Rethinking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the Light of Eternity
It is not difficult to understand the logic driving Maslow’s famous pyramid. Physiological needs occupy the bottom and most crucial foundational strata relating to food, water, warmth, and rest. Survival guides recognise that in the most extreme conditions you may survive three hours in unprotected freezing conditions, go three days without water and thirty days without food. Without any rest the body and mind will deteriorate.
The next wrung on Maslow’s pyramid, is safety needs including both security and safety. The one that follows that, is psychological needs. ‘Belonging and love needs’ according to Maslow, involve intimate relationships and friends. These could be described as social psychological needs. Esteem needs are perceived to be the next layer pertaining to prestige and feeling of accomplishment. At the apex and (considered the least fundamental need) is the nebular category entitled ‘self-actualisation’ , to be understood as self-fulfilment needs, relating to achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities.
That is all interesting and reasoned, but how does Maslow’s hierarchy of needs compare with biblical teaching? The most famous Rabbi that ever lived stated the opposite (Matthew 6:25-34). He said rather not to worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or what you will put on (Maslow’s foundational physiological needs). He explained that humans are of greater value than the birds of the air, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Who can add to their height by worrying about their stature? Why worry about clothes when even the lilies of the field grow, though neither toil, nor spin.
Furthermore, the Lord knows that we need all these things. The above needs are important and should not be belittled, yet the essential point is that important those things are, there is something of far greater importance. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).”
In other words our spiritual needs are of the highest priority which makes sense because our Creator made us in His image for His glory. When we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we can trust Him with all the other needs. That also means that when we love God first, then others and then ourselves, not only are our spiritual needs in their rightful place but also the rest of our lives can then begin functioning in the way that God has designed us to live in Him.
Maslow’s model encourages looking after number one first and then helping others, but Jesus the Messiah taught that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Matthew 22:34-40). Our Lord was, of course, quoting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5) and Leviticus 19:18b.
When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we can trust the Lord with our safety and security needs. When we are in right relationship with God, we will be able to enjoy intimate relationships and friendships since if we love God, we will love our neighbour as ourselves. When our safety and security is in Him, not merely limited to just our immediate safety and security needs our so called ‘esteem needs’ will not be determined by how good we feel about ourselves and our sense of self-worth based on how much we like ourselves and our accomplishments, but will be based on our identity in Him and what it means to be adopted into God’s family.
When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then our spiritual needs become not a luxury or an afterthought or merely the icing on the cake, but the most important part of our being in whom we will find the greatest lasting satisfaction since we are created by God and for Him.
The hierarchy of needs pyramid could be represented in another way in the form of an archery board with gold in the middle for the greatest needs, and the respective colours in concentric rings recognising other needs. We must keep our Lord at the centre of our thoughts, desires and our actions and seek Him first and foremost. That way all the other needs will fit into place as we seek His will and guidance in our lives. Maslow’s hierarchy is a model for this life only, but the Messiah who taught like no one else ever taught gave us instruction for this life and also with eternity in view.
Jon Taylor 7th June 2021