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Searching for God

    Tracing the origin of a phrase can be difficult.  I once met a person who thought the wedding vows (you know, the “till death do us part” part) was in the Bible.  I do not know from where the wedding vows came and maybe no one does.  The origin of some phrases are lost forever, such as the phrase in this article:  Everyone has a “God-shaped hole” which only God can fill.  [The phrase is “God-shaped hole.”]  Nevertheless, I can trace the idea.

    As with any idea that moves through time periods, this phrase did not originally begin with the exact phrase “God-shaped hole” but with the idea that everyone needs God; those who seek Him find Him, but those who do not vainly fill the “void” with other things.  I have not been able to discover the origin of that phrase, but I have traced the idea.

    To begin we start with the Bible.  In the Book of Acts chapter 17, Paul was in Athens and debating with philosophers about God.  They were excited to hear his “new” teaching and invited him to speak at the Areopagus [a kind of city council].  He spoke these words to them:  “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:  “To an Unknown God.”  Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. . . . God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”  (Acts 17: 22b-24, 27)

    In essence, Paul told them that God did not live in temples or statues or idols, but in the hearts of men.  People are created to seek for God. 

    About 400 years after Jesus, a bishop named Augustine (354-430) spoke along the same lines.  His most famous book is his spiritual autobiography, called Confessions.  The third sentence into his book says this:  “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” (Confessions 1.1.1.)  Not exactly the phrase “god-shaped hole” but the same idea but from a different direction.  Human hearts are “restless” until finding “rest” in God.  Almost like God has a specially-designed place into which humans fit.

    Blaise Pascal (1623-62) said something closer to our phrase over a millennium later:  “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 unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees 10.148)  Thus people have an “empty”-ness inside which most try to “fill with everything around.”  But only God will exactly fit.

    So, each person has a god-shaped hole (or some like to say vacuum) which most people fill with thrills or entertainment instead of God.  But their searching is in vain until they turn from horizontal (looking at the things on earth) to vertical (looking at God).  An alternative to this idea is a paraphrased version of a quotation from G.K. Chesterton:  "When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!"

©2008 Mark Nickens

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