As human beings we are driven by certain basic needs.
Our moment-by-moment decisions are often driven by sub-conscious ‘programming’ to meet our physiological and psychological needs.
The ‘need to belong’ is one of these, second only to our most fundamental requirements for food and physical safety. The psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a famous paper in 1943 on “A Theory of Human Motivation”. In it, he described a hierarchy of human needs, a sort of pyramid with the most basic at the base and those things that lead to greater fulfilment at the pinnacle. At the very bottom are our needs for food, water, warmth and rest; the next level is our physical security and safety.
Maslow’s theory is that we will seek to fulfil our needs in order from bottom to top. Based on this, once we have physical sustenance and safety, the very next urge which will drive our behaviour is the need for meaningful relationships – the need to belong. This drive leads us to grow and nurture extended families, to form deep, longlasting friendships and to co-operate with others on a common cause or objective. In more recent times social media tools have dramatically changed the way we connect with people, sometimes for the better.
But much has been said about how they can also become an obsession as our drive to belong and be accepted fuels a desire for a multitude of virtual ‘friends’, ‘followers’ or ‘likes’. We get a little dopamine hit (the feel-good brain chemical) every time we receive a text, a friend request or a like, and it’s a highly addictive experience!
The Problem with Social Groups
Whilst our need to belong can be expressed in hugely positive ways, it comes with side effects. We are imperfect human beings living in an imperfect world and the human need to belong can manifest itself in destructive ways. Despite their positive features, many argue that social media organisations are cynically exploiting one of our most basic desires to make money. That is the heart of the issue. Wherever there is a basic human need, there will be people looking to exploit it to exercise control over others. Wherever people are searching for a place they can be accepted, there will be others providing places to fulfil that need and through it exercise control.
While group or society membership might bring structure to achieving an objective, there can often be a ‘dark side’ with plots for control over ‘the Group’. Rules define whether you are in or out, and those outside ‘the Group’ are portrayed as the enemy. This is true of political, social, national and perhaps especially of religious movements.
Through human history their worst expressions lead to terrible violence in the name of ‘the Group’. There is ample evidence of this in our modern world. Last year it was estimated that a staggering 68.5 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. 57% of refugees are from three countries torn by national, religious or ethnic conflict; South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. The numbers tell a story of the human cost, but each one of the 68.5 million is an individual with their own personal story of tragedy.
Turning Things Upside Down
What can people like you and me do about this? Can we change the way the world deals with displaced and distressed people? Well, we certainly should do our bit, but it still just feels like a drop in the ocean of resisting the destructive tendencies at work in humanity.
This brings us to consider Jesus, what can he bring to the issue? Well, perhaps surprisingly given the destruction wreaked through history, supposedly in his name, he suggests that we focus on personal relationships. He recognised the big issue with human nature and offered a way forward.
You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42–45).
Jesus turned things upside down by urging us to focus on serving one another in genuine personal relationships, rather than trying to beat the world at its own game. Jesus himself came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ and he demonstrated this by reaching out whenever he could to the marginalised in his society; the poor, the sick and the lost. But as well as giving practical help, if people recognised Jesus as the Son of God, he gave them forgiveness for their failings and compassionate acceptance into a relationship with God, his Father. He offered the vulnerable in society a most positive place to belong as part of a community of people aiming to live by that principle of serving one another.
Belonging to Jesus
The call of Jesus is just as meaningful today. It means to reject the prevailing vision of what it means to belong, based on individual achievement, status, wealth and power. It means instead to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, to live like him, to serve and to forgive, and to accept and be accepted. Strange as it may sound, it’s a call to live like “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). This means rejecting the way of the world, doing what positive good we can, but looking forward to a different kind of society, “…which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v10). This is what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God and is the ultimate solution to humanity’s problems. When this time comes, Jesus will be king of the earth, ruling for God. With those who belong to him, he will transform the earth from its ugliness and corruption to a place of justice, peace and fair distribution of precious resources to all who need them. Imagine belonging with Jesus at that time and being empowered to do those things! Read the rest of this edition of Glad Tidings to see why it is rational to believe there is a God with a purpose who is interested in right and wrong, and how people become stronger through their faith. That ‘journey of faith’ is completed by belonging to Jesus, serving others now but looking forward with hope to a new age, to fixing the big problems of the world with Jesus. This is the fulfilment of God’s purpose with the earth, and it’s the power of the Gospel message for salvation to everyone who believes.