Usurping the God-Shaped Hole


Bliss?When I was a younger Christian, I heard a great deal about the “God-shaped hole” that existed in each of us. Only God could fill that hole. Left unfilled, the hole drove people to despair as they tried to fill it with one inappropriate plug after another. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, riches, power, fame…nothing can fill that hole but God.

At least that was what I was told.

Now that I am older, I wonder. It seems to me that perhaps that hole still exists, but it also seems just as true that people are satisfied with whatever usurping item they’ve used to plug their personal hole. So close does the phony plug resemble the real patch, at least in their experience, that people go on just as happy with the fake as with the real thing.

Perhaps ours is the first generation so overwhelmed with godless plugs that we can endlessly try one after another, getting just enough jolt from a new patch that we’re sustained until the next one comes along. Ours is such an entertainment-based culture that the ennui of daily living that once plagued mankind enough that it sought for greater answers may no longer exist amid the endless amusement park of this 21st century.

Fact is, I don’t encounter as many people who seem unhappy with whatever plug they’ve chosen to fill the God-shaped hole, inappropriate or not. Ennui hasn’t set in like it once did. An XBox, Netflix, a decent paycheck, a stocked liquor cabinet, a hobby or two, an occasional descent into a beloved vice, a few positive thoughts, and some mumbled prayers now and then seem to cut it for a lot of people. No sense of the God-shaped hole even exists for them. Sure, psychoactive prescription drugs abound, but doesn’t everyone take them? Whatever gets you through the night is all right, right?

It makes me wonder how small we Christians have made God that the lost look at us and find such simple, yet total, substitutes for Him.

16 thoughts on “Usurping the God-Shaped Hole

  1. Loved everything but the last line. I think your analysis of modern culture and its ability to be convicted is spot on, but why blame the believer for it. Do you blame Moses for the Israelites turning their noses up at God during the exodus?

      • It’s not like the idolatrous heart of the average human needs encouragement along this line. People, it seems to me, like not having to deal with God. They did so when he was big (e.g. as with Moses), and they do so now when they have church folk by and large making the same substitutions as do they (or as you’ve said, when he’s been made small). The problem is that humans are depraved and don’t want to live by faith in the living God. That is and has been true regardless of whether Christians are doing well at being Christian or not. I would think it more accurate to blame a lack of conviction from the Holy Spirit.

      • Paul Walton

        Adam and Eve walked with God on a daily basis and yet they turned away from Him. Thinking that if Christians were somehow a better reflection of Christ, and that it would change peoples view of God is faulty thinking. Grace is what changes people’s hearts, not other people.
        For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

  2. Wow Dan. You made me stop and think. I, too, have heard and used that phrase, and while I think you, I and Augustine all agree that the analogy is true (our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee), you bring up a great point. People ARE content filling the whole with whatever comes along. And your last line certainly drove the point home that we Christians bear much of the blame.

  3. My experience confirms yours, Dan. I think another thing that might be going on (or perhaps I’m just changing the metaphor to describe the same phenomenon) is that people (especially as we get older) are just more able to ignore the God-shaped hole. All the other things, money drugs, TV, etc., are designed to keep us distracted and preoccupied so that we never think about what we’re missing. But I do agree whole-heartedly with your last line. We’ve made God nothing more than an alternative antidepressant. Or alternative entertainment. Or alternative inspiration. When in fact God is doing something for which there is no alternative . . . restoring his creation!

  4. Jeremy

    Maybe Church leaders need to get back to reminding people how much and exactly why they need God. Its seems that perhaps their anthropology is set too high and they don’t really realize how depraved we actually are without God. Maybe our vision of God is too low and we don’t quite get how amazing, loving, and powerful he is and how able he is to transform us. Maybe the failure is behind the pulpit where the CEO is trying to convert people into consumers and not quality/deep Christians.

    • Sulan

      I believe the biggest problem with the believers of God is, we do tend to keep Him small in our vision — other wise how could He fit into the box or boxes we have created for Him.

  5. Mr. Poet

    My experience, at least when I was younger, was that most “satisfied” folks would admit they were kidding themselves if I talked to them long and intimately enough. Of course, when I was younger, before the Internet, cellphones, and always-on-demand television, it seemed easier to discuss deeper issues with people.

  6. Mike

    Your post had me thinking all the way in on my drive to work.

    I have been burdened by what you’re describing. I think we as Christians in the U.S. have so let the world shape our definitions of what the good life looks like that we have lost sight of the goal. We have believed the commercials.

    All the while, the world has gotten very good at what it does. Science and technology have advanced in amazing ways. Entertainment captivates us. But in what ways has the Church advanced? We take advantage of the world’s advances, and that’s not wrong in itself, but in what ways have we also gotten just as much better at what we do?

    Jesus said the world would know us by our love. It is our one advantage, yet we have not improved in it. When I ask Christians what it means to love God and others I get vague answers if I get answers at all. I look for examples in my life of older, wise Christians who are alive, bearing fruit by their love, and I’m usually told I expect too much.

    Is it any wonder, when the world wears us down, that we also turn to superficial entertainment? As you said, our lives are filled with people who get from low point to low point with those things. They are effective enough.

    I haven’t given up. I know a couple people who devote their lives to love and I’m trying to learn. I also think the popularity of modern worship music is a sign that we haven’t completely lost the way.

    • Sulan

      *We have believed the commercials.*

      Don’t you just love it that animals who have never used bathroom tissue want to sell it to us.

      I really get tired of folks who want to tell me what I need — like I can make no decisions on my own.

  7. Peyton

    Perhaps the fault lies with the expression “God-shaped hole” itself. This is a figure of speech, therefore limited, and IMHO it has been pushed beyond its limits. Let’s look for another?

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