Does anyone remember the Donut Man? Like a donut, he says there is a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God’s love. I’m sure he is a well-intentioned man trying to share God’s love with little children. I’m not sure I have ever been able to sit through church listening to children singing God songs without crying. The faith of a child is so pure it crowds out any doubt.
I think the idea behind this “God-Shaped Hole” theology is attempting to call out the uneasiness and longing within the depths of our being for something greater. Christians want to name this longing and supply the answer in Jesus Christ. Thus, the whole “asking Jesus into your heart” business. Simply fill the hole in your heart with Jesus and you will be fixed, promises the Donut Man.
With all due respect to the Donut Man we have got to figure out a better way to communicate the gospel message to our children. First of all, the idea of children being born with a defective heart is troubling. The reason cute kid shenanigans on youtube easily go viral is because they contain the most uninhibited, full hearts which burst with energy, creativity, and limitless capacity to give and receive love. We delight in young kids, their joy overwhelming our jaded adult lives. Yet we have to try to convince them of their heart problem?
Secondly, placing the missing God shaped piece imply we become magically whole. I don’t know about you but this has not been my story. My journey with God from childhood to adult life has been more like an ebb and flow, periods of intense passion to times of quiet withdrawal, mountaintop sacred ground experiences to repeatedly hitting a brick wall. What happens when the promise we make to the children breaks down? What happens when they experience life and feel moments of raging emptiness deep in their souls, would they consider the patch job done at their time of conversion coming apart at the seams?
I get that we use an over simplified metaphor to teach in an age appropriate manner. But we don’t have to start their faith journey with a heart failure pronouncement. Let’s celebrate the big-ness of their beautiful, beating hearts. Let’s delight with them the wonders of our world through their exuberant spirits. Let’s capitalize their imagination to create with abandon, without rules to dictate their projects. Let them show us the gospel with their utter dependence and unconditional love.
Then as they grow, let’s tell the truth of God and our hearts. The truth, in my life at least, has been the more I participate in what I believe to be the work of God, the more my heart comes out tattered and torn. Love of God means love of neighbor. Turns out neighbors come in the form of children subjected to unspeakable evils like in the sex slave trade; or they show up as trans youth at the brink of suicide; and girl-friends with empty wombs. The truth is our hearts don’t get stronger in this life journey with God, it gets weaker, ripped open each time those God loves suffers a blow.
The biggest lie of the donut hole theology, however, is that when our hearts are filled with God, we stop longing. This is untrue. A robust Christian life must always hope for more: more knowledge, more vision, more solutions. More justice, more compassion, more love. We live each day with our increasingly broken hearts and cry out in faithfulness: there is more to come. This longing keeps us humble, dependent on God’s grace and mercies. It helps us not settle, to persist in our labors until each man, woman, and child receives justice and dignity. It compels us to practice art, to build and rebuild, to reflect on the past and dream of the future, to express with every faculty of our being what it is we long for.
What do you think? Can we do better to teach our kids in the church?