The evolution of plants and animals on earth has been described as a process of natural selection over millions of years. The theory is that small genetic changes happen all the time (as we see in the new variants of the Coronavirus), and the changes that improve a plant or animal’s chance to survive win out and become part of the species’ DNA. The way this happens has often been described as the Struggle for Survival.

Well, a modern group of Harvard scientists have come up with a fascinating new twist on the old theory.* Lead researcher Dr. Martin A. Nowak explains that the evolution of higher animals, including humans, can’t be fully explained by the Struggle for Survival idea. He points out that which individuals survive in a population is also determined by what he calls the Snuggle for Survival. Competition isn’t an adequate explanation of why one human being is more successful at life than another. He adds Cooperation as a second critical factor. It’s when our early ancestors began to care for each other, first in family groups, then in tribes and larger alliances, that the species became hugely successful.

If we carry that concept into our modern life situations, we can see how much we are involved in a Snuggle for Survival, as well as a Struggle for Survival. This has been magnified and dramaticized by our journey through the COVID pandemic. We’ve all felt hug-deprived under the social distancing we’ve been forced to practice. One of the most hug-resistant members of the ABC family admitted to me that she missed having people at church reach out to give her a hug. She’d probably still kind of pull away, but not as convincingly.

Actually, the need of humans to be touched in a soothing way has been documented by many scientific experiments. One family therapist summarized this from her counseling experience: “We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth.”** I doubt that she can document those statistics, but it makes the point that we have a built-in need for the encouragement that comes from the loving touch of others.

I think Jesus was a hugger. My clues are that he seemed to encourage his disciple John’s need for physical closeness (John 13:23), that he took little children up into his arms (Mark 10:16), that he often touched people to bring them healing (Luke 6:19) and that he talked about his desire to embrace the lost people of Jerusalem “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). I feel a great big hug in his words of invitation:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Come to Jesus if you want a true Snuggle for Survival!

– Pastor George Van Alstine


** Virginia Satir, quoted in