Bennett writes in to ask, “Pastor John, I recently read the following in a book: ‘God purposely created the world to function in such a way that he is not enough for us. This is why God says, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’ If God were all that Adam needed, then Adam would not be alone. But he is alone. Not because God is there, but because one of his kind is not. By choice, God limited his ability to be everything Adam needed.’
This flies in the face of what many of us have heard. On a regular basis, I hear people say, ‘All you need is God. God is enough.’ Well, that sounds nice, but the problem is that it isn’t true — or even biblical for that matter — from a relationship point of view. If we’re talking about grace, then these statements are true. God’s grace is enough. However, if we’re talking about relationships, they’re not.”
So, Pastor John, does Christian hedonism teach that God is enough to satisfy every relational longing for our souls? Or has he created us with an intrinsic need for others that God cannot satisfy?”
That is an absolutely excellent question, and the reason it is an excellent question is that it grows out of a text, Genesis 2:18: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So, on the face of it, God clearly does not want Adam to respond, “No, thank you. You have got it wrong, God. I am not alone. I have you.” God thinks the present state of creation is not the final good that he intends — namely the man and the woman having God, together. Having another human being is not a luxury in God’s mind.
It seems Bennett’s case here is pretty strong. It looks like an overstatement to say to Adam in the garden, “God is all you need.” Let’s make the case stronger by adding a few other texts, like 1 Corinthians 12:18–21:
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is there are many parts, yet one body. The eye — so let’s say Tony Reinke is the eye — cannot say to the hand — John Piper — “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
So, there is God Almighty in his word saying flat out, “You dare not say to another member of the body of Christ, ‘I don’t need you.’” That is a sin to talk like that. In other words, God forbids us from saying, “I have God. I don’t need members of the body of Christ.”
Lots of other examples could be cited. We are commanded to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). And we are told not to be anxious about food, about clothing, because Jesus said — mark these words — “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31–32). So clearly God created a material universe — not just a world of spirits. And he created other souls — not just one soul to relate to him. And he created society and the church — not just isolated souls relating to him. And in doing all of this — creating the world, creating the Church, creating society — he ordained that we be benefited by all these things and that some of them be essential for life: food, water, shelter, clothing, air, and others be essential for obedience, like “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). You couldn’t obey that command if there were no neighbors. You need a neighbor in order to obey the command, “love your neighbor.”
So it is not wrong to talk about needing the neighbor in the sense that God has set it up that way. And all this is a result of God not creating just idolatry or occasions for idolatry, but creation. He created these things. He created us with those kinds of needs that he himself would meet only in the sense of giving them to us, but not being them for us.
God as the Center of Our Needs
So, question: Should we say, “God is enough?” Or, “I don’t need anything more than God?” There is a good reason why those statements stick in our craw. I can tell they do by this question: Why do they sound belittling to God when we say them? When we say, “God is not enough” or “I have enough. I don’t need God,” why do they sound belittling to God?
“God has, in creating what is not God, created a world in which God himself would be most fully known and most fully enjoyed.”
The reason is that one of the most important teachings of the Bible is that when all our human needs go unmet, and we are utterly alone and on the brink of death, God will never fail us. And in that moment, he will be enough. That is what we mean when we honor God by saying he is all we need. In other words, if all my needs fail to be met, he will never fail. That is the point of Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” The point of that list is that all those God-given needs — they are real needs for life and for obedience — may fail. Famine may take food away. Nakedness may take clothing away. Sword may take life and limb away. In other words, “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17) that God has given us to need in one sense is being shown in this moment not to be needed ultimately. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors. Nothing can separate us from Christ (Romans 8:37–39). He is enough in that moment. That is why we feel like we are dishonoring him if we say that we don’t need him, or we have other things that we need also, and he can’t satisfy.
Now I emphasize in that moment because God is still committed to the world he created, and in the resurrection, he will give back what he has taken away in death. He will have taught us in the moment of death to rely only on him. Paul talks that way in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9.
Then one more thing needs to be emphasized. Even in wife, food, church members, and all the other life-sustaining, life-enhancing needs that God gives us, he himself remains the cream of all those pleasures, the way the Puritans talked. When we have those pleasures rightly, we are enjoying God in and through wife and nature and wonders and food so that they are not really in competition with him. And in one sense we can say, “I have God in all those things, not just God in addition to all those things which satisfy me.” So in the end our need for people and our need for food become ways God says to us, “See, here I am in this gift. Do you see me? Do you enjoy me in this?” So it turns out that God has, in creating what is not God, created a world in which God himself would be most fully known and most fully enjoyed.