In the 17th century, mathematician, scientist, and Christian theologian Blaise Pascal developed what has become known as “Pascal’s Wager.”
Pascal said that a thinking person should choose to believe in the God of the Bible, even though the existence of God cannot be proven or disproven by scientific means, because following God is the safe and sensible decision to make.
Pascal asserted that every rational human being must wager for one side or the other, either wagering that God does exist and his edicts and commands are to be followed; or wagering that God does not exist, and one should not concern himself with any thought of God.
WAGERING THIS LIFE AND ETERNITY
Essentially, Pascal argued that if the God of the Bible does actually exist, and a person chooses to believe in him, that person will have only the loss of some worldly pleasures and comforts while on earth, but will receive unspeakable pleasures and riches in eternity with God. Furthermore, the believer in the God of the Bible will avoid the infinite suffering in hell and separation from God that awaits non-believers in the after-life.
Conversely, the person who wagers to not believe in the God of the Bible, may experience increased pleasure while here on earth, but what awaits the non-believer is eternal torment and separation from God for all of eternity. The thoughtful and safe wager, according to Pascal, is always to believe in God.
CRITICISM FROM ALL SIDES
Pascal, and his “wager” have been roundly criticized by many commentators, included some Christians. Non-believers say Pascal is encouraging people to make fools of themselves by believing in God with his simplified rationale.
On the other side, Christians often speak negatively of Pascal’s “wager” as encouraging people to accept God simply as a form of “fire insurance” that will allow a person to escape the fires of Hell. They see the “wager” concept as exceedingly basic and lacking in any encouragement of the individual believer to build a genuine, ever deepening, and ever growing relationship with God. They see the philosophy behind Pascal’s “wager” as, well… old, and… unsophisticated.
BRILLIANT AND TIMELESS
Yet, to the contrary, I see Blaise Pascal’s “wager” as both brilliant and timeless.
In the mid 1600’s, Pascal could not have envisioned the increase in knowledge that has occurred between his time and ours. He could not have foreseen the advances made in all areas of science and technology. He could not have foreseen modern air travel, modern medicine, modern communication, or modern computer science.
Yet, even with all of our advancements in knowledge, man still cannot prove or disprove the existence of God by any scientific means. God remains much of a mystery, even to those who search and seek after him.
I don’t believe Pascal ever intended for a person to believe in God solely as “fire insurance,” as Pascal himself was a committed Christian. Pascal was simply saying that, if you boil all of life down to its most basic, most fundamental, and most crucial decision, that decision is to believe in God or not to believe in God. No other decision we make in life will carry the weight and gravity of this one single decision. On this single decision all of this life and all of a future life in eternity rest.
Consequently, Pascal says to make the decision with sober and rational thought. This decision is the starting point on which the Christian life is based. Pascal’s “wager” simply underscores and highlights the tremendous ramifications of this decision.
Thank you Blaise Pascal for your ageless intellect and powerful argument for believing in the God of the Bible, the God I choose to believe in, the God I love!