Can God Love You If He Doesn’t Need You?

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Did you know that it’s possible to destroy a relationship with just four simple words? Some longer sentence swill do the trick as well: “I’d like to have twenty-three children,” “I once dated my brother,” and “I like the new Star Wars movies better,” would all do the trick for me. But one simple sentence should suffice to kill any meaningful relationship:

I don’t need you.

Can you image what it would be like for me to find out that my wife doesn’t need me? Devastating. I certainly need her: not in the sense that I’m one of those needy, clingy people that everyone tries to avoid. (People certainly avoid me, just not for that.) I need her in the sense that she’s a part of me, I rely on her, without her, I’d be less.

If I found out she didn’t need me, I’d question our whole relationship. Can she truly love me if she doesn’t need me in any way? Wouldn’t that make me like some random person she passes on the street, someone who contributes nothing to her life? If she doesn’t need me, can she truly love me?

I think most of us would say no. Real love, deep love, lasting love, requires reciprocity. Both people need, both people risk. Otherwise, one of you isn’t in the game.

But here’s the problem: God doesn’t need us. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit live eternally in complete satisfaction with one another. They’d be just fine without us. And, if that’s true, then it would seem that God can’t really love us either. Sure he can do nice stuff for us, throw some charity our way. But it only goes one way: he doesn’t need anything from us. He’s God.

So the logic would seem to require that if God doesn’t need us, then he can’t really love us.

highfield_god-freedom-dignity-coverBut, according to Ron Highfield, we’ve got it backwards. The lack of need makes God’s love all that much more amazing. As he says in God, Freedom, and Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture (IVP 2013):

Can God really love us if he does not need us? Would not his love be enhanced if his care were accompanied by need?….The answer to this question is no. If God needed us we could never know for sure whether the attention paid to us is for our good or is designed to meet God’s needs. It is precisely because God does not need us that we know God really loves us. This makes God’s love unique, amazing and reliable.” (p. 119)

Among humans, love without need with be shallow and incomplete. But God’s perfect love is different–he alone loves without need.

And Highfield continues, pointing out that we want to believe that God needs us because it makes us feel significant. If God needs us, then we must be important. But Highfield argues that with God’s perfect love need actually decreases significance:

But would not God’s needing us give us more significance? Not at all! If God needed us our significance would be as a means to satisfy a need and it would be measured by the greatness of the need we satisfy. In contrast, if God bestows significance on us by loving us even when God does not need us, we gain our significance as an end rather than as a means. (p. 119)

Ultimately, it is God’s unique, needless love alone that grounds our significance and the depth of our relationship with him.

Hence the measure of our significance is the greatness of the one who loves us and the depth of the love with which God loves rather than the greatness of the need we satisfy. (p. 119)

That may not be how it works with human relationships, but in this, as in all things, we should be grateful that God transcends our humanity.



2 Responses to “Can God Love You If He Doesn’t Need You?”

  1. Ron August 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Marc: good thoughts. I really appreciate academic theologians who take seriously the call to teach a wider audience. I can see that you do that in Everyday Theology. God bless! Ron

  2. Marc Cortez August 21, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    Thanks, Ron!

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