devotional

30NOV
2017

Pascal’s Wager. Good or Dangerous?

I’m an active duty Army chaplain. Every so often I change a picture outside my office to a different inspirational quote for soldiers passing by to read. As I was looking for a quote to post this morning I came across this one.

I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of folks lately who, for whatever reasons (right or wrong) have turned on Lecrae. I have seen some things on this young man that make me worry for him, but I don’t know him personally, and I don’t listen to his music enough to make any certain conclusions. I don’t know for certain if he even made the statement someone put on this meme.

What concerns me is the proposition itself. I know it didn’t come from Lecrae, but I’ve heard it many times from a lot of different people and places. As far as I know, the statement is as old as the seventeenth century French philosopher/physicist/mathematician/theologian Blaise Pascal. It’s often referred to as the “Pascalian Wager”. The basic idea behind the wager carried on through many today is that if you just give assent to the idea that there is a God, and maybe apply that idea a little to your life that you’ll be glad you did when you die because you’ll be in heaven instead of hell. In other words, assume there’s a Jesus and live like you think God would want you to even if you don’t know for sure he exists and you’ll be glad you did. At the risk of oversimplification I want to address what appear to me to be massive errors in the wager.

While the idea is not without merit in a world of “scientifically-minded” spiritual nitwits, it is in my opinion a foolish proposition overall. It’s certainly not one that could be carried out fully in anyone’s life. A few of my arguments against it are as follows:

  1. Jesus likened belief in him as life in him. Christianity is not a check the block on doctrine (or potential truth) and God loves you kind of a thing. He literally calls salvation being “born again”. See John 3. This is a huge event in someone’s life as it marks new life itself. This isn’t something you can live as if it’s happened and garner the rewards thereof because you thought it was at least possible.
  2. Jesus talked about striving to enter heaven in many ways. Literally that those who love him will be “agonizing” to do so. Luke 13:24. Every believer knows the power of the sin in their lives that this verse makes real. They know how difficult life is at times in their struggle to enter heaven. This struggle characterizes the Christian walk. No one does this *as if there was a God even though you’re not totally sure*.
  3. Missing out on a few material comforts in life in the name of religion wins you no points against your sin debt. Sinners need the Cross of Christ, not self-denials. The flesh profits absolutely nothing, John 6:63. They need a Savior.
  4. We are enemies of God by nature. We do not have the power to live rightly before him without the Holy Spirit’s enablement. Assent is never enough.

If you live your life only “as if there was a God” you’ll be in hell. You must have the Son to have God. Christianity isn’t some coin toss wager. It isn’t merely intellectual. I don’t think Pascal wanted this proposition to be an end in itself. I know that the proposition carries with it an invitation to working to convince oneself of the truth of it, etc. When people quote it today I doubt they imagine it to be a truly thorough apologetic. I don’t mean to oversimplify it entirely. But I do think we should stop using it. It reduces the Christian life down to something absurd. You may live a fake Christian life if your opinion of the Faith at all resembles a mere intellectual response to Pascal’s wager, but you will not live the Christian life that Jesus came to bring. That life comes through a transformation of all that we are.

 

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