better word–to trust God. As I cried out to him to become who He created me to be, I could console myself in the fact that He is indeed at work in me, but that becoming my true self is at least a lifelong journey. I found could relax a bit because the lower needs were met.
For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists of beholding God.
Then a very old saint, Irenaeus, came to mind. “For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists of beholding God,” he said nearly nineteen centuries ago (Against Heresies, 4.20.7). Then in my mind the pyramid representing Maslow flipped on its head and disintegrated. I exist because God wanted to share with me His loving life within the Trinitarian community–the magnificent relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Regaining unity with the Christian God is the recognized goal of one’s life with God and, in that, God is glorified as we become who we are created to be: His children who behold Him and join in loving relationship with Him.
For the maturing Christian, the needs of physiology, safety, socializing, and esteem increasingly take a back seat to actualization. However, it is not Maslow’s self-actualization in the sense of a self-help project I undertake for myself. It is quite the contrary. The journey toward actualization–to being reunited with God–”is not a question of merits but of co-operation, of a synergy of two wills, divine and human” (Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church). I join in with what God is doing in me.
Here is where the life of a Christian becomes so contrary to what we grasp by our senses and what we know in our minds: that we must take care of, or someone must provide for first our basic needs and then our subsequent needs for us finally to be happy and fulfilled. No.
The Christian life is my turning “towards God of [my] own free will and with all [my] longing” (Lossky). Early on I learn to pray for my basic needs–”Give me this day my daily bread”–but as I mature with God my needs change from things to a singular longing for Him. My faith becomes that of gazing at Him and my trust in Him becomes ruthless. “Little by little the soul reintegrates itself, regains its unity, and particular petitions begin to disappear making them superfluous, as God answers prayer by making manifest His all-embracing providence. There is an end to petition when the soul entrusts itself wholly to the will of God.” (Lossky).
God knows and provides for all of our needs in His way and His timing as He draws us toward Him; we gaze upon His face as we seek to follow His leading–it is the Divine Dance. This is the state of a person truly alive, and persons on this journey bring glory God. It is a state in which even the “great saints” of human history moved in and out of; after all, our deification, being united in relationship with God, is a very, very long journey.
So, get on the dance floor with God; its okay if you step on His toes as you learn the steps and rhythm of the dance and to follow His lead.