In the field of psychology, there is a concept called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” This particular theory Abraham Maslow, a world-renowned psychologist posited there are five needs that all human beings have. These needs are usually expressed in a form of a pyramid, which is observed below.
Image is taken from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Maslow in his original theory stated the lower needs are needs that must be fulfilled before an individual can progress to a higher need. The needs are defined briefly:
Physiological needs: These are the needs of the body such as food, water, rest, and warmth.
Safety needs: These are needs for boundaries and protection, such as security and safety.
Belonging and love: These are needs concerning relationships, such as friendships and intimacy.
Esteem needs: These are needs concerning self: Such as accomplishment and goal completion.
Self-actualization: These are the needs of achieving one’s full potential, and creativity.
For example, a person who does not have their physiological needs met will not be able to “move up” to the safety needs. Maslow, explaining his hierarchy of needs noted:
At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hunger, dominate the organism. And when these, in turn, are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency’ Maslow, 1943, p. 375. Retrieved from https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
Maslow observed these particular qualities are important for a human being to grow and develop into a person who contributes to society. However, can these needs be observed from a Biblical worldview? This topic will be explored below:
Physiological needs: These needs are observed in Genesis when God created male and female. God had given mankind food to eat (Gen. 1:29; 2:16, for meat c.f., Gen. 9:3). God had also placed mankind in a paradisiacal environment (Gen. 2:15). God ultimately provided everything mankind needs physiologically.
Safety needs: The biblical worldview emphasizes that safety was also part of the plan of God. There was no fear or concern of an enemy at this time in history. In fact, this safety and protection, in the beginning, were to be extended beyond the Garden of Eden (Gen. 1:28). In addition, God has provided governing authorities to protect mankind from evil (Rom. 13:1-7).
Belonging and love needs: Love and Belonging are also seen in the account of Genesis as we see the qualities of intimate relationship and marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). Those who acknowledge a biblical worldview also observe the qualities of friendship and belonging defined in the Scriptures (Pro. 17:17; 27:6, 9). Belonging and love are central qualities mankind is to exhibit.
Esteem needs: Esteem from a Biblical worldview does not just come from the observation that one is a human being, but comes from the reality that mankind is created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). In other words, self-esteem, from a biblical worldview comes from knowing that one is created by a God who desires to give them all the things mentioned above (physiological, safety, and love and belonging). It is because of this one’s esteem is established.
Self-Actualization needs: Self-Actualization also originates from the reality that man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and that he knows God and His Son whom He has sent (Jn. 17). The fact that man has communicable attributes that God has given to him (i.e., knowledge, goodness, creativity, etc) creates things like art, music, books, goods, etc. A believer understands that they have been given these attributes, not because they are human, but that God has created them to possess and use these qualities for others, and for God’s glory.
When observed from a biblical worldview there are three important points that Abraham Maslow missed concerning these needs. First, he failed to recognize the Source of where all these physical needs come from. Maslow commented:
‘It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?’Maslow, 1943, p. 375. Retreived from https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
The Biblical worldview would state emphatically that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3). The reason that mankind is sustained by food is due to God’s provision (Ps. 104:10-15). Human beings are protected and safe because of God and His sovereignty (Ps. 127:1). People have love and belonging in our lives due to man being created with the capacity to love, because they are made in the image of God. In addition, God has commanded the saint to love other believers because God has loved them (1 Jn. 4:7-14). The reason why humans are valuable is that mankind is made in His image (c.f., Gen. 9:5-6). This is what Abraham Maslow failed to see in his analysis of the motivational needs of human beings.
Second, although Maslow observed the physical needs of human beings, he neglected to observe the reality of a cursed world due to sin. It is the active works of the sin nature that seeks to take away these needs from other people. Ironically Maslow recognized this problem when he commented:
The central role of the parents and the normal family setup are indisputable. Quarreling, physical assault, separation, divorce or death within the family may be particularly terrifying. Also parental outbursts of rage or threats of punishment directed to the child, calling him names, speaking to him harshly, shaking him, handling him roughly, or actual physical punishment sometimes elicit such total panic and terror in the child that we must assume more is involved than the physical pain alone. While it is true that in some children this terror may represent also a fear of loss of parental love, it can also occur in completely rejected children, who seem to cling to the hating parents more for sheer safety and protection than because of hope of love.Maslow, 1943, p. 377-378. Retrieved from https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
Abraham Maslow stated the primary reason these needs are not fulfilled is this was due to external factors (e.g., lack of parental love) However, from a biblical worldview, it is the active acts of sin within man that negatively affect these particular areas. The active acts of sinful mankind do not look to the benefit of its neighbor but instead seeks to hurt and destroy their neighbor. This is observed as Cain did not provide safety for his brother Abel, but instead murdered him (Gen. 4:7-8).
In the area of belonging and love the two greatest commandments in the Law of Moses concerned love (Matt. 24:37-40), which the nation of Israel disobeyed repeatedly in the Old Testament. In the body of Christ, the Church of Corinth had to be chastised for causing quarrels in the body because of their allegiance to certain teachers (1 Cor. 1:10-17), and be reminded of the qualities of love in terms of their conduct (1 Cor 13:1-8). James also exhorted the saints who favored those rich and excluded those who are poor (Jas. 2:1-13).
Before the Fall, esteem was anchored in the wisdom mankind was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). However, now that mankind seeks to have a wisdom apart from God’s revealed word self-esteem is now based in speculation, rather than what God has revealed in nature and His written word concerning mankind (c.f., Rom. 1:18-23).
Mankind was created by God and shares some of the attributes of God (e.g., goodness, creativity, etc.), and these were to be used to the glory of God (c.f., 1 Cor 10:31). However, because the word of God is spiritually appraised they are unable to reflect the glory of God (1 Cor. 2:14). In short, one who truly”self-actualizes” is one who knows God and His Son (c.f., Jn. 17:1-4). In addition, the person who subscribes to Abraham Maslow’s perspective may be convinced this is the way that human beings create a decent society and a relatively better world in the present time (i.e., “When I improve oneself I will improve the world”) and in some respects, this may have some benefit. In contrast for those who hold to a Biblical worldview, mankind is not to “self-actualize” to progress humanity forward with their potential, but for the glory of God.
The third thing and perhaps the most important is the lack of a spiritual need for people in the hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow, because of his worldview, believed that if one fulfilled these needs physically one would be truly fulfilled. By contrast from a Biblical perspective, mankind is created not just with a body, but with a soul (c.f,. Gen. 2:7; Ecc. 12:7).
The Hierarchy of Needs from a Biblical Worldview (adapted by Dr. Smith)
Abraham Maslow noticing the natural interactions that human beings have are influenced positively or negatively, to some degree, concluded there are needs that mankind must fulfill to reach their potential. Yet when Abraham Maslow’s theory is subjected to a Biblical worldview it is shown that he lacked three crucial details. He failed to acknowledge who gave the Source of these needs to mankind, and what they were to highlight, the glory of God. In addition, he correctly saw how each of these five needs can, and are, corrupted. However, he failed to observe the reason they are corrupted, and this is because of the active sin nature of mankind. Lastly, not only is his model temporally focused, but his worldview failed to account for the true need of the spiritual state of man.
Let us continue as Biblical counselors to address with our counselees not only the physical needs of man but the spiritual needs of man. For this particular need is very important, and it is this need when addressed properly, where one sees all other needs mankind has in the proper perspective.
Until Next Time…
Soli Deo Gloria!
For more biblical resources from Dr. Luther Smith they can be found on his website: http://www.drluthersmith.com.