Why the Christian cliche can be so dangerous.

If you grew up in the Church, or have been around it at all for any amount of time, you have probably heard a cliché phrase about God and your heart to the effect of: “You have a God-shaped hole in your heart” or “That person keeps trying to fill that hole in their heart only God can!”

Well, it’s both true and not.

The problem is that we often use nice and tidy little phrases to explain complex situations.

In Relationships

We all have a longing for intimacy, a desire to be truly known by another. And it’s often that we pass this desire off as trying to “fill a hole in our heart that only God can fill.” The problem is, God created that longing and meant for it to be filled by relationships with other people.

With all the emphasis on creation or evolution coming out of the first few chapters of Genesis, we often miss some of the most important ideas about our humanity and how God created us (not physically, but spiritually and psychologically).

In Genesis chapter 2, we are told, “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Even before Adam did not find any helper fit for him, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God, the all-knowing, all-powerful, creator of everything created a man who was not meant to be alone. Instead, God in all of His wisdom created man to be in a loving relationship with another, to be truly known.

I have known one too many single Christians who have struggled with their relationship with God because they are told that God is only one who could fill all of their longings for intimacy when all the while God made humanity to be in loving relationship with another.

In Community

Another common way in which this seemingly revelatory phrase about the heart has hurt the church comes in the means of community. In 2014, the White House Economic Council published a report showing that Millennials value and search for community.

However, we can point the finger at someone who gets in with the “wrong crowd” and yet again say, “they just need God.” While it could possibly be true that they may be in need of God, I have known Christians who have been in relationship with God fall away from Him because of a desire for community. Rather than finding a good community of like-minded Christ followers, the desire for community, acceptance and belonging can lead Christians into communities that draw them away from Christ and not towards Him. Again, the desire for community is something that is given to us by God.

There are many verses showing the need for community and what it looks like in the Bible. There are two, though, that I am particularly fond of. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 10: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

This is exactly what the church in the letter to Theophilus we call Acts did. In chapter two, Luke (the author of this letter) gives Theophilus an understanding of what Christ followers did in community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts …

Sometimes we pin on people that their desire for community and others is a lack of God, when in reality, this is exactly what God wants for us! Again, God created us to be in community. Our longing for intimacy can often be for what God wants for us as we anchor into community.

In God

And yes, sometimes it is in fact God that we fulfill the desire to be known intimately. The first few chapters of Genesis gives us this understanding that we as people were meant to be in relationship with God and with others. Sin entered the picture and humanity’s relationship with God was broken. Our core desire is to know God, and very often we try to “fill that hole in our heart” with something else. But again, we must be careful to not try and oversimplify the situation.

God created a complex universe inhabited by complex humans. Knowing that God placed the desire in us not just for Him, but also for community and relationships should give us hope that when we fulfill those desires, they are actually from Him, and sometimes that may look different than we originally imagined.

A version of this article was originally published on ecclesiam.com. Used with permission.