In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published his theory of a Hierarchy of Needs in a famous paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, and later explained his theory more fully in his book Motivation and Personality in 1954. These needs are laid out in this order:
- Physiological needs: food, water, air, sleep, shelter, clothing, etc. (physical)
- Safety needs: personal security, financial security, health, safety from accidents (environmental)
- Love/Social belonging: friendship, family, intimacy (socio-cultural)
- Esteem: feelings of acceptance, value to others, and self-respect (emotional)
- Self-actualization: realization of a person’s full potential (intellectual and spiritual)
- Self-transcendence: the giving of oneself to a higher goal outside oneself (outside of needs)
For those of you who took general psychology in school, you’ll remember that these needs are laid out in the shape of a pyramid, with the first layer of needs at the bottom, the foundation. Each successive layer of needs is built on top of the previous one. According to the theory, the more basic needs have to be met before we’re concerned with the needs at the next level up. In other words, if we don’t have food, clothing or shelter, we’re not concerned with our belonging or identity in a group. If we have basic financial needs or are concerned about our health, we’re not as concerned about being respected by our community or reaching the level of our full potential.
At some point along the way, we start to settle in to our everyday lives, and we may grow content with where we are. In natural terms, we grow stagnant. In church terms, we start to get lukewarm. We’re no longer inspired to new or better things, and we’re no longer spurring others on to love and good works, nor associating with those who would sharpen us.
Here’s the plot twist. We humans have a problem. It’s not just that we become content once we have our basic needs met – that’s not so bad. But when we’re not struggling or contending for life’s necessities or involved in activities which serve our families or others, we seem to have more time and energy for getting into other people’s pyramids instead of managing our own. When we’re not outright judging each other, we still spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to each other.
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to not listen to a good story. We thrive on drama. It’s the basis of most of our entertainment options and social media interactions. We like to know what’s going on with other people. We learn good lessons from these stories about the human condition and about how to live life (or how NOT to). When the stories are about people we know, our responses can be anything from sympathy and offering help to, “Wow, I thought I had it bad,” or even, “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not [fill in the blank].” It’s way too easy to switch over from innocent bystander to supporting actor in the story as we start making judgments about people’s circumstances and decisions.
Look, I’m in no position to tell you where to draw that line, to judge for you where you should be listening to stories or offering opinions or getting involved where you weren’t involved before. Why? Because not only would that be wrong of me, but it would also be ironic, considering the topic of this post.
The first chapter of Romans clearly lays out for us the sin problem, which we are responsible for whether we have heard the good news of the gospel or not. The second chapter builds on that foundation, leading off with the idea that we are therefore without excuse, specifically for judging our fellow man for the sins that we ourselves are guilty of. (See plank vs. speck in Matt. 7:3-5.)
Why is it that we sometimes don’t take this as seriously as we should? One reason could be that we don’t immediately see the effects of our actions. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that even though God would be right to judge us immediately for our sins, He delays that judgment, using His own patience and kindness toward us to bring us to repentance. The next verse tells us about the danger of presuming that God’s delayed judgment isn’t ultimately coming – we end up heaping up for ourselves more and more consequences for the day when judgment does come.
That’s sometime in the future. Let’s talk about the here and now.
Paul goes on to clearly say in verses 6-11 that there will be a fair judgment handed out for our works: tribulation and distress for everyone who does evil, and glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good. I would submit for your consideration that this is not just true in the future, but also now. I’ve noticed that people who tend to live patient, peaceful lives tend to be involved in fewer emotional struggles and are overall more stress-free. Even when significant things happen in their lives, they are well-equipped to deal with them because they’re not entangled in other situations around them.
By contrast, I’ve noticed that those who are seeking to instigate problems or constantly want to be conduits for other people’s personal details aren’t often happy, and they carry the stress of all those situations in their own spirits.
Those who legitimately are elected or appointed to stand in judgment of other people have tremendous responsibility. We give them a lot of power to be able to gather the right factual information to allow them to reach a conclusion about what is right and wrong in a situation, and what should be done about it. It’s a sober and honorable process. How just would we think the process was if the judge only considered a portion of the evidence presented, and ignored the rest? Or what if only one side of the case were presented before the judge passed down their decision? In the extreme case, what if we knew that judge were being accused of the same crimes as the defendant is accused of in that judge’s courtroom? We would consider any decision by that judge to be unfair at best, and the process and people involved completely corrupt at worst.
Would we be any better if we are standing in judgment of the people around us without knowing the situation? Or worse, judging people for things that we ourselves are guilty of?
I’m not qualified to pass judgment on anyone. I can do my best to point people to Jesus as the One Righteous Judge, and talk to them about how they can deal with their sins before they meet Him personally. I can show them how His precious sacrifice can wipe the slate clean and give them a fresh start. I can also remind them that we will all be held responsible for our actions, judged by the standard of truth that God has given us. But I’ll leave the actual judging to the One Who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Kevin Dow loves being a project manager and photographer, and has been using his gifts to support Hope for about four years now on the Production Team and leading small groups. You can follow him @firstcreationphoto.