The Answer to Need

I worry sometimes that I’m not going to get very close to God because I don’t feel a need inside of me to do so. I have been thinking about this, and I think it has to do with my culture and my upbringing. My family is middle-class, but that’s middle-class in the most affluent society ever on the face of the earth. It was pretty rare to feel a need for anything that couldn’t be fulfilled. I think this is the case with a lot of Americans – we don’t know how to need, and so it is hard to need God.

I think we’re anesthetized. We don’t feel the pain around us, and we don’t feel our own desperation when it does rear its ugly head, because we have so much other stuff to busy ourselves with. Even people who aren’t affluent have cable television and cellphones and iPods, and a general culture of business and consumerism that encourages us to avoid anything meaningful in favor of things that are immediately pleasurable, preferably purchased at a franchise of some sort.

Sometimes I think that if I was born someplace else, I would be this really spiritual person. This is a cop-out, I know, but its how I think. If you already understand need, need to that scrapes at your bones, need that is a fire burning everything inside of you for want of fuel, it is more possible to need God in that way, to understand and get in touch with that need directly. I think, for me and for maybe a lot of other people, if I have a need that can’t immediately be fulfilled, I get confused or avoid thinking about it. I don’t know how to deal with perpetually unanswered need, what I would call true longing, even desperation.

So God ends up being sort of a pal, a benign personage who occasionally hooks me up with a job interview and maybe protects me from car-accidents, and provides my mind with the endless entertainment of theological speculation. Someone to, you know, blog about.

But I do feel really strongly that I need something more than a pal, more than a system of beliefs, more than an ethical paradigm, more than a social justice program, more than a guilty feeling that I should pray and read scripture more, something more than community life…but if I actually have to endure so few unsatisfied needs, how can I let my need for God be real?

9 thoughts on “The Answer to Need

  1. I think that we all need. I think that even we as middle class american we need. The problem as I see it, is that we don’t know what to need. So we fill that need with other things that we think we need. But we eventually figure out that whatever it was/is that isn’t what we really needed in the first place. so we move on to needing something else. This has occured to me through my wife. You see I’m a needy person…well a wanty person (i don’t really need these things)…I can’t wait to have the next gaget or new toy or latest video game. I am perpetually talking about the next thing that I am going to spend money on. I want a mountain bike, a ipod, and so forth. But do I really need those things? Nope. Not for a second. But I think I do. The problem comes from the fact that I think I need God in the same way. We need God in a way that we don’t know how to experience or even define. It’s like saying I need my mother to exist. As sad as it would be I could exist still even if my mother passed away. We just don’t have the capacity to understand the way that we need God.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtfullness. Good and meaningful stuff. Wondering if this self reflection has been or is strengthened or discovered WHILE at seminary? Basically has the SFTS expereince helped, hindered or been pretty ineffective along this journey of discovery?

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  3. no, this is pretty much ongoing, but while in seminary issues naturally come up and i have the distinct privilige of having time to reflect on them. i’ve definitely received encouragement to think about some of these topics from professors, but mostly what i’m doing is writing down what i’m thinking about regardless – its just that now thinking about these things is more than a hobby…

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  4. Doug, does the name ‘ONG’ mean anything to you?? I am just trying to contact a Doug Hagler, tho’ I am not sure if you are the same one, or not.

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  5. to Sookie:Ong doesn’t ring a bell right off, but I am also terrible with names unless I use them all the time. This is Doug Hagler, though…student at San Francisco Theological Seminary, etc. Am I who you’re looking for?

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  6. I did a Sermon on this topic last semester – I think it is quite possibly THE issue for middle-class American Christians. I also don’t have a great answer, but I might have a good one.Need is found/discovered in pain. Much of the problem you recognized is this anaesthetized quality of middle-class life. However, no one escapes pain and generally when we sit in the silence for long enough and really open ourselves we will find we are genuinely in excruciating torment and then we will discover our need.Family life is a fertile soil for this kind of pain. Few of us have escaped some kind of rather serious psychological scarring at the hands of our parents – even people like myself who honestly believed I’d had a charmed childhood eventually discover (if they look) events and conditions that were/are the cause of continual angst and disfunction. I don’t mean to sound quite so pessimistic, but this is what is really meant by “total depravity”, there is no one who is untouched by suffering. Often the greatest source of pain for folks in our position is just that we’ve spent so long pretending we were healthy that we’ve been denying ourselves the medicine freely available to us in Christ.

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  7. the only problem i see there is that the medicine available in christ doesn’t seem to be that simple. i mean, christians still suffer, and still need the medicine all the time. and how do you access this medicine? you can’t fill out an rx for example. i can’t carry it around and hand it out like penicillin (or at least, perhaps erroneously, i assume i can’t…)and sometimes, christ/god might be the one vexing you. so what’s the medicine for medicine that’s sometimes so hard to swallow?

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