Provision #603: What Is A Need?

Laser Provision

Today we continue our conversation about universal human needs by identifying ten of the most salient and life-giving. We start with a theological digression but we soon get down to business with a clear understanding of what it takes to make life more wonderful. Doesn’t everyone want that? Whether your current strategies are working or not, the ten needs identified in this Provision point the way to life.

LifeTrek Provision

I received two impassioned and strikingly similar reader replies to my novel translation of the Christian scripture, John 1:1-3, in last week’s Provision. Both replies, which you can read in today’sReader’s Forum, made similar points: my translation was unorthodox and my theology was troubling. My responses to both points are a good segue into a more robust understanding of needs.

The Greek word Logos, used repeatedly in John 1:1-3, is a word with many nuances depending upon context and form. According to my Greek lexicon (yes, I once actually knew this language), the word Logos can mean “word,” “story,” “commandment,” “thing,” “reckoning,” “reason,” and “motive.” I took those different meanings into account when I rendered my translation, especially since it led to the provocative statement that “the Need was with God, and the Need was God.”

The two readers who took exception to that translation argued that God, as an eternal and preexistent being, has no needs. Whatever God does, they argued, is unnecessary, since God is free to do whatever God wants. These readers were concerned that my translation might confuse people on this important point of transcendentalism.

Others, from different religious traditions and spiritual perspectives, would probably disagree with the description of God as a transcendent being with no needs. God, they would argue, is inextricably bound with life as we know it. From that vantage point, God has needs because life has needs. The destiny of one is to tied to the destiny of the other, and vice-versa. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Although interesting, at least for some people, both of these arguments miss the import of John 1:1-3 and both fail to appreciate the point I was making last week about the difference between needs and strategies. When the Greek word Logos is rendered with the English word Need, John 1:1-3 does not say that God has needs. It says that God is Need; and that makes all the difference. God is not a strategy to something else; God is Need and in the act of creation the Need is made known.

I apologize for all the God talk, especially for those who do not find it helpful, but stay with me for a moment and I think you will it relevant to even the most immanent of worldviews.

Many Jews, Christians, and Muslims are familiar with the story (the Logos) in Exodus 3 when Moses wants to learn God’s name. God responds with the now famous line, “I am who I am.” No name here, just a clear statement of presence. But this phrase too has many nuances and translations. It can be rendered in the past, present, and future: “I have been who I have been.” “I am who I am.” “I will be who I will be.” It can even be rendered with a sense of necessity: “I must be what I must be.”

I call that necessity because there is a link between needs, values, and identity. God is who God is, and God is no other. That was the revelation to Moses and that is the meaning of needs apart from strategies: a Need is that which Must Be. So put that back into Exodus 3 and you end up with one more nuance of the Hebrew word YHWH: “I need to be what I need to be.”

My readers are right: God doesn’t have needs (at least not in the sense that we have needs). But God does have an identity, an essence, a spirit, and a value that has been expressed, that is being expressed, and that needs to be expressed for God to be God.

Can you imagine God being anything other than love? I can’t, and I see the evidence of that love all around me. It is the Need that has come to be. No wonder order came out of chaos! No wonder light and dark, up and down, wet and dry, plant and animal, male and female • all the things that make life possible and wonderful • came into being. The Need would do no other.

So what is a need? It is that which must be to make life possible and wonderful. That is the essence of love and, some would say, the essence of God. That is also the essence of those who are made in God’s image. There are different understandings of that as well, with some traditions extending the divine canopy over all things seen and unseen, but to the best of my knowledge all traditions extend that likeness to human beings in one sense or another. The Need that created life is in life and will not be denied.

That’s why needs have so much dynamic energy. When needs are being met, we feel wonderful and we want the experience to continue. When needs are not being met, we feel terrible and we want the experience to stop. The living energy of needs is such that it drives human emotions and, in turn, human behavior. We can view all of human history, including the recent machinations of the global economy, as a quest to satisfy needs.

In the purest sense of the word, needs are ends in themselves. We do not meet a need in order to get something else. We meet a need because the need is intrinsically valuable and worth meeting. There is no “so that” when it comes to true needs. They stand alone and require no explanation as to why they are important. They are self-explanatory. When you look at them, you say, “Well, of course, everyone needs that.”

Unfortunately, as I wrote last week, we often confuse needs and strategies. That gets us in trouble whether we are talking about God or human relations. Once we latch onto the idea that we need a particular thing to happen in a particular way, we set ourselves up for power struggles and disappointments. As long as we stay focused on the underlying needs that any particular strategy is trying to meet, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and adventures.

So what are these intrinsically valuable things that everyone needs? We’ll be talking about them for weeks to come. They have been described in many ways by many people for many millennia. No description captures them all, or ever will, but I find the following ten needs, across five spectrums, to cover a lot of ground:

  1. Subsistence-Transcendence. Once we receive the gift of existence, we all share the same basic human needs to support our physical survival. These include such things as sustenance, health, healing, procreation, and sensory stimulation. We fight long and hard over the strategies to meet those needs, but no one denies their importance as long as we are alive. Transcendence appears to lie at the other end of the spectrum, but it is just as elementary as subsistence. It incorporates such things as presence, meaning, inspiration, evolution, beauty, harmony, flow, and space. If we have the eyes to see, we will notice that even little children evidence this need.
  2. Safety-Challenge. Little children also make clear the needs for both safety and challenge. On the one hand they love to venture out, to risk, to learn new things, to discover, and to test their limits. These challenges are all part of the trial-and-correction process that leads to growth and development. But little children are also quick to run to their parents’ side when they feel fear, hurt, pain, anger, confusion, or rage. They need safety and protection. They need security, comfort, justice, respect, and consideration. Don’t we all! These things are not strategies; they are not options relevant to some people and not to others. They are requirements of life itself.
  3. Work-Rest. It’s no accident that God worked for six days, to create the universe, and then rested on one. These needs are universal. People can neither work all the time nor sit around doing nothing all the time. There is a rhythm to making life whole. People get into gear when they have reason to become active; they pull back and rest when they need to recover. Work incorporates such things as industry, exercise, purpose, contribution, competence, and self-efficacy. Rest includes sleep, relaxation, play, leisure, ease, rehabilitation, gratitude, mourning, and celebration. There’s nothing sacred about a 6:1 ratio between work and rest (that’s a strategy), but the idea that we need both is universal.
  4. Honesty-Empathy. This spectrum slides along a continuum between sharing what’s alive with me (honesty) and understanding what’s alive with you (empathy). Both are important and both take courage. It’s not always easy to speak the truth; the same can be said for hearing the truth. Honesty requires clarity, self-understanding, authenticity, integrity, and self-expression. Empathy requires openness, compassion, connection, acceptance, and love. Understanding the distinction between needs and strategies can facilitate both honesty and empathy since it tends to eliminate guilt and enemy images.
  5. Autonomy-Community. I find it interesting that some of the words for God in the Hebrew scriptures are plural words and that many in the Christian faith have found it helpful to think and to sing about “God in three persons.” What’s up with that? It seems to have something to do with the needs for autonomy and community. No one is an island, not even God. Autonomy has to do with independence, freedom, choice, control, creativity, individuality, and empowerment. Community has to do with interdependence, cooperation, inclusion, trust, mutuality, and power with. Everyone needs both poles on this spectrum along with every imaginable combination.

Over the next ten weeks I will explore these ten needs to see what they have to teach us about the good life. Coaches often work with people who have that goal in mind. In the process, we often disabuse people of the confusion between needs and strategies. The idea people have when they first come to coaching is usually a strategy and strategies are always optional, always expendable. Needs, on the other hand, are the living source of what makes life good.

No wonder creation burst forth with such explosive energy: it was the Need itself becoming manifest in love.

Coaching Inquiries: When you look at those ten needs, which spectrums are most satisfactory in your life? Which spectrums are most unsatisfactory? What longings do those needs stir for you? How could you appreciate those needs more fully? Who could you connect with to talk this through?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Encouragement: I have noticed on a number of occasions in Provisions your willingness to view our world very holistically – and in a more specific sense – your willingness to mix a spiritual perspective with a business perspective. All too often, people separate the two as if they were not integrally linked even though they are. And in so doing, many business writers often literally don’t see or won’t acknowledge the elephant in the room. So, hats off to you for not falling into that trap.

On the other hand, your flippant replacement of the word “Logos”, or in English “Word”, with the word “Need” in your most recent Provision is, in my mind, completely outrageous. Might I illustrate this absurd replacement with the following example. There is another commonly referenced section of the New Testament Bible often referred to as the “Love Chapter”: I Corinthians 13. As you may often know, it is read in many weddings because of its “love” focus. So, might I try to obtain some clarified meaning by replacing the word “love” in this chapter with another word meaning the exact opposite, something like “hate”? If so, the chapter would end, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and hate. But the greatest of these is hate.”

I do this as a complete exercise of lunacy. Replacing one word with another that means the exact opposite is outrageous and meaningless.

So, back to your replacing of the word “Word” with “Need”. The meaning of John 1 is that the Word – Jesus Christ – God’s Own Son – was in fact fully man but also fully God himself. Thus, the Word, or the Son, one of the three-fold manifestations or personalities of the one triune God of the universe, is the exact opposite of “Need”. He is self-existent, in need in no way from eternity past to present to eternity future. He may and in fact has chosen to desire to have a relationship with us, and paved a path to allow us to have that relationship through his Son Jesus Christ, but he is in no way replaceable by the word “Need”.

Thank you for listening.

My wife is a trained coach and I would like to take a coach-training course, but right now I am finishing a seminary degree so I’ve got a lot of classes I’m working on. The fact that I am involved in such theological classes is what brings my interest to what you wrote in your recent Provision.

I’m not writing to criticize the fact that you edited Scripture – I think that is fine within certain boundaries. I like taking ancient Hebrew and Greek and making them relevant to a new situations. The issue that I wrestle with is needs applied to God, and I think it would play out in the Jewish culture and Muslim studies, but I think it is most evident in Christian dogma about the Trinity. I don’t think God needs anything.

God created people to need things – food, air, water, relationships, etc. God, Himself, needs nothing. God didn’t need light – he is the light (described in the end of Revelation). God doesn’t need sky, animals, or any of that. We sometimes attribute personifications to God, and one of those is ‘needs.’

For a long time I thought God probably made people because He was bored or lonely all by Himself and needed something to spice up His existence – that he needed people somehow. As I’ve studied the Trinity more, I’ve learned that God has perfect relationship within Himself. He doesn’t need people to be fulfilled, but rather He invites us to enjoy His fullness. Some describe the Trinity as a “perichoresis” or dance that the three persons of one God are active in, yet they widen their dance as to invite people in, Adam and Eve for starters. Our sin ruined the dance so we had to be made right before we could truly be part of the dance again. I like that picture of God.

We are not sufficient islands. We are not made to be okay on our own. We are only complete when we are part of that relationship with God, though we might have a taste in our relationships with others, especially our spouse.

Blessings to you, and thanks for sharing your helpful thoughts. I wanted to return the favor, if this is beneficial to you at all. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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