Trying to fill the eternal void: on the story of everything and the only things that satisfies.
We recently passed the one year anniversary of the death of a comedic legend. In the middle of August 2014, acclaimed actor and artist Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide. The news certainly came as a shock and violently rocked the media. Even more jarring are the facts that he had hung himself, dying of asphyxiation, with no involvement of drugs or alcohol. Besides the tragic loss to the worlds of comedy and film, what would possess such a man as Williams, with the pedigree and admiration he had achieved to suddenly end his life? How could he come to the conclusion that despite all he had accomplished that suicide was the only answer? It has been reported since his death that he had been enduring the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Surely that wasn’t what pushed him over the edge, was it?
As sad and devastating as this circumstance was, I believe it vividly shows that our perception and the portrayal of “celebrities” and “stars” is all wrong. These actors and actresses and newsmakers are upheld in the media has “having it all,” living the life of luxury and fortune and extravagance. But as “put together” as they may seem, their lives are far more tragic and unfulfilling than we realize. In fact, one of their own, Jim Carrey, has been quoted as saying, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
These stars are portrayed as having all the answers. And yet, the record of those who take their own life would suggest otherwise. It’s a testament, I believe, to the fragility and futility of their success. But we’re left asking, Why? Why would comedian Robin Williams, or actor Heath Ledger, or athlete Junior Seau, and many others, determine that nothing’s worth living for? I believe it’s because they knew in their hearts that something was missing, something was wrong and they’d tried everything but nothing could ever fill it, nothing could ever fix it.
Eternal, soul-filled, natural seekers.
This is true all about all mankind though. You see, what makes us different than the rest of God’s creation is that we as human beings possess a soul — the last fragments of a forgotten eternity that rests within us. And the goal of every endeavor of man is to satiate and pacify this soul. Without realizing it, every human being who’s ever lived is on a quest for God. The history of man is the history of his groping after fulfillment, peace, freedom, satisfaction — for life itself — and searching for it in all the wrong places. Instead of clinging to the only hope we have for such liberty, we’ve pushed it away. Man usurps God’s order for life as he claims he knows better.
Ever since the Garden and the Fall, we’ve endlessly thought we can make or fabricate better God’s than God himself. In fact, mankind’s pursuit of greater and greater knowledge is motivated by the impetus to define life without the presence of God. Evolution, relativity, and all the other conjured theories of our origins have their genesis in the desperate expedition to not answer to a higher power. Nearly every pioneering endeavor man has taken up has its goal in trying to disprove the existence God, which, in truth, they know can’t be done. In the deep recesses of every man’s heart, in his mind by natural instinct, there is an awareness of divinity. No one dies an atheist — we’re theists by birth. This is because of something quite profound the apostle Paul says:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom 2:14–16)
Believers and unbelievers alike are born with God’s law, his moral law (the Ten Commandments, see Ex 20), written on their hearts. Even without consciously acknowledging it, every person who’s ever lived has had a thought or perspective of God, in some form or another. This means that every human is born a theologian (from the Greek theo, meaning “God,” and logia, meaning “study or interest of”). We come into this world divinely created to know and pursue God. But because of sin’s intrusion, our theology has been broken. Sin has destroyed man’s theology and turned it into anthropology. Instead of living with the proper view of God and how life should work, man has turned to himself for the answers to everything. Thus, because of the innate knowledge of a sovereign deity, man’s innermost aspirations are to escape God’s control, and thereby his consequences, by attempting to explain life without God in it. But this is a categorical impossibility, because, again, every person possesses an eternal soul. French mathematician, physicist, and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal sums it up like this:
There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God himself.
Empty and craving.
The true happiness of Eden has been ruined by the Fall. Sin has broken our personal link to God, and yet still persists the craving for something lasting, something fulfilling, something eternal to bring peace to the soul. All the courses we occupy, outside of the radical, saving, liberating grace of Jesus Christ, will never quench our restless hearts. The promise of “fixing everything” by “fixing yourself,” by chasing a better version of you, will always leave you feeling emptier than before. The idea of finding your value and purpose and identity in others, that “Person-X will satisfy and complete me,” will always leave you lonelier than before. Believing in the promised happiness of the pleasures that the world offers only puts you on an unending hamster wheel of chasing satisfaction, where the pleasure you do receive comes and goes just as quickly, “as a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:14)
And worst of all idol-pursuits is that of striving for change, meaning, and freedom by running after religion. This travail of heart and soul is nothing more than you trying to fix yourself with a little “Jesus” sprinkled on top. This idea of religion — of fallible, failing, and filthy mankind making it up to a holy, perfect, and righteous God by “being good” and doing “good works” — arrests the mind and spirit and delivers them to the tyranny of self.
No, these pursuits — all of them — while promising freedom and satisfaction and joy and, indeed, everything we long for, only leave us feeling more empty and more broken, with a keener sense of the “something more” that’s still beyond our reach. Fortunately, this is where Jesus steps in.
The only food that satisfies the hunger.
More powerful than sin’s intrusion is Jesus’s interruption. Christ, the Son of God, steps into the mess we’ve made, the mayhem we’ve chosen, and there tenders the glorious good news of his grace, of his salvation, which alone can satisfy all the unremitting cravings of man’s heart. (Ps 16:11; Phil 4:19) Jesus has come to bring to us the good news which we could never find in ourselves. He has come to stir our hearts and minds back to Eden-like theology, showing us how life works best, how God designed it.
You see, the truth is, the commands in Exodus 20 aren’t necessarily a prescription for how we should live, they’re a description of what life lived with the proper theology looks like. If they’re prescriptions, then we’re failing. Ever tell a “white lie”? But if they describe what life should look like, and we don’t look like that yet, then we’re pointed to the One who can make us look like that, and live like that. Proper theology leads you to Jesus. He is the only One who can fully, completely, and perfectly satisfy your soul. If Jesus is just a prescription, if he’s merely a priority we can just check him off. But Jesus isn’t a priority, he’s not a box you can check or a task you can complete or an appointment to add to your calendar — Jesus is your life! Jesus is everything!
Nothing else will last, nothing else will satisfy, nothing else will free you, save the gospel of Jesus. Where others fail you, Jesus is faithful. (1 Cor 1:7–9; Heb 10:23; 13:5) Where pleasure escapes you, Jesus satisfies. (Ps 17:15; Prv 19:23; Jer 31:25) Where religion exhausts you, Jesus promises rest. (Ps 18:1–3; Mt 11:28–30) Where sin enslaves you, Jesus severs and frees. (Is 61:1–2) Redemption and renewal can’t be found inside you, nor in others. Rescue and reconciliation, freedom and liberation, will not be provided for you by the world, nor brought to you by religion.
There’s nothing inside you, nor anything that you can form for yourself that can fill the eternal hole that lingers in your soul, that can gratify all the desires of the heart; that can enchant all the aspirations of the mind — except for Jesus. Resolve, then, to pursue God greater, to grasp more fully the fullness of his gospel, to know his Son Jesus, the Savior, Redeemer, and King. For, to find meaning, value, identity, purpose — to find life — we must look nowhere else.
Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, translated by W. F. Trotter (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910), 138–39.