God’s Need and God’s Goal by Witness Lee // book review

gods-need-and-gods-goal

God’s Need and God’s Goal is a compilation of two conferences given by Witness Lee at different times, but which pair together nicely. If I had to sum up this book in two words, I would choose ‘enlightening’ and ‘encouraging’. ‘Enlightening’ because this short book packs two heavy theological punches which can make you see stars, and ‘encouraging’ because the whole discussion revolves around the preciousness of our failures. God does the most glorious things (meet His need and goal) through the most humbling experiences (our failures). King David’s life is basically a case study on that. Through his two monumental failures recorded in Scripture (2 Sam chs. 11 & 24) God gained two things crucial for the temple, the builder and the site.

Here is an analogy of the two parts of this book. Think of a friend’s warmly lit, comfortable, high-rise condo with an amazing view. You sink into the couch and take it all in, awed by the sight of the city from a new perspective—vast, serene, ordered, wonderful. You can hardly believe that the gritty hubbub of city life you exist in looks like this from above. The shift in perspective brings meaning to the congested chaos down below. As you process this newfound revelation, you’re probably not thinking about how much weight the foundation is bearing 50 floors below, making it all possible. Unseen concrete and steel do all the work, while Crate and Barrel and framed views get all the glory. And you benefit from their partnership. Architects specialize in this poetic combination of the dissimilar. The trinity of architectural principles, made famous by Vitruvius, is: solid, useful, and beautiful. All three must coexist in equality and unity for a successful building. But there’s a time to get technical about foundations (solid) and there’s a time to enjoy the sights and comforts of the condo (useful and beautiful). The Christian life is the same. Doctrine and experience, truth and life must always go together in equal measure. Ultimately, all biblical doctrine is for our experience, just like the foundation is for the condo, not the other way around.

God’s Need and God’s Goal is focused on the second of these—experience. This book has the potential to elevate our perspective and enrich our experience based on two massive theological points. In this review, first, I want to look at the two big theological “piers” holding this book up, then I want to talk about the view from inside the condo itself.

God’s Need—man as recipient of divine dispensing

The first three chapters look at “God’s need” and use Luke 14:17 as a point of departure—”Come, for all things are now ready”. Lee defines God’s need as the self-determined need He has in His economy, according to the good pleasure of His will, to dispense Himself in the riches of His being into humanity for His corporate expression.

God has freely willed from eternity, out of His incomparable goodness and eternal love, to create a world and share Himself, as far as possible, with His chosen and redeemed people for His enhanced glory. Consequently, God needs man for the fulfillment of His good pleasure and will. Furthermore, since He has given man the faculty of choice and has limited Himself in the carrying out of His purpose to man’s cooperation, He needs man to turn to Him, open to Him, come to Him, enjoy Him, and then work in oneness with Him.

Thus, God needs man in two ways: 1) in general for His purpose itself and 2) in particular for the carrying out of His purpose. The basic and intrinsic way both of these needs are met is for man to come to God to receive His dispensing. This is typified in Luke 14 by the acceptance of a gracious dinner invitation. God has prepared Christ as the fattened calf and compels us to come and eat. Eating produces living (John 6:57), and living is expression (Phil 1:20-21). God’s need is met through our enjoyment of Him. And, as the end of the book makes clear, failure is the best facilitator.

Here are some quotes from the book:

God has a need in the universe. God does not need man to give Him something, because with Him there is no lack. God needs only a group of people who would consecrate themselves as empty vessels to receive His riches. (19)

Although we certainly cannot do anything without God, He cannot be expressed to others without us….When we are weak, His strength can be displayed. When we fail, His victory can be displayed. When we are poor, His riches can be displayed….We need to come to the Lord with our sins and with our weaknesses so that we can meet His need to be expressed through us. (10-11)

God’s need is not related to us giving Him something but to Him giving us Himself. He wants to give us Himself. God’s need is not related to us doing something for Him but to Him doing something in us. God’s need is not related to us giving Him something because He is poor. Rather, His need is related to Him being able to give us something because He is rich. God has everything, and He only wants us. God’s only need is related to man and even is man….He cares only that our heart would be empty so that He can impart Himself into us. (15)

This will not put Him to shame; it will glorify Him. He desires mercy and not sacrifice (Matt 9:13). Mercy is what He gives to us, whereas sacrifice is what we give to Him. The Lord does not want us to give Him anything; His only desire is that we enjoy what He gives us. (26)

Many Christians will balk at the notion that God has a need; however, lest we transgress Adler’s dictum of disagreement, it is important to understand what Lee means before jumping to conclusions.

In what way does God need man? Essence vs economy

Upon hearing talk of God needing man, many people retort with, “God doesn’t need us, He chooses to use us.” Of course, God does choose to use us, but there is also a very valid sense in which God needs us. In His essence, God doesn’t need us; in His economy, He does. In His economy, God doesn’t merely chooses to use man for His purpose (ex. preaching the gospel; although, even this kind of use is really a need, since God has determined to accomplish His purpose through man, cf. Rom 10:14). If God is just using us, that still leaves a gap between the purpose and us. We are not just the means to achieve God’s purpose, we are the very purpose itself. God wants to be glorified IN and THROUGH man by becoming one with man. “In this way the church emerges as the answer to the question, ‘For what end does creation exist?'”[1] God can only be glorified through us to the extent that He has made His home in our hearts (Eph 3:17-21). God wants a habitat in humanity through which to express all that He is. God not only uses us to build the house (ex. prophesying, 1 Cor 14:4); we are the house itself (Eph 2:22). He needs us, not just as cobuilders, but as the living stones.

When Lee talks about God’s need, it is in relation to His economy according to His own determination. God’s economy was commonly used term in the early church to refer to the whole operation of God in time. God’s need in this context is not a need determined by constraints extrinsic to God’s being or a need that renders God dependent on created realities. God has no need essentially in relation to His existence, attributes, or moral perfections. Acts 17:25 states this plainly—”The God who made the world and all things in it is not served by human hands as though He needed anything in addition, since He Himself gifs to all life and breath and all things.” Lee affirms this. God is self-existing, ever-existing, and all-inclusive. That is what Jehovah means—I AM. He doesn’t need to create the world, strictly speaking. Augustine put it beautifully when he said, “God did not create under stress of any compulsion.”[2]

Philosophically and logically God has no need, but eternally and actually He has an eternal purpose and desire. God has clearly and dramatically chosen not to exist alone. Barth calls it the “riddle of creation.”[3] This in fact is the most basic philosophical question—why is there something rather than nothing? Why has a perfectly self-sufficient God chosen to have something beside Himself? The Bible pulls back the curtain in places and lets us peak backstage. How far backstage can we see? Behind the stage of the world is God’s will. The riddle of creation is the mystery of God’s will (Rev 4:11, Eph 1:9). What’s behind God’s will? God’s good pleasure, the desire of His heart (Eph 1:5). What’s behind that? We can see no further.

Although we can try to order the logical moments of the divine will (first, second, third), and it may be helpful for our understanding, in reality we are talking about eternity, in which there is no succession of moments.[4] God did not formulate His will after some period of deliberation. His will is as eternal as His existence, because it belongs to His very substance.[5] God’s will[6] is centered on ordaining some number of rational creatures to divine sonship, the totality of which is the church as the Body of His Incarnate Son. The end He has in mind is nuptial bliss, habitation, and expression, all in man (Zeph 3:17; Isa 62:5; Eph 3:17; 2 Thes 1:10).

God didn’t have to will this, but that is just what He did. God doesn’t need to will something, but once He wills that thing, He needs it. Since He willed the church, He needs man.

Quotes by others

Lee is not alone in affirming this sense of divine need, although he brought to it his unique emphasis.

Thomas Odon said:

There is no absolute necessity that any world exist, although there is a consequent necessity, that is, consequent to the purpose of God.[7]

Even Karl Barth, who was so much for God’s otherness, sovereignty, and freedom, said:

If by the Son or the Word of God we understand concretely Jesus, the Christ, and therefore very God and very man, as He existed in the counsel of God from all eternity and before creation, we can see how far it was not only appropriate and worthy but necessary that God should be the Creator. If this was God’s eternal counsel in the freedom of His love, the counsel actualized in the manger of Bethlehem, the cross of Calvary and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, it was not merely possible but essential for God to be the Creator. The fact that God has regard to His Son—the Son of Man, the Word made flesh—is the true and genuine basis of creation. To be sure there was no other necessity than that of His own free love. But a genuine necessity is constituted by the fact from all eternity He willed so to love the world, and did so love it, that He gave His only begotten Son.[8]

Aquinas’ discussion of the will of God is foundational here. He distinguishes between things necessary absolutely and necessary by supposition:

There are two ways in which a thing is said to be necessary, namely, absolutely, and by supposition….As to things willed by God, we must observe that He wills something of absolute necessity: but this is not true of all that He wills. For the divine will has a necessary relation to the divine goodness….Hence God wills His own goodness necessarily….But God wills things apart from Himself in so far as they are ordered to His own goodness as their end….Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect, and can exist without other things inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to Him from them, it follows that His willing things apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary. Yet it can be necessary by supposition, for supposing that He wills a thing, then He is unable not to will it, as His will cannot change.[9]

Just before this he says:

God wills not only Himself, but other things apart from Himself….For natural things have a natural inclination not only towards their own proper good… but also to spread abroad their own good amongst others, so far as possible. Hence we see that every agent, in so far as it is perfect and in act, produces its like. It pertains, therefore, to the nature of the will to communicate as far as possible to others the good possessed; and especially does this pertain to the divine will….inasmuch as it befits the divine goodness that other things should be partakers therein.[10]

Takeaway

God by absolute necessity must will His own goodness, since God is good by definition. God doesn’t have to will anything outside Himself, but since it is the nature of the divine will to communicate its goodness to others, it is fitting for God to create and share His goodness with creatures. Supposing He does will this, it is necessary by supposition that He create people to receive His dispensing. This is God’s need and God’s goal, which can be summed up biblically in one word with all its implications—sonship (implies: dispensing, mingling, expression).[11]. God’s goal is sonship[12], so God needs to dispense His life, in the Son, into man. This is exactly what Lee is saying by linking God’s need back to God’s desire and purpose.

Hopefully from all this, it is obvious that there is a valid sense in which to talk about God’s need of man in relation to His economy. Historically, theologians have done this and Lee is certainly within his rights to do so as well.

The first half of this book is an attempt to revolutionize our concept and readjust our focus from ‘God for my needs’, to ‘me for God’s need’ (pp. 7-8). We exist for the fulfillment of God’s good pleasure, not by our doing something for Him, but receiving something from Him, to maximize His glory.

God’s Goal—to be mingled with man for His expression

The last four chapters of God’s Need and God’s Goal discuss God’s goal, with special attention given to our failures. In other words, the second half deals with how we should view our failures. Failures are sovereign and necessary, though unpleasant, opportunities for us to gain more Christ. God, in His wisdom, uses failure as a way to break us and open us to His goal in creating us, which is to be mingled with us as one for His expression.

Here are some quotes from the book:

God gives us situations that are contrary to our preferences in order to work Himself into us. (45)

Failures enable us to experience more of God. (49)

I hope that we can see this deep principle. One who has never fallen or failed cannot know God, experience God, or enjoy God. God has no way to work Himself into a person who has no “holes.” (55-56)

God allows us to fail because He wants to give us grace. In order to understand this matter clearly, we need to speak of God’s goal….God’s unique goal for His chosen ones is to enter into them and to mingle Himself with them. In eternity past and in His creation of man, God’s considerations were related to His intention to enter into man and to mingle Himself with man….Man’s usefulness and function in relation to God are connected to his capacity to be mingled with God. (57)

God did not want to be alone in the universe. Consequently, He created man to be a counterpart for Himself (cf. 2:18). God does not want to be God merely in Himself; He wants to enter into man to be God in man. He is God, but He desires to be mingled with man. In the same principle, God created man because He wants man to be mingled with Him. Although He wants man to be man, He wants man to be man in Him. (58)

Christians of a certain persuasion may take issue with the concept of God being mingled with man, either because of theological suspicions about Lee’s understanding of the relationship between the two natures of Christ (i.e. monophysitism, which Lee strongly rejected) or because of a more general theological stance on the relationship between God and man, that God is utterly transcendent and not really indwelling His believers.

Barnes’ NT Notes adopts the second stance, and is almost laughable in its flat out denial of the plain sense of the biblical text. Some examples:

  • “And if Christ be in you [Rom 8:10]. This is evidently a figurative expression, where the word “Christ” is used to denote his spirit, his principles; that is, he influences the man. Literally, he cannot be in a Christian; but the close connexion between him and Christians, and the fact that they are entirely under his influence, is expressed by this strong figurative language.”
  • “Christ liveth in me [Gal 2:20]….Of course this cannot be taken literally that Christ had a residence in the apostle; but it must mean that his grace resided in him; that his principles actuated him; and that he derived all his energy, and zeal, and life from his grace.”
  • “How that Jesus Christ is in you [2 Cor 13:5]. To be in Christ, or for Christ to be in us, is a common mode in the Scriptures of expressing the idea that we are Christians….See the phrase explained Rom 8:10.”
In what way is Christ in us?

Hopefully we can all agree that Christ is actually in us. Christ is both at the right hand of God and within our regenerated human spirit. Paul affirms both in the same chapter (Romans 8:10, 34). Christ is in us, but in what kind of way? How are we joined to Christ?

Christ is not in us like a piece of graphite lodged under our skin or a marble in a jar. He is not in us like the wind in a sail. He is not in us metaphorically or by representation. The union we have with Christ is not merely federal, legal, or intellectual. Our union is not like two wooden boards glued together.

Christ is in us as our life and our person, and yet our human life and person remain. Two lives and persons live as one. We don’t trade off hours living, us for a while and then Christ for a while. Neither does He steer us like a helmsman. Neither do we simply take advice from Him, as if He were a inner shoulder angel whispering in our ear but leaving decisions up to us. We two have become one, and yet are still two. This is mingling.

Christ is in us like tea leaves in a cup of hot water. This is a standard analogy Lee uses to illustrate our union with Christ.[13] It is actually a very good illustration because both the tea and the water retain their individual properties and characteristics when combined (water: fluidity, freezing/boiling point, surface tension, etc; tea: color, flavor, smell, nutritional value, etc.), and every sip of tea conveys both simultaneously and inseparably, yet a third substance is not produced. Neither the water nor the tea is so dissolved in the other that it looses what it is in the steeping process.[14]

The biblical imagery depicts the union of Christ and the believer in the closest terms. The Spirit of Christ is in our spirit (2 Tim 4:22; Rom 8:10), they function together (Rom 8:16), and we and Christ are so joined that we have become one spirit (1 Cor 6:17). This doesn’t result in a confusion of natures or a change into a ‘third thing’. The word ‘mingling’ doesn’t denote that, at least according to the standard English lexicons that define meaning and usage. To mingle is “to mix or bring together in combination, usually without loss of individual characteristics” (American Heritage) or “to bring or combine together or with something else so that the components remain distinguishable in the combination” (Webster’s). If this is what mingling means, then it in no way violates the prohibitions of Chalcedon (without confusion), and can be used without suspicion.

The biblical basis for the word itself comes from Leviticus 2:5, which is a description of the meal offering, and which many have taken as typology for the God-man Jesus. A number of literal translations render the Hebrew word as ‘mingle’ (Tyndale, Geneva, KJV, Darby, ASV, RcV).

If your offering is a meal offering baked on a flat plate, it shall be of fine flour mingled with oil, unleavened. (RcV)

The mingling of God and man in Christ is unique, since He is one person with two natures. The mingling of God (in Christ as the Spirit) with us involves two persons and two natures. We will always remain individual human persons, without being absorbed like a drop of wine in the ocean (contra Eutyches). The mingling that exists in our human spirit from the time of regeneration gradually spreads to our soul for our renewing and transformation. The result is that our mind becomes the spirit of our mind and we have the mind of Christ. This is a deeper and more thorough mingling with Christ to the point where He is expressed in our living, aka glorified through us, which is God’s goal.

Other orthodox teachers have also used the terminology of mingling.

Regarding Christ

“It was He, the divine spirit, Who took the man to Himself, and mingled God and man in Himself… Both substances continue unaltered and unimpaired after the union… each of them preserves its peculiar qualities and activity. –Tertullian[15]

Regarding the Believers

“What greater destiny can befall man’s humility than that he should be intermingled with God, and by this intermingling should be deified, and that we should be so visited by the Dayspring from on high. –Gregory of Nazianzen[16]

“Through His death He conquered death, and mingled incorruptible with corruptible to make men sons of God; as man he vanquished man’s vanquisher on the cross. –Hippolytus[17]

We feed on Him at Whom angels gaze with trembling… We are mingled with Him, and become one body and one flesh with Christ. –John Chrysostom[18]

When Spirit is brought home to spirit, the Spirit of Christ to the spirit of man, the two cannot in the nature of things remain separate from each other. The one cannot be set within the other as a precious jewel may be set in gold, the jewel remaining the jewel, the gold the gold. They must rather mingle like two different atmospheres, each diffusing itself throughout the other, so that both shall be found in every particle of their united volumes…He [the Spirit] penetrates their being; He acts at the centre of their life. ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.’ —William Milligan[19]

And finally, if things just come down to a dislike of terminology, the charitable attitude of Erasmus is recommended:

Would it not be unfair to create a commotion over the use of the word ‘mingling’ when we understand that Augustine’s meaning was correct, even if he used the word ‘mingling’ instead of ‘union’?[20]

Conclusion

Although Lee rigourously advocates for these theological positions elsewhere in his ministry, here his focus is not explanations of doctrine but practical help in the concrete experiences of Christian existence. He is looking at what God wants to be to us in experience and how our experience of Christ furthers His purpose. And for that, he succeeds tremendously.

With this the theological piers are cast and what’s left is to come up and enjoy the view. I’ll leave that to your own reading of the book. Get this book and you will not regret it, especially if you find yourself, like King David, fresh with spiritual wounds of your own infliction and foolishness. Seriously, the last four chapters are so good. They are oil and wine, light and life.

 


 

1. David V Meconi, The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification, p. 29
2. Augustine, City of God 11.24
3. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, p. 54
4. “Everything is said in the simultaneity of eternity.” (Augustine, Confessions 11.7.9) “His will is not external to his nature. It follows that he does not will one thing at one time, and another thing at another time. Once and for all and simultaneously, he wills everything that he wills.” (12.15.18)
5. “God’s will belongs to his very substance….It was God’s everlasting will that the created order exist.” (Augustine, Confessions 11.10.12)
6. Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 10, and Romans 12 are the best chapters for understanding what God’s will is. See, “The Crystallization: One Revelation of the Will of God.” Affirmation and Critique, XVI.1, (Spring 2011):96. Online.
7. Thomas Odon, The Living God, p. 255
8. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3/1, 51
9. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1a,19,3
10. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1a,19,2
11. Witness Lee, Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 254-264), Ch. 2
12.Witness Lee, Life-Study of 2 Corinthians, Ch. 38
13. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Hebrews, Ch. 67
14. Other analogies Lee uses to illustrate mingling include grafted fruit trees, the meal offering in Leviticus, the burning bush, seasoned food, the weaving together of two threads.
15. Tertullian, E.g. c Marc 2, 27; quoted by J.N.D.Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 151
16. Gregory of Nazianzen, Fourth Theological Oration, 310
17. Hippolytus, De antichr 26, 3 f; quoted by J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 178
18. John Chrysostom, Matt hom 82, 5; quoted by J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 450)
19. William Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord, pp. 183-184
20. Erasmus, Apologia Ad Fabrum; in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 83: Controversies, p. 31

3 thoughts on “God’s Need and God’s Goal by Witness Lee // book review

  1. Pingback: 20 Quotes from God's Need and God's Goal - Christian Students on CampusChristian Students on Campus

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