What We Want vs. What We Need
A colleague of mine makes interesting food choices (to some degree so do I). He seems to eat both to satisfy his hunger and to satisfy his taste buds. He basically eats what he wants. The result is that he eats a lot of hot dogs and processed food products. Nothing he eats is terribly healthy, and as you might expect his health reflects that.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Outreach and Evangelism ministry recently published a slide on their Facebook page stating that Christians seek three things from our church: Transcendence, Significance and Fellowship. Apparently taken from a book on the topic of why people aren’t in Church. Here is the source article. I’ll quote their definitions of these three items:
“Transcendence is to know God and to experience His presence. This we do through prayerful participation in Liturgy and the sacraments”
“Significance is the desire to have a purpose – to do something meaningful – most often in service to our fellow man.”
“Fellowship is connecting with other through meaningful relationships”.
I’ll address each of these items in turn shortly. Fundamentally, I have a problem with none of them at first glance. These are good things to want, and are, in fact, nutritious.
My concern is whether our primary goal should be to focus on what people want, or on what people need. Its a bit humorous to hear me raise the question as companies in the software/computer business often drive me a bit crazy by focusing on giving us what they think we need vs. what we want. However, tech companies are hardly the body of Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, and thus may not really understand what we need (and frequently don’t). So, what do we need, from God’s perspective, from the Church?
If we look to Met. Hierotheos Vlachos’ book “Entering the Orthodox Church” we find a great model describing the relationship of fallen man and God. He uses the parable of the Prodigal Son as that model. Like the son, mankind has left God, the Father, to go seek his fortune far away. Soon he squanders all of his money and is left to tending pigs, who seem to eat better than he does. After a while, he realizes he needs to return to the Father. At this point, he effectively parallels a Christian. We return to the Father through baptism and become united to Him. This brings us to the notion of Transcendence as indicated above. We are told that it is to know God and experience His presence. Attending the liturgy in a prayerful state, and participating in the sacraments is the all that is necessary. My question is, is this really all that the Church teaches? The answer is no. This is, in fact, the starting point. Without the liturgy and sacraments we would be stuck, but we have to take that as a core, and build on it.
The ultimate goal of the Christian is, Theosis, as described here. We are to not only to experience God’s presence, but to actually become united with His energies. This takes more than just showing up to Church on Sunday. Unfortunately, this is not commonly taught in parishes. What is required, beyond attendance at Church and the Sacraments, is both the following two items listed in the survey – caring for our fellow man, and fellowship, as well as more. We are to learn to manage our passions through asceticism – fasting being one major source of it. Interestingly, serving our fellow man is a means of self sacrifice, not of feeling important, or significant. Every person is significant in the eyes of God, and thus should be to everyone else. However, one of the barriers to our growing closer to God, and achieving theosis, is a lack of humility. The desire for feeling “significant” should be handled cautiously, because it smacks of a lack of humility.
The last statement, about our need for fellowship, is quite right. Man was created alone, but God saw that this was not good. We are not meant to be alone or in isolation. A great many saints of the Church were able to do this, because they weren’t really alone, but were communing with God in a way most of us haven’t achieved. For us, we still need the communion of our fellow Christians. In fact, it is so important that the fellowship, retained at the end of our Divine Liturgy on Sunday’s, has its root in an Agape meal that was part of the liturgy of the early church, and has remained ever since. Again, though, it is only a step, a part, of the process of our salvation. It is our salvation that we need, and what we need is a bit more than what we want, at least as described above.