I love honest questions. In an age of skepticism and suspicion, honesty is a rare quality. I not only find honesty to be the most attractive quality in others, but I find that others open up to me most when I am as honest and transparent as possible.
Such was the case this past weekend. Over the past several months I have been given the privilege of earning the friendship of many skeptics, freethinkers and non-religious folks. My meetings with them have become a sweet time of sharing, learning, growth and honesty with one another. I have heard the many stories of individuals coming out of difficult and very painful backgrounds where their brush with Christianity was either abusive or suppressive of their doubts and questions. By simply being present and honest about my own Christian journey, I’ve seen many people take even the smallest of steps forward toward considering the gospel of Christ. It has been an incredible experience.
I had one such experience this past weekend. After another evening of sharing and discussing our views on various topics, a woman who I’ve been getting to know came up to me to ask some very honest questions. She was aware of how personal she was getting – she even gave me multiple chances to leave the conversation. Yet for every question I answered, I saw her eyes light up and get even more curious. It was wonderful.
She asked me about my background, why I’m a Christian who would attend atheist meetings, and what it was like for me to have a conversion experience to Christianity. Then she asked me a question that revealed so much about her Christian background and perception of what it is we believe:
“Did you have a God-shaped hole in your heart that needed to be filled?”
At first I was a little taken back. I haven’t heard this language in a long time – it is generally language that isn’t used in my circles. Yet I’ve certainly heard it before, and I know it is language that has been used for decades to try and sway people toward conversion.
“What?,” I asked.
“Did you have a God-shaped hole in your heart that needed to be filled?” She repeated it again, almost acknowledging the momentary trance that she had knocked me into.
“No, I didn’t. And in fact, I reject that kind of language.”
Her head tilted inquisitively to the side. “Why?,” she asked.
“Because God does not exist simply to fill an empty feeling inside of me. He does not exist simply to meet my felt needs.”
“But is it wrong if God meets our need for some sort of divine connection?” She was asking wonderful and raw questions. I loved it.
“Well no, of course not. But you see, God is far larger than some little empty feeling inside of me that needs to be filled. God existed eternally before us; he exists infinitely outside of us. He did not need us, yet he created us to be recipients of his love. So does God meet my need to be loved by him? Absolutely. But that is not the purpose of his existence, and I worry that kind of language fools us into thinking that God’s purpose is merely to make us happy or make us feel better.”
Her eyes widened. “That makes a lot of sense, I’ve never heard that before.” She paused for a moment. “You have faith; I really want faith, but I just don’t have it.”
Honesty paved the way for more honesty. We continued to have a wonderful conversation about what it means to have faith in Christ.
I’ve thought about this language of a “god-shaped hole” a lot this weekend. I did some homework on its origin. My pastor thought it originated with St. Augustine, but after a little bit of work I discovered it is attributed to Blaise Pascal. As best as I can tell, the original quote goes something like this:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
I love the language of Pascal here. We have an infinite abyss inside of us, in the deepest recesses of our soul. It stretches in all directions into every crevice of our being, just as the universe continues to expand and grow beyond our every comprehension. This abyss can only be filled by something greater, even more infinite in its fullness, and that is God himself. When this happens, we don’t have a small compartment in our soul filled. We have an inner transformation which shines as we are renewed after the likeness of Christ.
Somehow we’ve twisted this language. We now tell people that there is something missing from their lives which can only be filled by God. Your life may seem fine, but you just need this little “god thing” added onto your life. You’re unhappy? Ah! Fill your God-shaped hole and you’ll find happiness. As if God is nothing more than a warm blanket when we are cold or a hot meal when our stomach rumbles. A nice additive, but non-essential.
Friends, God is so much bigger than our small concept of personal unhappiness or lack of fulfillment. He is the infinite Creator God who has created us for a loving relationship with him. We don’t need God to make us happy or fulfilled, we need God because we have an infinite abyss of devastation inside of us caused by our sin and rebellion. When he makes us new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), he does not just fill some lacking compartment that was previously missing. God does not merely fill our need to be loved; he transforms our hearts and teaches us how to love him. He transforms everything about us; who and what we love, why we do what we do, our priorities, our time – everything!
Let’s give people the big, huge picture of God which Scripture presents us with. Let’s not tame him to try and make him an easier product to sell to our friends. Frankly, nobody’s buying it anymore, and it’s a dishonest portrayal of our King.