Arthur C. McGill on Love and Need

by Kim on May 30, 2008

“Too often in our churches we hear the gospel of love without the gospel of need. Too often we hear the lie that to love is to help others without this help having any effect upon ourselves. But too often we also hear another lie: that to love our neighbors is so to give to them that they are free from need … It is another lie of Christianity today, this gospel of love, this gospel which says, not that Jesus Christ enables us to be needy, but that he enables us to be loving, and by loving to remove all neediness….

“The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, is very different. Nowhere does Jesus promise the removal of need. On the contrary, he promises to each of his followers the intensfication of need. He calls them to take up his cross; he warns them that it is only insofar as they are willing to be poor and sick and needy that he can help them… A love that is afraid of need … - that love does not belong to those who have put on Jesus Christ.

“The reason is obvious. The condition to which we are led by Jesus is a condition of utter dependence on God and relative dependence on one another… Love can thrive only within need; a love that fears need, that wants to overcome and remove need, is a lie and therefore irrelevant. And Christian ministers that are motivated by a fear of need, by the will to remove need, and by the assumption that the minister should have no needs - such ministries can only be a torment and a shock for persons who go to them for help….

“What is the real meaning of Christian love, when obviously Jesus expects that love to be exercised by only those who are needy, who know and accept their own neediness? … The answer can be put simply. The love to which Jesus calls us is never the removal of need but the companion of need. Love serves need without removing need. Love does not want to give so that the other has no more use for love. Love wants to give today but only for today, so as to be able tomorrow to meet tomorrow’s needs….

“In the United States need degrades a person; failure condemns a person, but not in the kingdom of God. To be in need is to be in a position of honor.”

From Arthur C. McGill, Death and Life: An American Theology (1987)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


ee 05.30.08 at 2:38 pm

brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

This is the antidote to paternalism, the self-righteous Pharisaical ‘helping the poor and the sinners’ that the church has always specialised in.


Kim 05.30.08 at 5:44 pm

Hi EE,


McGill actually adds: “In Christian compassion and service to the weak and to the needy there can be no trace of pity. Pity is a corrupt attitude; it is expressed contempt for those who are in need, and it expresses smug superiority in those who feel it. The Christian does not nourish the poor because he or she feels sorry for them. How can he or she feel sorry for weakness and need when these are his or her own essential condition, and when these are the necessary condition for the joy of receiving?”


Michael 08.09.08 at 2:51 am

To Kim who says Pity is a corruptible attitute. the Bible says about Jesus,
“He was moved to pity for the crowd.”
Jesus had pity, we should have pity.


Beth 08.09.08 at 9:09 pm

Michael - you’re missing the point of Kim’s quotation. Pity in human beings is corrupt because it is a way of feeling superior to traits which, in fact, are as present in ourselves as in those we pity. Jesus’ pity is not a pity for “his own essential condition” (since his condition is one of perfection, if you believe in such things) but for that of the human beings whose Saviour, Father and Creator he is.

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