A few weeks ago, in a Scripture class, we drifted off the topic onto ‘the attributes of God’. In answer to a question, I referred to Acts 17:24-25, ‘The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.’ Immediately, one of the brightest students was duly offended by the thought that God does not need us, and commented rather sadly: ‘You have just made me feel worthless.’ I suppose a steady diet of self-esteem philosophy does that to one, although it is not easy to derive much comfort from a deity who needs us. He would be like a well-intentioned, but not altogether competent friend who was always offering to help when we wished that he wouldn’t.
Back in 1952 J. B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. Since then, God seems to have become yet smaller, in many eyes at least. Theologians who take the Bible seriously say that God is self-sufficient, which means that he simply exists, and can exist quite happily, as it were, without us. They speak of ‘the aseity of God’, meaning he is sufficient in himself, whereas we human beings most certainly are not sufficient in ourselves. The very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1, implies the self-sufficiency of our Creator. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and so, we might ask, what was he doing before he created the universe? Aristotle thought that the world was eternal, and Carl Sagan’s slogan was ‘The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.’ Against this, the God of the Bible exists for all eternity as ‘I am who I am ’ (Exod. 3:14). It is highly significant that Jesus speaks the same language (John 8:58). Before he created the heavens and the earth, the triune God enjoyed love and fellowship within the three Persons of the Godhead. In his ‘High Priestly Prayer’, Jesus prays: ‘And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed’ (John 17:5).
Further into the prayer we read: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24). So the creation of the world by the triune God was an act of grace, not necessity. He was not lonely! To God, the nations are but a drop from a bucket or dust on scales (Isa. 40:15); indeed, they are nothing and less than nothing before him (Isa. 40:17). We are like grasshoppers, and God has no difficulty in bringing princes to nothing (Isa. 40:22-23). My offended student did not know the half of it! The truth is, as A. W. Tozer wrote: ‘Without doubt the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God.’
No doubt this is why grace has ceased to be amazing in the Western world. God, if he exists at all, is just a few rungs above us on the ladder of importance, and he is very much just a slightly larger version of humanity. Armed with no concept of sin, holiness nor the almighty self-sufficiency of God, we almost think we do God a favour by choosing him. It is almost like we have voted him into office. Hence we have lost the powerful impact of the Bible’s teaching that God stoops down to us, as, for example, in Psalm 103:13-14, ‘As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.’
Does God need us? We need each other. Society is a set of intertwined relationships. But God does not need us in the slightest. If we are saved in Christ Jesus, this is ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph. 1:6), not because of any supposed need on God’s part. We can conclude with the words of John Flavel: ‘Those who know God will be humble. Those who know themselves, cannot be proud.’
– Peter Barnes