Updated: Mar 25
To give you some context, Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 and passed over the bridge in 1970. He was a humanistic American psychologist. Many people are familiar with him because of his hierarchical structure of human needs.
Maslow studied overall healthy people, gathered his data and formulated this structure based off of what he believed to be human needs, in order from most basic at the bottom to most complex at the top. It is believed that once needs on the more basic level are met, a person can move up the pyramid to focus on higher needs. I am going to discuss what each level means, as well as discuss how it relates, or doesn’t match up to the word of the Bible.
Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
The first four levels of the pyramid are known as deficiency needs.
-The bottom level contains physiological needs such as food, water, sleep, shelter, clothing and reproduction.
-The second level contains security and safety needs such as safety and stability in a person’s environment. These include health, property, employment, resources, etc.
-The third level contains love and belonging needs such as relationships with family and friends, intimacy, and a sense of connection.
-The fourth level contains esteem needs. These include self esteem and respect from others, status, recognition, strength, and freedom.
THEN, the fifth level and top of the pyramid are growth needs. Maslow terms them as Self-actualization.
Maslow first put forth the theory in 1943, and since then, it has been studied and expanded upon. It is believed that the method he used is inherently biased, and the amount of people he studied was too small of a scale to have accurate final results. He also may not have studied different cultures, genders and ages, which may have changed some of his results. To his defense, he did admit that not all the lower levels of needs must be met in order for the higher needs to come into view. He also said that some needs are more pressing than others given the individual and the circumstances. So there is some wiggle room in this pyramid. We ARE all unique masterpieces formed by God himself, afterall. Despite this information, this pyramid still remains popular in psychological education, the business world, and other fields that attempt to understand human motivations and development.
Now to jump into the biblical discussion. Biblically we all know that our deepest need is for a relationship with God, which only comes through salvation in Jesus Christ. This is found in John 14:6. Forgiveness and a relationship with our creator are missing from this pyramid. Now there is no debate that even the Bible would not contradict the fact that we all need physical health, a sense of safety, and a sense of love and belonging. Or even a sense of worth and respect from others. The main debate is found in the tippy top portion of the pyramid.
As stated before, the top of the pyramid is the Growth needs, or ‘Self Actualization", as Maslow called it. In Secular psychology, it is based on a denial of man’s inherent sinful nature and the false notion that mankind is basically good. So, most of the pyramid is agreeable and inline with biblical truths. Although they may not be in that order biblically, they all are still needs. Another aspect of this is that lot of people struggle determining what is a need versus a want. From a biblical standpoint, our most pressing need is, or should be, for Jesus and the truth of God. This is found in Matthew 4:4; “It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” This statement alone, blows up the pyramid all together. According to the word of God, our basic needs are not physiological, but spiritual. A small example of this, for some people, would be during times of extreme emotional distraught. The last thing on their mind is food and hunger. They naturally want to “feel better” psychologically. In the Bible, Paul shows an example of this in Philippians 4:12-13. He did not require his basic needs to be met until he ministered to others. So, is our ultimate goal “self-actualization, or Christlikeness?
Let’s step back a minute. The definition of Self-Actualization:
According to this, and many other definitions out there, self-actualization is achieving ones FULL potential, basically through mastering the real world, people, and all that those entail. Biblically this IS NOT EVEN POSSIBLE! We are all sinners, saved by grace, and it is not even possible to be “perfect” and “wholly-fulfilled” within our own power. The only perfect and all knowing is God himself. We can reach a higher potential of contentment, acceptance, and freedom WITH the power of God and a strong relationship with the savior himself, but never alone and on our own.
So, now the question is, do we have to have all of our basic needs met, or any of them, for a matter of fact, in order to be Christlike? Agape Love chooses self sacrifice and seeks to fulfill the needs of others first. (1 Corinthians 13:5) “Value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) So it looks to me that the whole basis of the pyramid of Maslow seems to crumble when placed next to scripture.
The true human needs found in Maslow’s pyramid can be found in God. In exodus we learn that God provides for the physical needs of his children. In Psalms, we see God sustained the people when they felt alone. We also see many times when God’s people were disrespected or humiliated and found their hope in Christ. Maslow evidently saw human needs as being met in earthly ways, but as believers, we know that even if those needs seem to be met, they can’t truly be fulfilled without God. Life is just vanity without him. We can be in lack of earthly fulfillment and still be satisfied in Christ.
To recap, Scripture acknowledges that humans have certain needs, many of which are found in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Christians should compassionately seek to meet the needs of others. Our attempts to speak spiritual truth may go unheard without a physical component that matches that truth. Meeting people’s earthly needs without sharing the gospel will do little of eternal value. Conversely, presenting the gospel while neglecting people’s earthly needs will also do little of eternal value. James speaks to this in James 2:14-26.
In the Gospels we see Jesus meet people’s physical needs by providing things like food and healing. He also spoke to their fears and gave them a sense of security. He recognized the outcasts of society, which speaks to their need for love and belonging. Jesus, as our Creator, is aware of our every need. He is able to meet our every need, including our need for forgiveness and wholeness. Jesus put things in perspective and set the priority: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [the basic needs of life] will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34).