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Pascal's Wager and Lukewarm

By Jerry Moffitt

religion, articles, christianity

Within Pascal's Thoughts - he was a French Mathematician and Philosopher around 1623 - 1662 - we find a famous passage which in philosophy has been called "Pascal's Wager." We all may have used it or thought of it naturally. Basically it says, "If in doubt, bet on God for the sake of the consequences." Have you not heard, or even said yourself, something like this: "If we Christians are wrong we still have had a good life and face no consequences. If the atheist is wrong, look what he suffers eternally. So why not play it safe?"

Pascal might put it in English something like this: "Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

Surely regarding consequences the thought is valid. However, in its essential part, a Christian would never use the argument. It is an agnostic argument, an argument made in some cases by one not completely convinced of God's existence. Or, in some cases it is used in a well­meaning way as a last resort to convince an unbeliever. Yet, could we really use it? Can one believe because one wants to believe and since the consequences are enormous? Don't we rather have a rational belief because the evidence around us removes all doubt (Psa. 53:1; Psa. 19:1-3; Rom. 1:20; Rom. 10:17)? Can we will that faith come and stupefy our doubts? No, that is not rational belief based on compelling evidence. It is more like "blind faith," of which those among the atheistic community who are ignorant accuse us of having.

To tell the truth, I also don't like Pascal's wager because it profanes belief and truth. It makes them stakes in a game of chance. No matter that he has nothing to lose and all to gain, an unbeliever dares not willfully smother doubt because the consequences are great. Nor will a Christian ever stifle honest perusal of evidence because he wants to take the safe or smart course. As a Christian we believe because having seen the evidence we have to believe. God is so clearly seen all around us that we would be desperate liars or in some kind of wicked denial if we said we doubted. Yes, and we can accept no less faith in those we evangelize. I would as soon try to convince a crab here on the Gulf Coast to walk straight forward instead of sideways as to tell someone who is lost to believe simply through desire, and worse, desire based merely on consequences and personal gain. No, I would rather see if his heart is honest and good (Luke 8:15) by pointing out the evidence, by introducing him to the empty tomb, and as his mind is honest, allow him to see Him Who is invisible (Heb. 11:27).

Lukewarmness

In view of the above, I cannot help but wonder if every Sunday morning at the worship hour a great part of the "audience" are present merely because they have accepted, without knowing it, Pascal's wager. Truly, if they could, and if they had a rational faith, they would not neglect any assembly (Heb. 10:25). They would attend Bible study and be present Wednesday night. They would read the Bible at home. They would labor in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). They would deny themselves (Mark 8:34), take up a tortuous cross (Luke 14:27), and gladly suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12)

No, these one­hour­a­week­if­it's­not­raining­or­not­the­superbowl Christians, I suspect, do not really have a rational faith. At best they have an anemic faith. It reminds me that there was a time my mother would warn me, "Jerry, you can swim just well enough to get yourself drowned." Unaware of it, some Christians have enough faith to salve their conscience, but not enough to save their soul.

In many things moderation is good. A Dutch proverb says "Sheer the sheep; don't flay them!" We can enjoy moderation in food, and drink, and viewing television. But how can we hope to "strive to enter in by the narrow door" (Luke 13:24), if we beat back our zeal and say "henceforward shalt thou come but no farther!"

The best Christians I know only hope to slip into heaven unseen, and then sit still and quiet, hoping to be unnoticed. May God through his providence and in his Word give all preachers some kind of inner, anxiety­causing complex that simply cannot suffer to see lukewarm Christians go to hell in a good humor. Then may we all, with boldness, preach accordingly.

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Published December 1996