Pascal’s Pensees and Pauline Perspective

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 62) wrote his justly famous Pensees, and perhaps one of the more well known passages is his “Wager” or “Gambit.” In part III note 233, it goes as such:

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

The Wager is often expressed in the following table:

                                  Does God exist?
Yes No
Do I believe in God? Yes Eternal blessing is gained. No reward
No Eternal blessing is lost. No loss

Now here is my question. I won’t try to answer it here (perhaps in a future post). Is Pascal’s Wager above consistent with Paul’s argument below?

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15:13-17

What do you think? In other words, would Paul have taken Pascal up on his wager? Is believing in a Christ no-loss proposition? Or does Pascal anticipate this point?

3 thoughts on “Pascal’s Pensees and Pauline Perspective

  1. Hi Brian. I just stumbled onto your blog and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I think you bring up an excellent question concerning the “wager”. First, this seems to presuppose that believing in God is the litmus test for heaven. This is a false presupposition. James wrote, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)” Belief in Christ, his claims, and his resurrection is different from general belief in God.

    I do think that Pascal’s Wager, while well intended, was refuted (albeit 15 centuries earlier) by Paul. 2 verses after the ones you included, Paul states, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). This contradicts Pascal’s logic which posits, “If you believe in this life only and are wrong, you’ve lost nothing”.

    • Hi Darryl. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I really agree with what you said (and I completely screwed up by stopping short of 1 Cor 15.19 – I’ll have to go back and add that!). In fact, I’ve wondered if Pascal – who by all accounts seems to have been a smart dude – knew this and meant something else, or how exactly he got away with saying this. Maybe I’ll write more on this down the road, but I wonder if Pascal differentiates between bare theism and Christianity. Do you have any thoughts on this?

      Hey, by the way, I loved your website. I especially appreciated the Barabbas article. Keep up the great content!

  2. Great question, Brian. Pascal was certainly a logical or natural thinker in his Gambit and didn’t seem to be employing any spiritual or supernatural thought in his wager (I couldn’t tell if his tongue was in cheek in his picture 😉 The hyperbole of the Pascal’s Wager poster- (Because reducing eternity to a crapshoot is so inspiring) seems so extreme that we would see the absurdity of thinking this way about spiritual matters. But don’t you think that’s exactly the thought process behind many a foxhole conversion? And even more disturbing, behind many decisions to “ask Jesus in” for “fire insurance” reasons to avoid hell! It’s very logical and natural thinking, but it doesn’t require the Spirit’s drawing or being made alive or a new heart or the veil’s removal or seeing the beauty of Christ, etc. What a false anchor that kind of decision could be instead of knowing Christ and him crucified. What do you think, brother?

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