Sunday, February 25, 2007

How (Not) to Speak of God - Chapter 4: Inhabiting the God-shaped hole

In chapter four, Rollins refers to the idea of the “God-shaped hole.” The typical understanding of the God-shaped hole is that each person has something missing in him or her, which leads to a longing for God. While there is certainly something to be said about this statement, Rollins turns the idea upside-down (yes, he likes to do this). Using an example from literature (The Stranger by Albert Camus), Rollins asks how we are to address those who do not express a longing for God? How does Christianity relate to people who see “the religious question” as completely irrelevant?

These questions really resonate with my own experience. Some years ago my perspective was simply to force the religious question – force people to make a decision about Jesus/God. However, experientially (in my own life and in relating to others) I have come to see this as a fruitless and often useless path. How can you tell someone they need God/Jesus if they have no desire for God/Jesus? How can you tell someone they are lacking if they feel no lack? Does it work to tell someone they have a God-shaped hole in their heart if they sense no symptoms of this hole? Perhaps even more importantly, why would you make these demands of someone? This seems to be the height of arrogance. This seems to me just like saying, “You are lacking and the way you can be fixed is to believe things like I do.” To say this to someone who is happy and content with life can be both useless and egotistical.

So instead of the God-shaped hole being “something that exists until being filled,” Rollins proposes that “the God-shaped hole can be understood as precisely that which is left in the aftermath of God.” Rollins continues:

“The believer far from once having a God-shaped hole in his or her being that is now filled, is one who has a God-shaped hole formed in the aftermath of God, a hole that compels them to seek after that which they already have. The Christian religion arises as a space that testifies to God by testifying to a God who created, but who cannot be contained, within the space. The void left by God is not unlike a type of black hole, full of something that cannot be seen and which draws our gaze into the unseen.”

In summary, Rollins is saying that the God-shaped hole is evidence that one has already experienced God – experienced God in a way that has left the person hungry for more, hungry for something they may not even understand to be God.

With this shift in focus, the Christian religion is no longer the answer to what people lack, but instead provides a space to provoke ultimate questions - not only for the unbeliever, but for us all. And along with this, Rollins proposes that God is ultimately found in the seeking. Asking the questions is evidence of the God-shaped hole – the aftermath of an experience of God. Rollins states it much better than me:

“In short, a true spiritual seeking can be understood as the ultimate sign that one already has that which one seeks to grasp. Consequently a genuine seeking after God is evidence of having found. Of course, much desire that appears to seek after God is nothing of the sort…A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly lovable. In this way the lovers of God are the ones who are most passionately in search of God.”

Think about this. Read it a couple times perhaps. At first I thought this was the least significant chapter of the book so far. However, after a second read and some reflection, I think this chapter is the most important one so far! And I also realized that it resonates with my experience very deeply. I hope it resonates with a few of you as well.

Others in this series:
- Introduction
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 5

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