We need each other

Recently, following a group discussion of romantic relationships, a young woman told me that one of her mentors had taught her that Christians are supposed to get their needs met in God.  This has obvious implications for how couples, dating or married, should be counseled.

I think I can appreciate the reason for such a teaching.  Intimacy has always been but a short step from idolatry.  Indeed, romance often uses the language of worship.  Here’s a tongue-in-cheek example.  Remember 1992’s Sister Act, with Whoopi Goldberg as a singer disguised as a nun, hiding out from the mob?  With a repertoire more Motown than monastic, she sets the sisters rocking to Mary Wells’ classic My Guy by a simple tweak of the lyrics: “guy” becomes “God” and all is well.  (Side note: Lauryn Hill’s lead-in to Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee at the end of Sister Act 2 is so soulful, and the subsequent production number so exuberant, it still brings tears to my eyes.  Yeah, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.)

More seriously: how often have people given their full devotion to another person romantically, only to be hurt, rejected, or utterly consumed?  If there’s a conflict between one’s faith commitments and one’s romantic commitments, which side usually loses?  It’s no wonder that some teach that we should get our needs met in God, who alone is truly faithful, and who alone deserves our worship.

If the lesson is that we shouldn’t make idols of other humans, I’m all for it.  No human being can take the place of God in our lives, and how we stand in relationship to Jesus is of primary importance.

But we shouldn’t take that in a way that denies that we need each other, by God’s design.

I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’ admission in The Four Loves that he came to the writing of the book ready to praise “Gift-love”–agape–and to disparage the “Need-love” that stems from our early helplessness.  But he changed his mind.  He warned, for example, of equating Need-love with selfishness:

No doubt Need-love, like all our impulses, can be selfishly indulged. …But in ordinary life no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother; nor an adult who turns to [a friend] “for company.”  Those, whether children or adults, who do so least are not usually the most selfless.  Where Need-love is felt there may be reasons for denying or totally mortifying it; but not to feel it is in general the mark of the cold egoist.  Since we do in reality need one another (“it is not good for man to be alone”), then the failure of this need to appear as Need-love in consciousness–in other words, the illusory feeling that it is good for us to be alone–is a bad spiritual symptom; just as lack of appetite is a bad medical symptom because [people] do really need food.

Our love for God, Lewis also says, is necessarily Need-love, which must be met by grace.  But as his allusion to Genesis 2:18 suggests, we who are created in God’s image also need each other.  We are not sufficient unto ourselves.  True: in our brokenness, we can corrupt the expression or fulfillment of the need.  We can make idols of people, or we can turn our need for relationship into a desire to possess and control.  But we should also remember that in the Genesis story, the need itself is prior to the Fall.

Yes, that leaves us in a place in which we are simultaneously culpable and vulnerable in our relationships.  Yet we are taught repeatedly in Scripture that the cross not only brings people into right relationship with God, but with each other.  Instead of trying to get all our needs met by God, let’s learn to embody the kind of loving humility and compassion that prioritizes the needs of others (Phil 2:1-4).  It’s that kind of community, rather than some form of spiritual or emotional self-sufficiency, that demonstrates God’s new creation.