It is hard to get by a single day without using the word “need” in some context. Need is first associated with being in want. A baby needs to be fed. She needs her diaper changed. But even when we find ourselves in a position of authority, we use the word. A parent tell his child, “I need you to take out the trash.” A teacher tells a student, “I need you to sit down and be quiet.”
I wondered if the Bible ever said that God needed anything. As strange as it would be for the creator of the entire universe to have a need, I still wondered if I could find any verse with God as the subject and need as the verb. Did he ever tell Moses, “Moses, I need you to go to Egypt”?
I could not find a single verse where God was said to need anything. God commanded many people to do things. He even retrieved disobedient Jonah with a big fish to turn him around, but he never said, “Now, Jonah, I need you to go to Nineveh.” God doesn’t need anything, and he doesn’t need us.
Paul said in Acts 17:25, “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (NIV). My short paraphrase? God doesn’t need us; we need him.
We wouldn’t usually consider it flattering to tell a person we care about that we don’t need them. In fact, we do need others. We are co-dependent; God made us that way. God cannot be co-dependent on anyone, because he is always self-sufficient. But this is good news for us two ways:
- If God doesn’t need us, then his interest in us is based on his election, his loving and sovereign choice. God is not exploiting us because he is needy. He is not lonely, being in fellowship with each member of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In short, God may not need us, but he does want us.
- Though God in his essence does not need anything, he chose to experience human need in the incarnation. The God who knew no need, was a completely helpless baby living with a peasant family! We can never imagine how far God stooped to leave the glories of heaven and without ever having known need to subject himself to the most extreme form of human need. He did this for us!
What does this have to do with us who are suffering with chronic pain? It means that God didn’t need you to hurt. You aren’t hurting because you are making up for some grand plan in the cosmic scheme of things that would be incomplete if you didn’t suffer. Now, I believe that God redeems and uses our suffering for his glory, but that is different than the idea that somehow God needed you to suffer. You are not suffering because he is somehow exploiting you. When others have told you this or you have believed it, you were subjected to bad theology.
It is rather in our suffering that our need for God is revealed. Had humanity never fallen into sin, then I suppose our need for God would not have needed to be revealed in suffering. But you can’t put the fruit back on tree, so to speak. Our world is full of suffering, of which the phenomenon of chronic pain is simply one way we experience it.
God has seen to it that one day we will no longer suffer. In the meantime, let your suffering remind you of one of life’s most important truths…you need God and he wants you!