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There's a concept that I heard used many times throughout my life in regards to idolatry. The idea is that inside each of us is a "God-shaped hole"--a place inside of our hearts that only God can fill. If we try to put anything else in there, it won't fit (meaning, it won't fill the need we have inside of our heart/soul).

Where does this concept originate? Is it a biblical concept or just a fanciful rhetoric?

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Aside: it should also be noted that the many different religions (past and present) and non-religious belief systems lend significant credence to the view that rather than the hole being God shaped, rather: god (lower case to signify any arbitrary god) was invented to satisfy the psychological hole. –  Marc Gravell Apr 10 '12 at 18:59
is there a psychological concept of a hole that can never be filled by anything in this world? –  Nacht Feb 24 '13 at 23:55
Marc, would you like to chat about that aside? –  Andres Riofrio Jul 25 '13 at 7:56

13 Answers 13

up vote 24 down vote accepted

In 1670, Blaise Pascal published Pensées, which was a defense of the Christian religion. (It should be noted that this book was published after his death in 1662.)

In that book, he has a quote:

“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 immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

Since then, the concept has taken on a life of its own and the phrase "God-shaped hole," a close approximation of the concept, has been found throughout many Christian circles. (Recently, in 2002, a book was published with the title 'God-Shaped Hole'.)

While other answers show that the concept can be supported biblically, the concept that there is a void/vacuum/hole is actually a non-biblical one.

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This is a great question, as in the fact that trying to trace these bibical origins are hard. First, let us look at the Acts 17: 22-27:

22 Then Paul stood before the meeting of the Areopagus and said, "People of Athens, I can see you are very religious in all things. 23 As I was going through your city, I saw the objects you worship. I found an altar that had these words written on it: TO A GOD WHO IS NOT KNOWN. You worship a god that you don't know, and this is the God I am telling you about! 24 The God who made the whole world and everything in it is the Lord of the land and the sky. He does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 This God is the One who gives life, breath, and everything else to people. He does not need any help from them; he has everything he needs. 26 God began by making one person, and from him came all the different people who live everywhere in the world. God decided exactly when and where they must live. 27 God wanted them to look for him and perhaps search all around for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us.

As you can see, when God created humans, he wanted them to look around for him and search for him. This is one of God's plans, and in doing so, he created this "hole" that cannot be filled by any other: in short, that "God-shaped hole" was created by God for us to look for him.

I have another verse as example; let us look at Ecclesiastes 3:10-12:

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.

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+1 for the second verse from Ecclesiastes. I don't see the relevance of the first verse from Acts. –  Robert Harvey Sep 13 '11 at 19:20
Either verse is only vaguely relevant. –  DJClayworth Sep 14 '11 at 17:39

Perhaps the notion goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo who wrote in his Confessions:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

St. Augustine was a very rebellious man who took a long time to come around to Christianity and became a Doctor of the Church.

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The concept is biblical:

John 7:37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. NAS

The word "innermost being" is the Greek koilos, meaning hole or empty place. It is often translated belly or womb. In Jn 7, Jesus is describing a spiritual empty place in the heart of man, not a physical belly or womb. This empty place is the source of thirst and the divine solution to this hunger/thirst is to fill it with living water from the Holy Spirit.

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I like this idea. If it could be shown to be the source of Blaise Pascal's understanding (or linked to his work somehow), I believe it might be the true answer. As is, Pensees still seems to be the origination of the concept as the void being "God-shaped". This merely shows that we have a void, which is quite easy to show from scripture. As David mentioned, nice first post! –  Richard Sep 9 '13 at 11:50

It may have actually come from a C.S. Lewis quote in Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

This speaks of the inner desire within us that is unsatisfied by everything in this world.

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Romans 1:20-23 is the Scripture passage I always think of when I hear that phrase.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Also Ecclesiastes 3:11b

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

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There is a variant paraphrased quotation of Pascal floating all over the internet which reads:

"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."

Some have pointed this out and taken issue with it:

Now I am not sure where this variant paraphrase (of the actual quote offered above) originated nor how long ago. It seems well established and well formed. However it also does give the idea a definite Christian spin. If it is old enough it could certainly be the source of the idea under consideration.

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Upon a little more digging I found the quote from Augustine which reads: "What place is there in me to which my God can come, what place that can receive the God who made heaven and earth? Does this mean, O Lord my God, that there is in me something fit to contain you? ... Or, since nothing that exists could exist without you, does this mean that whatever exists does, in this sense, contain you? If this is so, since I too exist, why do I ask you to come into me? For I should not be there at all unless, in this way, you were already present within me." (Confess 1.2.2) –  Tim Finch Sep 10 '14 at 23:36
But it is not Pascal's and you don't know who said it, therefore, cannot date it? I'm not sure the quote from Augustine is talking about the same thing. If you find anything else, you can edit your post. That edit link is also at the bottom left of your post. –  fredsbend Sep 10 '14 at 23:38
I think the Augustine quote (Conf 1.2.2) is relevant for two reasons. It may have influenced Pascal ( and it is so far the only evidence which specifically uses spatial language. Just trying to help. Discussion is interesting. Forgive my clunking posting/editing/replying. –  Tim Finch Sep 10 '14 at 23:46
The paraphrased Pascal quote appears in Ravi Zacharias' book A Shattered Visage [p89] Not certain if it is his paraphrase or if it is even older. –  Tim Finch Sep 10 '14 at 23:58
THat quote was the one I first posted. Apparently the community doesn't like misquotes. –  Richard Sep 11 '14 at 17:15

Thomas, Pascal and CS Lewis are paraphrasing Augustine.

Fecisti nos ad Te, et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in Te.
— St Augustine, Confessions 1.1.

Translated by Maria Boulding as,

You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

O’Donnell comments:

inquietum . . . requiescat: This initial disquiet is answered by the adumbration of eternal rest at 13.35.50 - 13.38.53, the last lines of the text; cf. also 1.5.5, ‘quis mihi dabit adquiescere in te?’ This restlessness arises from disorder: 13.9.10, ‘minus ordinata inquieta sunt; ordinantur et quiescunt.’ For ordo, see on 1.7.12 and see further on 13.9.10. Cf. en. Ps. 38.5, ‘coepit esse inquietum cor meum. . . . et suspirans in finem quendam, ubi ista non erat passurus, in illum, inquam, finem quo dicturus est bono erogatori dominus, “intra in gaudium domini tui.”’ (Mt. 25.21: cf. 9.10.25, where the same scriptural quotation is the culmination of the Ostia vision); cf. also en. Ps. 91.2, 48. s. 2.6. This phrase has evoked an abundant literature: A. Di Giovanni, L’inquietudine dell’anima (Rome, 1964), esp. 87n8; A. Pincherle, Augustinus 13(1968), 353-368 (on requies and the link to the last pages of conf.); E. Maccagnolo, Riv. di Filos. Neo-scolastica 71(1979), 314-325; G. Lawless, REAug 26(1980), 45-61 (on ‘interior peace’); and generally de la Peza (see next note).

See also

We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.
— St Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1,3,4: PL 32,1312.


How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.
— St Augustine, Confessions 10,20: PL 32,791.

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While the terminology is of later advent, consideration of the following scripture reveals that this is actually a biblical concept:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

We were designed for the Spirit's habitation, but like Samson (cf. Judges 16:20), we all too easily overlook the emptiness that denotes "The Glory has departed" (cf. 1 Samuel 4:21). For those who have been filled with the Spirit, there can be no mistake that their prior experience must necessarily be characterized as 'emptiness' in comparison to:

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ - John 7:38 ESV

and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. - Romans 5:5 ESV

Elsewhere (cf. Matthew 12:43-45), Jesus warns on the danger of the empty state.

Pascal of course, knew what he was talking about.

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I think you're reading the context into the text rather than reading the context from the text. The text does not necessarily imply a void or vacuum. While I have personally experienced this and agree that feeling the lack of God feels empty, I don't see that anywhere in the text. –  Richard Jul 30 '14 at 11:32
Like the Trinity, it's not explicitly there, but it is definitely an implication from comparing relevant scriptures - an empty place (i.e. void/vacuum) is directly referred to in Matthew 12. As another answer has implied, the koilias (translated heart in the John 7:38 ESV above) also has the connotation of an empty place within (being filled by the Spirit). –  bruised reed Jul 30 '14 at 12:56

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)

A cistern is a waterproof container used to collect rainwater. Normally underground, it was used as an important part of water management even in Canaanite times. Water is often used as a metaphor for salvation and eternal life in the Bible. (Isaiah 12:3 "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation," and John 4 with the Samaritan woman are but two examples.)

The broken cistern is most definitely is a vacuum. Water would not be stored from the rainy season to the dry season. With God's characterisation of Himself as a spring of living water, the essence of the verse is that there is a void that can only be filled by Him.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

This is interesting and may be right, but this is a history question, so you at least need to show someone in history saying a similar thing. Other than that, welcome to the site. We're happy to have you. –  fredsbend Mar 25 at 1:00
@fredsbend Hello. I'm not quite sure what you mean by saying this is a history question. The OP modified the original question to ask if it was a biblical concept or rhetoric. I found a concept that does appear rather similar to what the OP asked. Does that mean you are really looking for that interpretation to be backed up by somebody of historic note? –  Ross Mar 25 at 1:37
The question is asking for the origin of a belief. This question is from 2011 and site norms have changed some since, so Maybe Richard meant something else when he said it, but today it means, when did Christians first start believing this, or at least talking about it. You can see that some answers are giving historic references, and they are generally more highly upvoted. Here's an example of an history question: What is the origin of the idea that Michael is Jesus? –  fredsbend Mar 25 at 4:14
This might also help: Types of questions that are within community guidelines –  fredsbend Mar 25 at 4:17

1 Kings 12:28 the example (post deliverance) of setting up a new religion to satisfy the God shaped void. In effect, the North is back where Israel started before covenant God made with Moses on Mount Sinai.

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Welcome to Christianity SE! This has the beginning of a good answer. Can you include the Scripture to which you refer as a quotation and elaborate a bit more? –  Narnian Jan 6 '14 at 21:28

I would say, as a non-Christian agnostic (Who has given some thought to Christian conversion, as well as to alternate brands of Theism, IE: Sikhism, Sufism, etc), that the "God-shaped hole", as it were, originates not so much from the fact that God "designed" us to seek Him out, but from the fact that humans evolved a self-awareness that transcends that of the "Lower" forms of animal life. With that self-awareness came the sense of individuation, the sense that I am, in some sense, while being part of the world, distinct from it as well: I am me, and the experience of being myself is one that I cannot replicate, or describe in it's totality to another individual.

That sense of individualism and distinction and the recognition that one possesses a life that is bound to end at some point or another invariably leads one to ask, at one point or another, the "Big questions": Where am I going, what am I here for, what happens when I die, and so forth, which gives rise to a sense of existential despair or angst, as Sartre would put it, which is notoriously difficult to assuage, which one could liken to a "God-Shaped Hole". I don't necessarily agree with the idea that everybody has such a hole in their lives which only God can fill, however. Some people find fulfillment in what they consider to be a relationship with God, which it may well be, but which I cannot judge as such on the outside looking in.

Other people, however "leave the fold" precisely because the passion they once had for their belief is lost, and the hole that God was supposed to fill is intruding upon their consciousness. Other people fill that void through intellectual pursuits, or by finding a relationship with like minded people, volunteering their time to their community, or by pursuing other hobbies. No two people are exact "Carbon Copies" of one another, and therefore what works to enliven one person's life and offer them some sort of wholeness, may not work for another person.

At any rate, I've continued on for long enough. If anybody would like to engage me on any the points I've written above, greet me to your humble abode, etc, please feel free and I will see about getting back to you



Update: I removed a paragraph from my initial post. In retrospect, it appeared condescending and does not reflect the spirit of the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would be wish to be treated. There are personal reflections which are best left not shared in particular venues, when such viewpoints may hurt another person unawares. As to the suggestion to add sources so as to make my response more "scholarly" (though I myself am not a scholar by any means), I have taken that suggestion to heart.

On the issue of self-awareness of oneself producing a fear of dread and existential despair, I would direct one first and foremost to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. A good resource that is not mired in philosophical jargon and accessible to the layman/woman can be found at the following link:

In particular, the following paragraph (Especially the last two sentences) is extremely instructive in getting across what I was trying to convey in my original message:

"What is first glimpsed in anxiety is the authentic self. As the world slips away, we obtrude. I like to think about this in maritime terms. Inauthentic life in the world is completely bound up with things and other people in a kind of "groundless floating" – the phrase is Heidegger's. Everyday life in the world is like being immersed in the sea and drowned by the world's suffocating banality. Anxiety is the experience of the tide going out, the seawater draining away, revealing a self stranded on the strand, as it were. Anxiety is that basic mood when the self first distinguishes itself from the world and becomes self-aware."

What the above article tries to get at is that there is a certain sense in which our awareness reveals to us a sense of the banality and triviality of everyday life and our subsequent desire, in the face of said world, to make our lives more "real" than the world around us, to find meaning in something that transcends ourselves. At the theater, such themes can be seen in movies such as the Matrix and the Truman Show, or for a slightly older example, Groundhog Day (which borrowed the idea of the Eternal Return and the "Sacred Yes" from the thought of Nietzsche).

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Welcome to the site. Thank you for sharing, but the site strives to be academic, using sources and citations to support answers. The site is not a discussion forum. Once you reach 20 rep you can chat about whatever you want. Please see Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer? After that, please edit this post or delete it. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Jul 8 '14 at 18:53
Hey, it looks like you may have lost your cookie, it helps to register your account by tying it to an open id. might help –  wax eagle Jul 10 '14 at 14:08

In my own case, I believe the idea of a God-Shaped hole originated in a dream. That dream eventually gave way to a poem I wrote about twelve years ago titled, "The God-Shaped Hole in Me".

The poem references the word dream three times and then also speaks of altering the mind. It goes on to talk about connecting the spirit to the stars and finally mentions being "infected with the intriguing possibilities of even greater universality in simply being...".

Although I rarely write poetry now, I do pursue artistic endeavors through painting and drawing. And presently I'm working on an abstract painting that's also titled "The God-Shaped Hole in Me".

So I do not see the idea of a God-Shaped Hole as a biblical one necessarily. For me, it's simply an altogether human search for something that's clearly missing. It may be God or, on the other hand, god. But again, for me, the concept itself is a part of the universality we all share.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE. This is definitely an interesting answer. After reading this a couple of times, it seems that you're saying that this concept is part of our shared "universality"? You might want to edit this to emphasize that point. As is, you have three almost unrelated paragraphs telling us about your life journey before you even get to the answer. Reorganizing this a bit might help. (This is a fact-based site.) Also, if you could explain this "universality" concept, that would be helpful. –  Richard Apr 11 '14 at 15:56
This "answer" would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Apr 14 '14 at 4:14

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