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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
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8 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

In 1670, Blaise Pascal published Pensees, 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:

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”
- Blaise Pascal, Pensees

Since then, the concept has taken on a life of it's own and the phrase has been found throughout many Christian circles. (Recently, in 2002, a book was published with the title 'God Shaped Hole'.)

While other answers show biblical support for this concept, the concept itself is actually a non-biblical one.

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At Richard: I wouldn't say it is a non-biblical one, rather an extra-biblical one. As any true follower of Jesus Christ knows, only He can fill the emptiness of a human life. –  user5762 Sep 15 '13 at 13:55
@Paul "Extra-biblical" is as accurate as well, but non-biblical isn't incorrect. One is simply "outside the Bible" while the other is "not from the Bible". The difference is merely one of connotation rather than definition. Still, I agree that "extra-biblical" has a better connotation then "non-biblical" (and so it would probably be more accurate). –  Richard Sep 16 '13 at 11:53
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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
@DJ if you found my answer unsuitable, I suggest you write yours. Can you find a better verse? Then pray tell me. –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 14 '11 at 23:49
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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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Welcome to the site. This is a very good first answer! . As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? Your first answer is well within site guidelines, but I recommend these for everyone, anyway. –  David Stratton Sep 9 '13 at 3:03
I hope you don't mind, but I edited in a reference to support the definition/translation of "koilos". –  David Stratton Sep 9 '13 at 3:06
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
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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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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 at 21:28
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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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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 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 Stratton Apr 14 at 4:14
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