Sin Cannot Fill The Void
“All sins are attempts to fill voids.” – Simone Weil
This simple statement opens up several avenues for understanding the nature of all sin. It gives us a vision of the emptiness of sin. It lets us see that sin is a kind of hunger that is so great that it will eat anything just to be rid of the painful feeling of the void of an empty stomach.
When we lie, are we not trying to fill the void of fear? Do we not lie because we feel the terrible threat of being ‘found out’? Or to get some advantage over others, because we feel that if we lose, we’ll be a nothing?
When we treat sex as a game, are we not really recognizing the void of boredom? Are we not ‘using’ the other to push back the boredom, if only for a few moments of selfish pleasure.
Is not greed a kind of acquisitive hunger for things, to fill the void of self doubt, the feeling that if I don’t have enough money, or things, I will not be happy, I will not be important?
C.S. Lewis talks about this void in his marvelous book, “The Great Divorce.” It opens at a bus stop on a street in a dark and dreary, twilight town. People are lining up in a queue to wait for a particular bus. Several get impatient with the wait, or frustrated at the person they are waiting with, or get angry in response to some perceived slight and, one-by-one, they leave the queue, making the line shorter and shorter.
The characters of the story, we come to understand, are ghosts, or the spirits of people who have died. The main character has a conversation with another ghost on the bus about the nature of the town they are in. In that discussion we hear why the town center seems so empty and dreary. It seems that the people who inhabit the place keep moving further and further away from each other. They keep moving away from each other because nobody else meets each one’s particular need to be perceived as important. Each one sees himself, or herself, as more important than the other and takes any disagreement as a personal attack. So they keep moving further and further away from each other. They move so far away that there are now light years between them and they are utterly alone in the vast void. The great irony is that they all choose this. For them, this is Hell.
This reminds me of a Vietnamese proverb about heaven and hell. It says that the people in hell sit at a banquet table and are starving because they all have three-foot-long chopsticks. The people in heaven sit at a banquet table, each holding three-foot-long chopsticks also, but they feed each other in a joyous, loving and caring community, rather than trying to feed themselves with chopsticks that are too long.
The voids that we experience and try to fill with our sinful behavior are all false; they are illusions. They are the result of the hungers that develop in an isolated, self-centered ego, an ego that can not see beyond itself.
The truth that we Christians understand is that Jesus, in entering our humanity, erased the void of sin through his death and resurrection. He filled it with His inestimable, unconditional love and forgiveness for each and every one of us.
We know that the emptiness we experience in our sinfulness can be filled simply by turning toward the love and mercy of God. It is when we let go of the void of our self-centered, ego-driven desires that God fills our empty hearts and souls with his love and mercy. When we recognize our sins, we also recognize the inner void they create in us, and we see how foolish our attempts are to fill that void by our own power, by hoarding things that do not last, or with physical pleasures that are, at best, fleeting.
The voids in our souls due to our sinfulness are always the result of illusion. God, on the other hand, is the very Ground of Being, the source of all that is real. Sin is the product of illusions. Forgiveness fills the void caused by our sins with the joy of reconciliation. When the void is filled with the reality of God’s love and mercy, the result is a deepened sense of others and our relationship and responsibility toward them. Respect of, and care for others, arises from the reality of God’s love overflowing the cups of our souls.
Christians know that meaning is rooted in love, not in the selfish acquisition of things or the aggrandizement of power, status, or wealth. We understand the void, because we know ourselves as sinners, but we also know that our sins are ameliorated by God’s loving mercy. We have experienced the emptiness of our souls being filled up by God’s love. God’s love fills the cups of our souls with unlimited love, which overflows in our loving actions toward the suffering other and through our freely-given forgiveness of those who attack or injure us out of the voids they experience in their own souls. We know what they are feeling and we can, like Jesus, be understanding and merciful toward them ourselves.
God can and will fill the voids within us if we ask. He does not force his fullness on us. He gave us free will and his omnipotence allows us the eternal choice of the void, or the eternal choice of his fullness. Both are before us. It is up to us to choose. If we choose the void, we can blame no one but ourselves. If we choose the fullness of God, we will be given all the graces we need to live out of it in this world and we will enjoy it endlessly in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.