Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Full, Part One

I actually started this entry over a week ago, but I kept running into these little "problems" that had to be addressed before I could continue. As a result, my train of thought this week stops at a couple of extra stations along the way. Maybe we can just call it a "scenic trip"...

For the last couple of weeks, I've been thinking about the quote, "Everybody has a God-shaped hole in their life." It seems like I've heard it a lot lately, and in general, I like what it says. But as I considered writing about it, I saw a couple of "problems."

When I come across a quote that I think I might like to use, I typically try to find out where it originated. There's just so much faulty information readily available to us today, having a source is important, since it allows you to check for accuracy. [Note: I think too many of us who share in semi-public arenas like this one find it tempting to use a "great quote" without adequate research. I know it takes extra time, but that's a small price to pay to avoid perpetuating a load of hooey.] First problem: This quote is attributed to a philosopher from a couple of centuries ago, but its wording seemed a little too "modern."

Second problem: when I really stop and think about it, describing humanity's intense longing for our Creator as nothing more than a "God-shaped hole" diminishes and trivializes the scope of that longing. Like the hole is finite and definable, and we just need a little god to "cork" it up.

The statement in question was attributed to Blaise Pascal. So, I did some digging and it was beginning to look like the "quote" was actually a paraphrase of these words: "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."

Ahh, now it seemed we were getting somewhere. The website "" described a vacuum as, "a space that has no pressure and no molecules inside. It is truly an empty space." That's a better description than a "God-shaped hole." But I still had a couple of problems.

First, while the term "vacuum" helps me to visualize the emptiness in our longing, I'm still left wanting a better description of just how big that emptiness is. And second, I can't find this quote in any of his writings either. Oh, I can find a lot of people who will credit him with saying it, but I can't find anyone who will tell me where he said it. This left me wondering if it was a paraphrase too... (If you know it to be an actual quote, I'll gladly make a correction to this entry. I'd really appreciate getting that info!)

See what I mean? Problems. So I kept digging. In the end, here's what I did find:

Blaise Pascal was a philosopher and mathematician who lived during the 17th century. Saying "he was intelligent" is a lot like describing Tiger Woods by saying "he's a good golfer." He was a brilliant mathematician who, in an effort to ease his father's immense workload as a tax commissioner, invented a mechanical device that became a forerunner to the modern adding machine.

As a philosopher, he was equally brilliant. Among Pascal's more well known works are his "Pensées," which is a French word that means "thoughts." They were actually published in book form after his death, and are basically a compilation of notes and essays. It was in looking through this collection that I found a short essay on "Morality and Doctrine." In it, he talks about how all people seek happiness, but few find it. Take a look at what he says:

"What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object,that is to say, only by God Himself."
-Blaise Pascal - The Pensées
#425, Section VII. From "Morality and Doctrine"

Unless I'm mistaken, this is the actual passage that has been reduced to "Everybody has a God-shaped hole in their life." Even if it's not, I'm glad I found it, because this statement more accurately describes the kind of longing that I have known. I know without a doubt that the absence of God in my life would not produce a "God-shaped hole." Instead, it would leave me with a massive, gaping wound from which the entirety of myself as I know it would be drained. Without God I would be empty.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - John 10:10

So why is it then, that someone can be a Christ-follower and agree that they would be empty without God, but also have to admit that they don't exactly feel full with Him?

Maybe we don't feel "full" of God because we're still too full of ourselves.

For the next couple of weeks, I'd like to spend some time exploring this idea, because I believe that a Christ-follower who focuses on loving God, living in community, and serving the world allows the “infinite abyss” inside them to “be filled by an infinite and immutable object."

And I think we all long to be full.

In Him We Live,

(By the way, my resources for the stuff on Pascal came from places like an Oregon State University page on philosophers- and the History of Computing Project website- as well as Pascal's book, "The Pensées." Just in case you want to see for yourself...)


Kathy said...

I know for a fact that "Everyone has a God-Shaped hole in their life." is a direct quote from Pascal. (At least that's what the folks at Wickopedia said.) Sure, that other one was pretty good, if you're into that flowery stuff!

Seriously, great post! While I seldom feel physically hungry, spiritually, I long to be full.

Anonymous said...

Metaphorically speaking.. I like the "God-shaped hole" for a quick explanation of everyone's need to have a relationship with God -- but only when describing said relationship to a non-believer. As a believer... I've always preferred the void/vacuum phenomenon that would be sure to occur if he were to suddenly become absent in my life.

I am constantly amazed out how you are able to create an entire "mini-sermon" (for lack of a better term) outta one single concept. :-)

I've been feeling a little "voidy" these days because I'm not filling myself with God things -- thanks for the reminder of why that is such a necessary part of the Christian life.


whooper and whoopette said...

In this life I lead devoid of many Christians, I have been feeling voidful, like the black hole sucking life out of me is more like it. Maintaing a spiritual life within my current vacuum is challenging.

Anonymous said...

First, I have to say that I've had a convergence-blogpost-shaped hole in my heart for the past couple of weeks.

This post however, was worth the 'wait'.

Anyways, Jeff this is good stuff thanks for all your work in doing research. I especially liked this quote: "Like the hole is finite and definable, and we just need a little god to "cork" it up."

While I agree that the paraphrase of this quote does well to help to explain the void in our lives to someone who is searching for God.

My fear is that this diminishes the BIG-ness of God by equating Him to merely a square ped that doesn't fit into a round hole.

A "little god" is uninteresting and unappeasing to the vast vacuum we find in our lives.