The God-Shaped Hole

St. Augustine said, “We were made for You, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The human heart is a puzzle, to be sure.  But Augustine gives us the answer.

To understand the profundity of this statement you need to know a little bit about Augustine.  His autobiography, The Confessions, is one of the most influential books in western civilization.  It drastically affected literature, philosophy, spirituality, and theology.  But above all of that, we have the picture of a soul completely exposed to the reader.  I have rarely read authors who let you into the most private corners of their mind like Augustine does.

It seems a great injustice to try and sum up such an astounding achievement, but essentially the early part of Augustine’s life was taken up with fulfilling his pleasures.  As a genius, he enjoyed the feeling of knowing he was smarter than those around him.  But his real gratification came from sex.  In our modern culture of carnality, Augustine is especially relatable.  He was taken with the intensity of sex and even had a son, Adeotatus, with his live-in mistress.  He had every worldly pleasure given and base desire satisfied

But he wasn’t happy.

This is the great lie of every age.  Sin promises satisfaction, but it never gives it.  Instead, we find ourselves empty and addicted to sin.  Jesus said that he who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:4).

Think of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Jekyll thought that if he could only have an outlet for his dark side, he would not be sorely tempted all the time.  He seemed to take up the Oscar Wilde dictum: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”  How often do we indulge in our pet vices, thinking that we can scratch the itch and then move on?

But the truth is like the Jekyll story.  At first Hyde was weak and small.  But the more that the evil persona was let out, the stronger he became.  It got to the point where Hyde began to take over as the dominant person.

This is how we are in our own life.  Giving in to our venal desires does not act as a pressure valve that releases our repressed energy.  Instead, it is a poison which slowly corrupts us.

Augustine found himself in this conundrum.  He desires became more intense but his satisfactions became insubstantial.

But that was until he found God.

We are all created with a certain nature.  Any created thing runs a certain way.   The nature of a remote control is to run on batteries.  The nature of a combustion engine is to run on refined oil.  But if I put refined oil in a remote control or batteries in a gas tank,  it will not function properly.

We were made to be in union with God (i.e. made to “run on” God).   If we try to run our lives by anything else (e.g. money, pleasure, power, etc), our lives will not function properly.  Happiness only occurs when you live according to your nature.  Humans live according to their nature when they live for God.  Therefore, happiness only occurs when humans live for God.

We all have a “God-shaped Hole” in the center of our hearts that can only be filled by Him.

It is important to remember this when we evangelize God’s word.  Everyone seeks God.  Everyone wants God.  We just go about it differently.

When we reach out to the kids who are losing themselves in sex and drugs, they are trying to fill the God-shaped hole.  When people focus on filling their lives with ostentatious material glut, they are trying to fill the God-shaped hole.  And when each one of us turns to sin, we are trying to fill the God-shaped hole.

But we will always find that these ways will leave us empty because we were made for God.  All other things we desire are means to that end.

I love working with young people.  The world is full of life and possibility.  They throw themselves into whatever attracts them, be it relationships, sports, arts, or whatever.  They do this because they are not afraid to acknowledge their thirst for joy and they want to embrace it with both hands.

But the sad part is that they often don’t have the wisdom that comes with age.  They often don’t see how that horribly intense feeling that fills their heart at this moment may one day flame out and scorch the gentle innocence of their youth.

There is a temptation to lecture them about how they should live.  And I am all for setting strong rules for living.  Structureless environments lead to listless spirits.  But all that does is lead the horse to water without making him drink.  We can point them in the right direction, but they have to make the step forward.

How do we do this?

Acknowledge their desire.  Tell them that you know that they want joy and have it without limitations.  And then show them that joy.

We need to be living examples of joy.  C.S. Lewis said, “It is a Christian duty for everyone to be as happy as he can.”

We all thirst for a life filled with bliss and peace.  We need to show them this in our own lives.  We must radiate the joy of the Lord.

This does not mean that we put a fake smile on top of our sad times.  Christ Himself wept and hollered.  But even through that, at our core is the security of our Divine happiness.

Question:  Are you happy that you have God in your life?

Follow-up Question:  Can people tell that you are happy?

People tell me that I light up like a Christmas tree when I talk about my wife.  I can’t help it.

Am I like that for the Lord?

We are not better than those we evangelize.  We are beggars who’ve found a banquet, thirsty desert travelers who’ve stumbled onto the oasis.

Our God-shaped hole has been filled.   We must do the same for others.

We need to offer that last happy piece to the puzzle of their hearts.

Copyright © 2012, W.L. Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

  • Where you really got me with this piece was when you say you light up when you talk about your wife.

    It made me think about the things that make me light up when I share them.

    And it also made me think about how I can share my faith more in that way than, say, in a dry and boring and “yeah, whatever” way.

  • […] Religious (and spiritual) people simply assume that it exists in all of us. The question “Do you feel that something is missing from your life?” never even occurs to them, because it must, because we don’t believe. how do atheists fill that “god-shaped hole” – Nicholosophy Everyone seeks God. Everyone wants God. – New Evangelizers […]

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