Friday, January 01, 2010

A God-shaped void in our hearts?

I've been reading Donald Miller's latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, where he observes that many of us
...were taught that Jesus was the answer to all our problems. We were taught that there was a circle-syhaped hole in our heart and that we had tried to fill it with the square pegs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; but only the circle peg of Jesus could fill our hole. I became a Christian based, in part, on this promise, but the hole never really went away.
A Million Miles..., p. 203
How true that is! The hole really doesn't go away, though to be fair,
  • Some part of the hole is gone -- the part caused by having no idea if there is any purpose to life, whether there's anyone "out there", whether they love me if so, what will happen after I die, etc.
  • There's often a gap between what a teachers teach and what students learn. A teacher may say "Jesus saves," meaning that we need not fear condemnation of we believe in him (John 5:24), that Jesus delivers us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But a hearer may think he won't have to face a jail term, final exams, rejection in a relationship, or bankruptcy court.
That said, neither Jesus nor the apostles nor the prophets promised a smooth, wrinkle-free, happy life. We were promised other things, though, as Peter for example tells us:
  • all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
  • promises, enabling us to escape the corruption in the world (2 Peter 1:4)
  • a meaningful, useful life (2 Peter 1:8)
and those are just what came to my mind from chapter 1.

This reminds me actually of something we learned in our class on Islam. Many people who call themselves Muslims nevertheless engage in animistic or superstitious practices. They may sacrifice animals, for example, fear the "evil eye", carry amulets, and so on.

Why do they do that? Because Islam doesn't promise that their daily needs will be met. Health (mainly physical health) isn't guaranteed; neither is prosperity (e.g., having enough to eat) or safety (from floods, fire, earthquake, roof collapse, and so on). And so they turn to these other practices. We do, too! We may not carry amulets, but how many of us actually knock on wood, avoid stepping on cracks, try not to speak our fears (lest they come true), etc? How many buy lottery tickets, hang "crystals", or have pyramids in the home or office?

Yes, those Muslims are a little silly--and so are we sometimes. Whether by crystals, pyramids, knocking on wood, or by pretending that Jesus promised a smooth wrinkle-free life, we try to take control of our lives in ways God never meant for us to do.

Does that mean we should pray over our cars rather than taking them to a repair shop? Well, I'd be in favor of doing both, actually. What I'm saying is: we should avoid magical thinking. We mustn't try to use God to further our plans; rather, we must surrender to him that he may use us to further his plans. He doesn't exist to fulfill us or to make our plans succeed.

By the way, it was apparently Pascal who wrote that about the God-shaped vacuum. And he was certainly not talking about any smooth wrinkle-free life.

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