The God-Shaped Vacuum
“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.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Here is more good news and bad news. The good news is that everything has a purpose in God’s plan. The bad news is that no one can figure out the good news. To make matters worse—from a human perspective—God has put “eternity” inside every human heart.That means there is something inside each of us that yearns to understand what life is all about.
James MacDonald points out that this verse teaches a high view of God’s providence. He asserts that there is a beauty in the way the events of life fit together, like the successive cogs in a wheel, each fitting into its proper groove, with a steady movement carrying forward God’s plan. It is as if Solomon observes the grand machine with all its parts functioning in perfect timing. He listens and hears no grinding, no jarring noises. “Beautiful!” he exclaims.
Admittedly, from our limited standpoint we see many things that in themselves seem far from beautiful. Sometimes it seems as if there is no “grand machine” or if there is, it’s badly in need of repair. But that’s because we see things from a human level and not from God’s point of view.
This brings us face to face with the famous statement that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each person. God made us to know Him. He designed us so that we would want to know him, and then he guaranteed we wouldn’t be happy unless he fills the void within.
Romans 1:18-20 describes the knowledge of God seen in creation and found to some degree in the heart of every person. When Paul preached in Athens, he complimented the Athenians by calling them very religious people. The city was filled with idols, including a shrine “to the unknown God” (Acts 17:16-34). Anthropologists tell us that man by nature is incurably religious. There is something in us that drives us to seek ultimate meaning outside ourselves. We may turn to God or we may worship idols of our own making or the evil spirits of our ancestors. That “something” inside us is put there by God. Augustine gave us this oft-quoted prayer: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
We see ugliness, but we know there must be beauty somewhere. Deep inside we yearn to know God and to understand his plan. Yet the more we search to understand the big picture, the less we truly know. So in the end we are left with God and God alone.
Lord God, in a world of hard questions, you are the one eternal answer. Amen.