The link to the clip by Bishop Barron at the bottom of this post will start us off with the idea that God doesn’t need us. As he says, at first blush that can sound rather off putting and doesn’t really sound like good news. But as he points out, it’s “remarkably good news.”
He takes us back to the world of St. Irenaeus, a Greek bishop from the second century and his understanding of the idea that God doesn’t need us. St. Irenaeus was discipled by the bishop Polycarp who was ordained by the apostle John. He is still living in a world greatly influenced by the pagan gods of Rome, and teaches us a fundamental difference between those gods and the God of the Bible — that God doesn’t need us, and this is good news because the gods who “need” people will eventually abuse people. It is very much a pagan view that God would need anything from us, or that He would be affected by us when we fail to be what He created us to be.
In the Catholic understanding, whatever God requires of us, or wills for us, is not for His own sake but for ours. He does not create us out of His need. Rather He creates us in order to share His love generously with us, and to give us the opportunity to share in His way of loving. Bishop Barron quotes St. Irenaeus — “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” As Catholics, what would we mean by “fully alive”? Simply stated, it means to have been made perfect in God’s love. Jesus expresses this when he says that he is “glorified” in those the Father has given to him in John 17:10 and St. Paul affirms that in 2 Thessalonians 1:9-12.
Bishop Barron also speaks about what love really is, which is something the world in general can be very confused about. Love is not primarily a feeling or emotion, but rather love is an act of the will. To truly love is simply to “will the good of the other” according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Not just desire it, but to “will” it, in every action we take, even at personal cost. While that may not seem as emotionally satisfying on the surface as what the world views as love, this kind of love is true, deep, and eternal for it is authentic love. It is the love that gets countless people out of bed every day to work to meet the needs of their family and others who cross their path. It is the love that calls us to forgive those who have done us harm. It is the love that took Jesus to the cross for our sake.
The idea that God does not need us is it not limited to Catholicism. One site I often use for another point of view is gotquestions.org, which expresses a general Evangelical view of most topics. It offers this insight:
God is holy, eternal, almighty, and totally self-sufficient. He does not need any created being, but we do need Him. All of creation is dependent on the life that God alone sustains. “He makes grass grow for the cattle,” and “all creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. . . . When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust (Psalm 104:14, 27, 29).
God, on the other hand, is not dependent on anything or anyone. He suffers no lack, knows no limitation, and experiences no deficiency. He is “I AM THAT I AM,” with no qualification or exception (Exodus 3:14). If He needed anything to stay alive or to feel complete, then He would not be God.
Why is this topic that important? I think we need to deeply understand it, first because it can help us to learn to better trust God, and to grow in charity. When we understand and believe that all that God wills for us is for our sake, we can grow in trust of Him and more easily surrender our will to His in order to better conform us to the image of Christ. In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux “Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift.” Even the tough stuff He may allow.
We also need to develop the habit to use this understanding as a “checkpoint” in our thinking, and in what may be proposed to us as truth. Does what is proposed stand up to the test that whatever is happening is for our sake, and not for God’s? That He needs nothing from us for His own sake?
It’s well worth the time to watch the clip from Bishop Barron if you have six minutes.