Lk 9:23-37 MSG…“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?… (Lk 14:26-27,33; Mt 10:24-40; Mt 16:24-25; Mk 8:34-35).
Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery.
Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery. In doing so we have reduced the sweeping biblical narrative of “God redeeming for himself a people” (God’s family Tit 2:14-15) through whom He demonstrates His glory as they walk together (Eph 1:22-23, 3:10-11), to little more than “receiving Jesus into my heart as a personal savior.” Little wonder that we so casually take our personal savior from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, and church to church, desperately hoping that we can somehow improve our quality of life by escaping the immediate pain which often clouds the very redemptive relationships that God has placed us in.
We often want a just my size God, fluffy and approachable who doesn’t care about His own commandments. Surely these were mere suggestions that served some other purpose for some other day. After all, He understands our weaknesses and only wants us to be happy. Those commandments and our obligation to them are surely eclipsed by His unconditional love for us and His desire for our self fulfillment. Sounds logical and therapeutic but that doesn’t mean these ideas are right. We must keep in mind that while God “made us into His image” (Gen 1:26-28) we should not attempt to make Him into ours.
I grew up in the 60s and finished High School and College in the 80s. Near the end of it I gave my life to Christ but before that I lived with the current philosophies of the day. Because I had a lot of training in Psychology I was very familiar with the thoughts behind many of them.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
One of the philosophies that had taken hold of culture (and continues to do so) was put forth by Abraham Maslow called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” He began to develop it in the late 50’s and by the time of his death in 1970 it had become a cornerstone of the anti establishment 60s and self-help culture of the 70-80s. It continues to fuel the narcissistic culture of today. Unfortunately, like many cultural philosophies, it was and is often embraced by Christians.
His theory was attractive. Instead of the determinism (do your duty based on what life brings your way) of the previous centuries that fought 2 world wars and suffered a worldwide depression, it offered a new sense of freedom. The previous generation’s life was in many ways “determined” by intense sacrifices and fulfilling duty and responsibility.
Maslow’s theories offered freedom from that bondage of duty and responsibility. You could grow past those motivations to what he called “Self-actualization.” Self-actualization is achieved when you are able step into fulfilling the highest expression of you (expressing your individual talents, gifts, and desires that give you a sense of harmony with the universe). In other words you fulfill you “self-destiny.” I think it is ironic that it is very similar to what many eastern religions call “nirvana” which is an “ultimate experience of some pleasurable emotion of harmony and joy in your life.
I remember working in a University book store in the early 80s and the growing self-help section of books were filled with different angles of Maslow’s basic premises. They offered all kinds of advice, help, and techniques to help achieve personal fulfillment. Now 38 years later we see fruit of many of those ideas that have lead to the breakdown of important areas of life and culture.
Famous feminist Gloria Steinem released a book about her life journey called “My life on the road.” While I probably won’t read it I did read the opening dedication to Dr. John Sharp of London who helped her end the life of her child through abortion.
“Dr. John Sharp of London, who in 1957, a decade before positions in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a 22-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken and engagement at home to seek and unknown fate, he said, “you must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharp, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.
“You will do what you want to do with your life.” Sounds pretty Maslowish. As I read it I wondered how many children were prevented from coming in the earth due to this idea? How many children grew up with absent or nonexistent parents due to this idea? How many men and women have undergone the pain and abandonment by a spouse or “partner” due to this idea? How many children have grown up in foster care, like a dear friend who lives with us now, because one or both parents pursued this idea?
I am not just thinking about unbelievers here. How many Christians have embraced this idea to the detriment of their own families or the family of God? I remember a relative of a young disciple years ago who gave her advice at her at her graduation, “you just have to do what’s right for you.” Unfortunately in following this advice she has struggled through a series of bad relationships that has cost her and now her child is paying the price. A narcissistic pursuit of self fulfillment will always end up working to destroy the most valuable/eternal things in life, relationship with God and people He places in our life.
Jesus’ Design turns Maslow’s upside down and right side up
If we are followers of Christ we need to heed His call. His destiny isn’t rooted in some sort of Maslowian crapshoot leading to personal fulfillment. It is about following Him and letting Him lead. It is about valuing what He values and giving our lives to that end. Contrary to avoiding sacrifice and responsibility that would seem to limit freedom, it is through those things He guides our lives and works His will in us. As we follow His design we end up finding the fulfillment and freedom we all wanted in the first place. After all, He is the Creator and like any creator He knows how what He created works the best.
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