Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Greek phrase for “fear of the empty,” horror vacui is found in every area of life and gets at the idea that an empty space does not remain so for long. Simply said, empty spaces get filled.

Let’s look at some examples to help better understand “horror vacui.”

  • In Physics, Aristotle postulated that nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill the void.
  • In visual art, “kenophobia” is the filling of the entire surface of a space or a piece of artwork with detail.
  • In business, Parkinson’s Law says work expands to fill the time available for its completion. It also says data expands to fill the space available for storage.

The idea that emptiness does not remain so for long makes sense to most of us. We’ve probably all experienced it with a living space that seems to eventually be too full of stuff or even with our electronics that seem to always run out of storage space.

No matter how much something is cleaned, an empty space won’t remain unoccupied for long. Dust, dirt, data, information and other stuff accumulate until the space is no longer empty.

Out With Bad. In With Good.

The Bible gets at this concept in a few places. Two especially stand out for me. The first is in a parable that Jesus told, the Parable of the Empty House.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

Spiritually, this means we can get rid of bad things (in this case, an evil spirit), but it will eventually (usually very quickly) be replaced.

The second is found in instructions for Christian living given to us by Paul, his instructions to take off the old and put on the new in our lives. Before continuing, it might be helpful to read Ephesians 4:17-32.

Paul tells us to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self.” To connect with the empty house analogy Jesus used, Paul is telling us clean out old habits and characteristics and to fill the empty self with Godly characteristics and activities.

These two portions of Scripture are telling us that simply avoiding evil and eliminating bad habits are not enough. They must be replaced with something else. If they aren’t, the empty vacuum will suck in a much worse situation.

Putting on New Habits

I realize that Jesus was talking about an impure spirit inhabiting someone, and Paul was talking about living by the Holy Spirit’s power versus not, but they essentially make the same point. They both give a spiritual application for concept of horror vacui. Sweeping out lives and minds clean of evil spirits or bad habits (i.e., “putting of the old self”) won’t do us good for long if we don’t “put on new” habits. How do we do this?

  1. Get right with God. Confess sins and repent.
  2. Focus on Jesus. Focus determines reality.
  3. Pray often. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help.
  4. Study Scripture daily. Learn about God and his standards.
  5. Memorize Scripture. Let the living word transform your mind.

We get rid of the bad and replace it with good by letting God work in us. As we do this, we are making the choice to not be like the evil world around us but to instead be transformed by the God within us.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)