When I grew up in church, there was a lot of talk about Jesus filling “the hole in your heart.” The implication was that before becoming a Christian, you were empty inside, and after, you became full. This is an incredibly dangerous theology, because it is absolutely not true.
In middle school, I went through a period of pretty significant depression. I would pray for God to kill me, because thankfully I was too scared to do so myself. A lot of my pain came from the fact that I carried an enormous amount of guilt. I was a Christian, so why wasn’t I perfect? If God had filled me up inside, why did I still want so much? Why did I long for a perfect life, perfect relationships, and perfect experiences? If Jesus was the answer to everything, why did I still feel so empty?
I wrestled with these questions alone, because I worried I was the only person thinking such things. My doubts seemed to fly in the face of the salvation narrative I had been taught, so naturally, I thought perhaps I was not saved at all. The combination of adolescence, evangelical guilt, and suffering alone put me in a very bad place for a couple years. And honestly, I didn’t heal so much as I ignored my doubts in favor of legalism and distraction.
It wasn’t until my eschatology class at DTS that I finally put the pieces together. Jesus is the answer, and Christianity does provide the framework that explains our world and our relationship to God and to others. But Jesus does not make everything perfect, or even necessarily better. Not now. Even after we are saved, we continue to live in a fallen world amongst fallen people with a fallen heart. The center of salvation is hope – hope in a better world to come, and hope in a Savior who promises to redeem us and our world. This is all found in Romans 8:22-25:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Did you catch that? “We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Even after salvation, we wait. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”
We are not yet full. We are not yet perfected, internally or externally. The world is not as it should be. Our hope is not in a one-time salvation experience, but in the journey we take with God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, saved through Jesus, walking and waiting and hoping for the day when all will be made right.
We must stop preaching and teaching the lie that Jesus will solve all our problems. Becoming a Christian does not make everything better. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives does not satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. Instead, it intensifies them! As students of God’s revelation in the Bible, we know how creation was meant to be. We know we are made in God’s image to fill the earth with his glory and care for his creation. We see with brighter eyes the destruction of nature, the abuse of children and animals, the twisted versions of love, the horror of disease and natural disasters. The Holy Spirit whispers over and over again, “This is not how life is supposed to be.” Christopher West captures this longing well when he writes:
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for an ecstasy and bliss that lasts forever. I’m looking for a union and an intimacy in which everyone and everything is reconciled in rapturous Love, in which every human heart is on fire with divine Love, divine joy, and divine peace. I’m looking for an eternal homeland in which evil is no more, all wrongs are set right, every injustice is addressed, and every tear is wiped from our eyes.
And so we work toward God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. We let the unsatisfied longings of our heart push us closer to God, resting in his promise to remake the world and to redeem us. Becoming a Christian didn’t fill the hole in my heart. If anything, it made it wider. But becoming a Christian gave me a God on whom I could depend, and a hope in which I can rest. And that gives me the courage to live, even with a hole in my heart.