The problem with the “God-shaped hole”

I have often heard Christianity presented by the “God-shaped hole” image. Perhaps you’ve heard this? The idea is, we all have a hole in us, a hole that only God can fill, and we keep trying to fill it with other things like sex or drugs or work, but only God can fill that hole. I find this presentation of the Gospel highly problematic and objectionable.

It seems very much to me that the “God-shaped hole” presentation is essentially an argument for syncretism. Syncretism, as you may recall (if you don’t, go read the original article) is the attempt to mix the worship of God with the worship of other things. It is basically the fundamental sin of the people of God, that which leads the external body to apostasize over and over.

The “God-shaped hole” presentation is saying that there’s nothing wrong with my life per-se, there’s just something missing, and if I add that one thing, which of course is God, then everything’s going to be fine. But the call of the gospel is not to add Jesus to my life as-is. It’s to accept the need for my life to be radically transformed. This is why we call it being “born again”. Of course, we didn’t call it that first. Jesus did.

Spiritual rebirth is the basic way that Scripture talks about salvation. One aspect of salvation is inseparable with death, and the other aspect is rebirth. Jesus says that we must “take up our cross” and follow Him. Taking up our cross does not mean accepting some unpleasant burden, it means accepting our death. Paul talks about the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new. All of these expressions talk not about the need to simply add something to our life, but about the need to be rid of the old nature and to accept a new nature from God.

To put it another way, salvation means accepting that our whole lives must be turned over to God for radical transformation. The “God-shaped hole” idea does not adequately express this idea.

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The way that we first communicate the gospel to someone is likely to stick with them for a long time. When we convince someone to accept the gospel on false pretenses, specifically that they can simply add the worship of God to all of the idolatry and wickedness already in their life, then we are converting them to syncretism, and we leave them not really any better off. God can of course work through our weakness, and such a conversion may eventually result in a healthy mature Christian, but this is no excuse for bad theology going in.

The Bible is clear- the reason we need salvation is that there is no good in us, that is, in the natural man, the man as we are before salvation. All of that evil and rebellion must be destroyed by the salvation of Christ. We must be, in our entirety, nailed to the cross with Him if we are to be resurrected with Him. Yes, this is a much more confrontational model of understanding the gospel than the “God-shaped hole”, and I think this is one important factor explaining the popularity of that model. People can accept the idea that they just need to add God to their lives. This preserves their autonomy and concept of self-worth. But it is precisely this autonomy and perception of self-worth which must be destroyed. They are the primary obstacles to a true relationship to the God who created us.

Any presentation of the gospel which does not strike against man’s essential desire to remain in control of his life is not valid. Any presentation which affirms his value and worth apart from God is likewise not valid, and must be rejected. Just because an evangelical tool is popular and seems to produce results is no reason to accept it. Making a convert is not the goal. Making a convert to the truth is the goal. For we must ask, when we make a convert, what are we converting him to? Pray we are not like the Pharisees who make a proselyte, and when he is made he is twice the child of hell as we ourselves.

3 thoughts on “The problem with the “God-shaped hole”

  1. Wow. Thanks for that – I don’t know that I’d thought of that illustration in that way before. I’m pretty sure I’ve never used that illustration, but I’ll be sure to take any other illustrations I intend to use through the same sort of testing to make sure that I am not attempting to convince people that either one aspect of their lives needs to change or that all they need is to add God to the mix that is their lives. Good thoughts.

  2. Very good, Matt. Our problem is that we are alienated from God and everything we do is in rebellion to Him. Just adding stuff, even religious stuff, doesn’t cure the problem. What we need is the implanting of a new nature through faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

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