© 5.3.05 By D. Eric Williams
One of the greatest mistakes of the modern church is the desire to meet the "felt needs" of the people who walk through the church door on Sunday morning. It's not that there aren't plenty of needs being felt by every man woman and child on the face of the earth; it's that those need are entirely wrong.
The truth is that the Christian religion is all about tossing away one's felt needs like filthy rags. Smith may carry the burden of a felt need for affirmation. He feels worthless and useless and incapable of doing any good. He's right. The pity is that he may be told otherwise. You see, on his own, Smith (like all of us), is worthless and useless and incapable of doing any good. He doesn't need to be told that he really is a pretty fine fellow after all. He needs to be told that there is no hope for him outside of Jesus Christ.
The Church is too often off balance on this issue simply because the Church too often dislikes tension and paradox. It is true that Smith has value simply because he is human. His life should be preserved and he deserves life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness. It is true as well that Smith is of no value because he is human. His life should be forfeit and his liberty and freedom eternally denied. Both of these are biblical positions. Both are true. Both have their place in the ministry of the Church. But when Smith comes to us with his carpetbag full of felt needs, the worst thing in the world we can do is to get mixed up about which truth to apply when. The hard part is that the church may be called upon to affirm Smith's human worth and his worthlessness at the same time. for instance, if Smith is a homeless drug addict with no family or friends, we assert his value as a human and care for his needs. At the same time, we must proclaim to Smith that he is hopelessly lost and has nothing of any value to offer God in exchange for his soul. Moreover, there is nothing within Smith that he can call upon to effect lasting change in his life; nothing that deserves affirmation, nothing that excuses his actions, no felt needs that can be met without death and burial in Christ.
There is no denying that the world is full of hurting people; they hurt because they think too highly of themselves. Every one of the people I've counseled, no matter what "mental illness" they've been labeled with, one thing holds true; they are all self centered. Even the suicide is thinking of himself first. Because he is so self centered, he is overly concerned with his "miserable" condition. Any attempt to fix the problem using the stuff of the problem is doomed to failure. The key to meeting Smith's felt needs is to point out to Smith that he is a vile sinner and assure him that his quest for meaning by looking within is hopeless. Human life has intrinsic value only because it may be redeemed by Christ. From our perspective that includes everyone; only God knows His elect in this life. Nevertheless, Smith will only find meaning and purpose by embracing death; the Gospel provides significance in death and burial not through self actualization.
The same is true of those who are found in Jesus. The felt needs of the saints are no more worthy of being met than those of the unregenerate. Jones may espouse a felt need to maintain his personal peace and comfort, but what Jones really needs is to be violently attacked from the pulpit.
The Bible has much to say about the kingdom of God, or kingdom of Heaven; nowhere does the Holy Writ mention the meeting of felt needs as a characteristic of the kingdom. The kingdom (which is entered through union with Christ and is realized by submission to His rule), is in fact a violent place. It's initial entry is called both birth and death, neither of which is particularly peaceful. Birth takes place in the midst of pain and stress. Death by crucifixion is brutal tearing torture. Both terms are accurate because both are related to creation - another word describing entrance into the kingdom. Creation is not the idyllic activity pictured in children's story books. At the beginning of the world, water was torn from water and forcibly separated by a great expanse; earth was compressed, kneaded and heaped into hills; flaming spheres of tremendous power were flung into the heavens; creatures were formed from soil fused into shapes by the smelting furnace of God's hand. The fiery breath of the almighty was forced into the lifeless shape of Man. And then Man was commanded to submit. Creation is pulling, pushing, tearing, crushing, melting, wholeness once again - and submission.
God cares little for our felt needs. His concern is His own glory. He is glorified by a broken and contrite heart. Hearts are not shattered by tender treatment. Hearts - like anything else - are broken by heavy blows or by falling from a height upon an unyielding surface. We are broken through the cleansing blows of the Father, broken by falling upon the rock of Christ.
This way of speaking is no accident. God could have said that He desired a dissolved heart. He could have painted a picture of softening through the gentle process of wind and water over time. But He did not.
No, Jones doesn't need to be comforted in his folly. He needs to be driven to violence; "the kingdom of God suffers violence and violent men take it by force." No one who cares for his own needs is fit for the kingdom of God.
I have been reminded of these truths over the last few weeks as my "felt need" for peace of mind has been violated by sermons which cut to the bone. I feel the need to be left alone in my indifference. The Word of God tells me that I must sacrifice myself for the sake of others. I feel the need to justify my behavior (I'm not as bad as Jones after all). The Bible tells me I have fallen far short of the example of Christ. I feel the need to rest securely in a predictable income. The Scripture reminds me that the Grand Adventure is anything but safe and predictable.
The result? He who looses his life shall find it. Purpose, meaning, value - all are found in Jesus Christ. Yet, Smith and Jones and myself are not the object of that purpose, meaning and value, but Jesus Christ. Just Jesus Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20, italics added).