Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The "God-Shaped Hole" Sounds Like Depression To Me

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The "God-shaped hole" is an extremely important belief in evangelical Christianity. Basically, the idea is that "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart." Everyone has a need for God. And people feel this need and try to fill the hole with other things- money, success, pleasure, relationships, etc- but at the end of the day, it doesn't work. They lie awake at night, wondering "Is there more to life? Even though I have everything I wanted, why don't I feel satisfied?"

And the answer is because they need God. Or rather, they need to become a certain kind of Christian who agrees with all the correct things that "good Christians" are supposed to believe. Otherwise, they can never be truly happy.

And, apparently, this is true about everyone. Everyone has a "God-shaped hole." Everyone who is not a Real Christian is, on a very deep level, living a sad and unsatisfying life.

And for those who believe that everyone except for Real Christians is going to hell, the belief in a God-shaped hole is absolutely necessary. Because how could God send people to hell for not believing in him, if they didn't even know that's what they were supposed to do? Ah, but they did know. They felt that emptiness and knew they needed God, but tried to fill the hole in other ways instead.

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Let's talk about depression now. Depression is when someone feels sad for a long time, and in a way that's out of proportion to what's actually going on in their life. Their mind focuses on the bad things in life, and it's hard to have any hope. They lose interest in doing things. (And my definition is probably not complete, but I do know what I'm talking about, I have had depression before/ kind of wonder if I should get back on the anti-depression drugs now.)

Sometimes depression is caused by hard things going on in one's life, and sometimes it has no obvious cause. Maybe they wonder, "I have so many good things- money, family, success- so why do I feel so bad?"

Do you see what I'm getting at here? Having a "God-shaped hole in your heart" sounds suspiciously similar to depression.

Depression is an actual sickness. It is a real thing. It's not something that one can just "get over." Sometimes the best way to treat it is with medication- because it's an actual physical problem in one's brain, and the drugs can correct that.

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There are a lot of people who push for more awareness about mental illnesses like depression. Because IT'S A REAL THING, and there are a lot of really bad ways that the general public responds to it.

I also see some of that push coming from Christians. Which is great, because, like I said, depression is A REAL THING, and the more we can get get people educated about that the better. But I can't help but wonder whether said Christians, who write about the reality of mental illness and how taking drugs for it is actually a really good thing that a lot of people need, believe in the God-shaped hole.

Because if you believe that taking drugs to treat depression is a legitimate thing, then you can't believe that "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart." You can't believe that everyone has a need for God, which they should be able to feel in their own hearts. You can't believe in a God who is justified in sending people to hell because they KNEW they needed him but still didn't choose to follow him.

If everyone has a God-shaped hole, then depression is not a sickness that affects one's health, but an indication of a deep and timeless truth: life is incomplete without God. (And by "God" I mean "believing in all the correct things that good Christians are apparently supposed to believe in.") (Oh, and for Christians who have depression, it must be because they're not trusting God enough. Or something.)

And that's how I thought about it, in the past. I thought that taking drugs for depression was harmful because it might actually work- the person would then feel better/ be able to manage their depression, and then they would just keep going through life happily, ignoring their need for God, and then go to hell.

Everyone has a God-shaped hole, and some people try to fill it with depression medication.


Follow-up post: Let me tell you about my "God-shaped hole"


If you are dealing with depression, get help for it. It's a real thing.


  1. There is also something about the fact that some Christians want "others" to feel bad, because they can tell them how "good" Jesus makes them feel. The worse others feel, the better it seems to be.

    I don't have a "God Shaped Hole". If I ever had one, God filled it. I do have depression, because my brain doesn't work properly. The two are actually unconnected.

  2. Exactly. I used to believe that people would find God when they hit rock bottom, so I wanted my friends to hit rock bottom.

    Then I realized Jesus said to love people, and that's not love.

  3. Well, I've never been depressed, but I did feel an emptiness, a "there has to be more to life than this" feeling that was part of my conversion to Christianity. I'm really not sure there's actually an either-or dichotomy here. But I do agree that not everyone feels as I did, and that this doesn't mean they're just in denial about it.

  4. As a matter of trivia, the original quote refers to a God shaped vacuum and it wasn't in English-do you know who said it?

  5. I came across that when I was doing some googling while writing this post. Some people say it comes form Pascal. (Who was, of course, totally awesome because he was a mathematician.) CS Lewis also said something to the effect of "if we have a longing in our hearts that nothing in this world can satisfy, we must be made for a different world" which I think comes across a lot better/less harmful than the "everyone has a God-shaped hole" idea.

  6. If I may ask- what is the difference between depression and the "emptiness" you felt? As someone who's experienced depression, it's hard for me to imagine what other things could be described as a "God-shaped hole."

  7. Well, it wasn't depression because I had none of the symptoms. I didn't even feel sad-- just dissatisfied. I wanted life to MEAN something more than just living and going to school and growing up and getting a job and dying. Human relationships (at that time I was really young, so I just had my parents, sister and friends) were good but didn't seem to be enough. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, going through the motions of life without them having real significance. I wanted to MATTER, and it didn't feel like I did. Maybe you wouldn't call that "emptiness." I did.

  8. So would you say it was more like an existential crisis, about philosophy and searching for meaning in life on an intellectual level, rather than emotionally feeling low?

    (By the way, thanks for sharing your experience.)