The Eternity Question

Appeal to a God-shaped hole in your heart? Just follow your heart?
Is belief only a gut feeling?

"Just search your heart you'll know it's true"

Some believe that religious belief falls into the category of being a "gut feeling". A condensed definition (from a public source), of the relevant ideas behind the expression, is as follows:

A gut feeling, or gut reaction, is a visceral emotional reaction to something, and often one of uneasiness. Gut feelings are generally regarded as not modulated by conscious thought. It can also refer to ideas that an individual intuitively regards as true, without proof. Gut feelings, like all reflexive unconscious comparisons, can be re-programmed by practice or experience.

In contrast, our belief is an informed and reasonable faith. God has provided witness to His claims and evidence in support of His assertions.

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (NIV)

Notice that the first example of faith is to believe that God, as He revealed, created everything from nothing. It takes faith to believe that God exists (Hebrews) but it's a faith filled with supporting evidences. Belief that God created permeates His orderly and complex creation.

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (NIV)

Psalms 19:1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (NIV)

Belief in God is not merely some gut reaction something that can be reprogrammed by experience or other influences. Likewise, our faith does not come from some built-in physiological need or innate desire. This later concept is often referred to as the God-shaped hole.

A common assertion, even preached from pulpits, is that all mankind has some type of God shaped hole-in-their-heart that only God can fill. The implication, if not outright claim, behind this is that idea that all people are yearning for and seeking God to fill that void. This is an untenable position in light of Scriptures.

Romans 3:10-12 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (NIV)

Regardless of Scriptures, this idea of following your heart has permeated our culture. Even popular media and cartoons reflect the "follow you heart" message that is implicit in the God shaped hole idea. It is not only some Protestant teachers that have used this imagery, Roman Catholic's appeal to it as well. One Catholic writer even expands upon the imagery, claiming that we need to enlarge the hole, to make room for more of God. As long as we do the right things, the hole gets larger and larger:

If we're faithful to this season year after year, something wonderful happens. We want to give God more and more room. The feeling lasts longer and longer after Christmas. The God-shaped hole enlarges! Each year it widens. Like a dilated pupil in the eye, people see more and more of God in us and less and less of our own willfulness. We're able to say with John the Baptist and the great saints, "He must increase and I must decrease." One day we suddenly realize that when Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord," the God-shaped hole in her heart was the largest of all. (Page Zyromski, The God-Shaped Hole, as found in the newsletter section of

This is in sharp contrast to Augustine. He acknowledged that as a believer, God alone needed to remake his soul. A portion of his prayer:

The house of my soul is too small for you to come in to me; let it be enlarged by you. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see; this I confess to you and do not hide it. (Augustine, Confessions 1.5.6, written circa 397-398 A.D.)

Cults such as the Mormons have their own variation of this hole in the heart theology. For the so-called "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" they profess to have their "burning in the bosom":

"In answer to our prayers, the Holy Ghost will teach us through our feelings and thoughts... Heavenly Father will answer their prayers, typically through feelings of their hearts and thoughts in their minds." (Preach the Gospel, p. 39; this is the "2004 handbook utilized by the Mormon missionaries")

The Bible never tells us to follow our heart. In its fallen state, our heart will most assuredly lead us astray. Even if there was some God-shaped hole there, the Bible says we would not recognize it or we would distort it beyond all recognition.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (NIV)

Genesis 8:21 [Post Flood] The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. (NIV) [See Genesis 6:5 pre-flood]

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (NIV)

Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" (NIV)

Psalms 36:1-2 Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For it flatters him in his own eyes Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it. (NASU)

A hallmark of the New Covenant, as proclaimed by the Prophets, was that God would give us a new heart, that he would write his righteous law on our hearts. This is reflected by the apostle Paul who says we were spiritually dead, but now made alive in Christ.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:31-33 "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:1-11 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Where did the idea of a God shaped hole come from? Though a lot of people use the phrase, few give credit to where they think it came from. The few that do often quote it as:

Inside of every man there is a God-shaped vacuum that only god can fill. - (Blaise) Pascal


Augustine's famous "God-shaped void"

a longer professed citation may look like this:

Blaise Pascal: 1623-1662 French Mathematician, "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 Christ."

Another ancient writer, or early church father, Ambrose (337/340 - 397), is also often cited as being an original source for a similar quotation, yet no reference seems to ever be given. Looking through Ambrose's works I cannot find any reference that even comes close.

In reality, the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) actual said:

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, Pensees, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer, 1993)

While Pascal statement could be perhaps summarized as one of the earlier quotes, it does great injustice to Augustine (lived circa 354-430 A.D.) to attribute the same to him. The closest he came to such a sentiment is found at the beginning of his Confessions:

Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on Thee, or to praise Thee; and likewise to know Thee, or to call upon Thee. But who is there that calls upon Thee without knowing Thee? (Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1 "He Proclaims the Greatness of God, Whom He Desires to Seek and Invoke, Being Awakened by Him", Section 1)

If we Biblically don't have a God shaped hole, then why do many people, even those who never come to faith in Christ, wrestle with spiritual issues? It's not a God-shaped hole they are trying to fill; rather it's an eternity-shaped emptiness. God gave all mankind an innate understanding that there is something beyond the here and now, beyond this life. This is what drives a majority of people on the planet (perhaps excluding true atheists, which are very hard to find) to seek after something to give them explanation for eternity. Left alone, without God's revelation, they will search for answers in all the wrong things and places.

Eternity - A valid appeal to the lost

It's good to get, or keep, people thinking about eternity. We do so in hope that that they will come to faith in the Eternal God, the only true answer to their eternity dilemma. Knowledge of eternity has been innately built into all mankind by or Creator.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (NIV)

Psalms 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (NIV)

God is the eternal or everlasting God...

Genesis 21:33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 33:27a The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (NIV)

Isaiah 26:4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal. (NIV)

Jeremiah 10:10a But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. (NIV)

Romans 16:25-27 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him- 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (NIV)

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

Daniel 4:34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion ... (NIV)

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (NIV)

John 6:67-68 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (NIV)

John 17:1-3 "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (NIV)

Mark 10:17-22 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" 20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (NIV)

Luke 10:25-29 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (NIV)

God's gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), provides us the right direction and motivation to look for answers to mankind's eternity question. We find that answer in our Creator, Saviour, and Lord. Any person burdened by their questions over eternity is ripe to be sent into God's word to find the only true answers.

Returning to Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives an appeal to eternity:

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

Remember your Creator [the beginning, pointing to eternity prior]
in the days of your youth, [while you are still young]
before the days of trouble come [before inevitable problems of later life come]
and the years approach when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them"- [before you can no longer take pleasure in things of life]

2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark, [before you eye sight starts to fail]
and the clouds return after the rain; [and you only have more of the same, or worse, to look forward to]

3 when the keepers of the house tremble, [hands tremble]
and the strong men stoop, [stooped over in appearance, declining muscles in back and legs]
when the grinders cease because they are few, [lose your teeth]
and those looking through the windows grow dim; [no sparkle in the eye]

4 when the doors to the street are closed [opportunities decline]
and the sound of grinding fades; [unable to work]
when men rise up at the sound of birds, [can't sleep well]
but all their songs grow faint; [can't hear well]

5 when men are afraid of heights [unsteady, loss of balance]
and of dangers in the streets; [unable to defend one's self]
when the almond tree blossoms [hair turns white]
and the grasshopper drags himself along [bad joints, swollen ankles]
and desire no longer is stirred. [the time for romance is gone]
Then man goes to his eternal home [you go the way of all mankind, you die and enter the afterlife]
and mourners go about the streets. [people mourn you for a time]

6 Remember him - before the silver cord is severed, [the fragile cord of life]
or the golden bowl is broken; [the fragile flesh that holds our soul and spirit]
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, [another image of the same]
or the wheel broken at the well, [another image of the same, all pointing to eternity to come]

7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, [we return to the dust we were made from]
and the spirit returns to God who gave it. [life returns to God, who gave it]

8 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. [A vapor, "soap bubbles"]
"Everything is meaningless!" (NIV) [Everything in this life is temporary just like a soap bubble]

There's only one valid answer to the eternity question. Life is short, turn to the eternal God while you still have time!

(c) 2010 Brent MacDonald/LTM.
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