The “void.” Although Webster defines it as “containing nothing,” the void is nevertheless believed to be a big concept in modern thought and in modern life. Whether it’s a vague feeling of emotional emptiness or an encounter with the vacuum of outer space, modern men and women may feel that they have been or are confronted with “the void” in its various forms, and perhaps this confrontation has been accompanied by fear.
The recent widely praised film “Gravity” portrayed two astronauts who seemed vulnerable and fragile in the face of the enormous physical emptiness of space and the related exigencies that the confrontation with that void had on the human body.
On a more terrestrial level, relationship difficulties, the passing of a relative, or even doubt about God’s existence may result in a feeling of emotional emptiness. At this time of year, when some people experience a post-Christmas letdown, or doubt that the new year holds much promise, that emptiness can sometimes seem more evident.
From a Christian Science perspective, is there a spiritual answer to the belief in or fear of the void?
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, believed there was. In her textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she said, “There are no vacuums” (p. 346). This affirmation is explained by one of the foundational facts of Christian Science: God, divine Love, is All-in-all. Elsewhere in Science and Health, she says: “The depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love fill all space. That is enough!” (p. 520).
So despite the evidence of the physical senses or the message that our emotions may be giving us, there can be no vacuum or void because God, divine Mind, Love, is everywhere, filling all space. This includes the “space,” or emptiness, of the human heart. The current tendency toward religious skepticism, or even atheism, may be behind some of the feelings of existential emptiness attached to modernity. For some, this seems a conundrum. But the simple words of a hymn hint at a demonstrable answer:
Is the heart a well left empty?
None but God its void can fill;
Nothing but a ceaseless fountain
Can its ceaseless longings still.
Is the heart a living power?
Self-entwined its strength sinks low;
It can only live in loving,
And, by serving, love will grow.
(Elizabeth Charles, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 360, adapted).
So healing emotional emptiness often involves two major steps, ideas derived from Christ Jesus‘ articulation of the two “great commandments” in Matthew 22:37-39.
First, the hymn verse indicates that it is necessary to turn to God as only He can fill the void. How can God do this? The next line of the hymn explains: God’s nature is that of a “ceaseless fountain,” giving infinitely of Himself to His children and expressing Himself through them. Several places in the Bible, including a verse in Psalm 36, emphasize the metaphor of God as a fountain: “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (verse 9). Once there’s a willingness to acknowledge God, it’s necessary to take the second step. Only by loving, by giving, expressing, and serving others unselfishly, can our own emptiness be filled. As the hymn says, only by loving can the heart live.
In my own life, I’ve had times when I needed to counter emotional emptiness. I discovered that there was no material answer to the emptiness I was experiencing, only a spiritual one.
I endeavored to take quiet time to reclaim my awareness of my relationship with God, to reach out in prayer to feel that God, divine Mind, Love, was the source of my consciousness and my life. I prayed to see that this “ceaseless fountain” was the infinite source of good which created and sustained me. I also endeavored, even in small ways, to reach out to others, and to volunteer to serve in church and elsewhere. I found that taking these steps helped assuage the feelings of emptiness and the fear associated with it.
It’s important not to trivialize or only superficially address the fear that modern society attaches to the void. I’ve never been an astronaut encountering the vastness of outer space, but I’ve confronted emotional emptiness in my own life and learned that God does indeed fill the void.