Maslow may have been wrong. He was the one who postulated that we humans have a hierarchy of drives or cravings that organize the way we behave. He said our primary need is physiological – the primal drive for food, water and shelter – and that until that level of need is met, we cannot progress to higher levels, such as social needs and self-actualization. But new studies on the brain show something entirely different (David Rock, Managing with the Brain in Mind). It seems the brain puts social needs on par with the most foundational physical needs for survival. In other words, we are wired to be in right relationship with others; our brain is constantly assessing whether to initiate a threat response or a reward response based on social cues. When we feel ostracized, the same part of the brain that feels physical pain is stimulated to produce those chemicals that prepare us for the ‘fight or flight’ response. Our brains are constantly probing our social context to assess whether our survival is at risk. While we may not consciously realize it, we crave right relationships with others.
So it’s timely, as we explore God’s ministry in the lives of people, that we should come to a segment of the Apostle Paul’s letter (II Corinthians 5:11-21) which communicates this same concept. He observes that God’s expression of love for people, if adequately understood, is enough to satisfy the deepest need and craving of any man, woman or child. God is the great Other, the social Being with whom we are primarily wired to be in relationship. If our cues, conscious or subconscious, lead us to believe that our relationship with God is threatening, our brains will direct us to avoid Him at all costs or fight Him with everything we are and have. But if we come to understand that God has done and is doing everything in His power to communicate His love for us, our lives will be transformed; the threat response will be replaced with the reward response and our deepest cravings will be satisfied. Listen to how Paul puts it:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Stay with me here. All this talk of death sounds morose, but it’s talking about the social-spiritual dilemma our species has gotten itself into, having corporately embraced rebellion against God. We have to admit it. Our brains know it, even if we and Maslow have failed to register it consciously. The core message of the Bible is that God designed the one and only means of recovering relationship with you and me to occur by entering figuratively and literally into our world as one of us. Submitting Himself to the human experience of death was a payment in lieu of our own social-spiritual demise. He did it for love. Let that thought percolate in our brains. God loves us and wants us to replace the old scenario of threat with a new one of reward. It’s a transforming thought, if we understand it rightly. Paul goes on to say that when we embrace God’s love through Christ this way, we enter into His ministry with a new mindset.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
It’s an ongoing revelation for every one of us. It’s new because it is not in the easy realm of observable cravings like Maslow’s base level of needs. If we are open to this idea of God’s love for us, it will seep deeper and deeper into our minds each day of our lives and transform us from the inside out. We need God – it’s what our brains having been trying to tell us all along.