Pascal’s Wager

Blaise Pascal was a philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who lived and died in the mid 1600’s.  When he was 31 he had an epiphany.  It’s been called an intense religious experience.  He described it himself as an encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He wrote a note to himself which ended with the last phrase of Psalm 119:16 I shall not forget Your word. (NASB). He added the affirmation “Amen.”  Pascal sewed the note into the inner lining of his coat and would transfer it to any new coats he acquired.  It was accidentally found by a servant after his death.  Sometime during this “religious” period (as it is often called by those who regret that he had such a period in his life) he wrote Pensees (Thoughts.)  It was finished after his death and was a defense of the Christian faith.  Widely regarded today as a masterpiece of French prose, it was also the source of Pascal’s Wager.

I remember first encountering this idea when I was in college.  It’s logical and firmly rational  but somehow inadequate although I could not have told you why at the time.

The wager is this: every person is faced with a decision matrix in his or her life.  Believe in God or not.  The eternal reward for belief is infinite joy.  The eternal consequence for disbelief is infinite pain.  The cost of this life of belief is a small loss of earthly pleasure (i.e. some selfish things are forbidden.)  The reward of disbelief is a small increase in earthly pleasure (i.e very little is forbidden.)  When considering what is at stake, it is irrational to risk disbelief.

Opponents of this thinking have raised numerous objections.  There are other religions, why consider only Christianity?  If Christianity is basically unbelievable then the wager is unnecessary to consider (Voltaire.)

My objection was this:  adopting a dead faith in a God who might be there is no faith at all.

The longer I have been a follower of Christ, the more pronounced is the realization that Christianity is grounded on a living relationship with a living God.  One does not bet that He exists.  We learn that He exists, how He acts and how He thinks as we trust Him over time.  God is going to enter into an eternal relationship with those who want the relationship.  It’s not a record of good or bad deeds, church attendance, Bible memorization or anything else that will determine it. Do we wish to be with God because of Who He is?  Or do we merely want the pleasures He can provide?  I strongly believe that the reason Hell is so awful is that it is a place where no one or anything is in a relationship with God. People there don’t want Him in their lives.  Thus a world or life without God is Hell.

As for holiness, I know that God intends for His people to be holy because only then are we truly free.  Fortunately, He began the process when we trusted Him with a tiny mustard seed of faith and from there it will grow to perfect fruition in Christ in preparation for the life to come.

Philippians 1For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

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