Have you ever heard of Blaise Pascal’s Wager? According to Wikipedia, it “is an argument in philosophy devised by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–62)” which “posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.” And because this argument is so well-presented by Douglas Groothius, in his excellent Apologetics textbook Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, I will be quoting him extensively today.
“..,it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27 )
Pascal presents, with superb logic, the ramifications of both belief and disbelief in God. He asserts that probabilistically there are four possible outcomes: 1) God is real and I believe; 2) God is real and I disbelieve; 3) God is not real and I believe, and 4) God is not real and I disbelieve. He posits the outcomes of all four possibilities.
1) If God is real and I believe, “there is much to gain and little of ultimate importance to lose…he is speaking of the eternal state of the believer, who dwells with God in a restored creation with all the redeemed. We may add to this the benefit of knowing the truth in this life and receiving the divine blessings of a restored relationship with God and the privilege of seeking and serving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…he or she also escapes hell…moreover…he or she also becomes an instrument of truth and goodness in the world in a way not otherwise possible.” (Douglas Groothius, “Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith”)
2) If God is real and I disbelieve, however, “there is much to lose and little of final importance to gain.” (Groothius) The ramifications of erroneously disbelieving are severe: not only do I miss out on a relationship with God in this life, I will spend eternity in hell.
3) If, on the other hand, God is not real and I believe, I have perhaps missed out on some fleeting pleasures in this life while living a godly life, but suffer no ultimate eternal loss because there is none.
4) And, of course, if God is not real and I disbelieve–well, I can perhaps say I was right, but not much else.
To again quite Groothius: “If Christianity is true, the prudential [common sense] benefits for believing (eternal life) far exceed those offered by believing in atheism or any other worldview (finite pleasures). The prudential detriment of not believing Christianity is true (loss of eternal life; gaining if hell) also far outweigh the detriments of not believing atheism or another other worldview if the non-Christian view is true (loss of some finite pleasures). Pascal is right to affirm that eternal bliss outweighs any finite good, and eternal loss is far worse than mere extinction.”
In other words, there’s far less of consequence to lose if you incorrectly believe in God were it to turn out He doesn’t exist–you’ve lived a moral decent life–than to not believe in Him were it to turn out He is real–you’ve ignored Him and now you’re going to hell.
Some, of course, might argue that the safest option is agnosticism–to delay a choice, to choose not to choose. But, Pascal argues, doing so has the same practical effect as disbelieving. “In other words, not to believe in Christianity, either as a committed unbeliever or as agnostic, means to forfeit the benefits promised only to the believer (eternal life), should Christianity be true. Deciding not to choose has the same result as not believing in God.” (Groothius)
Choosing either to not believe or to suspend judgment has very serious eternal and irrevocable consequences if you are wrong–you’re betting on God not existing, but if you’re wrong, the consequences are far more severe than believing if God isn’t real. Alternately, if you’re right, you stand to gain so much.
You see, God IS real, but the benefits of Christianity are given only to those who take the word of the many who were there, believe that God Himself provided what was necessary to remedy the damage sin has worked in us, and come to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience and commit their eternal destinies to Him.
But what should a person do if they would possibly consider the Christian faith, were it not for some “emotional dispositions, fears or loves that keep us from seriously considering this alternative?”(Groothius) Because, honestly, this is what keeps many from coming to Jesus.
Maybe there is a sin they don’t want to give up, maybe they’re afraid they’ll lose control and don’t know God enough yet to trust He won’t ruin their life. Maybe they know church-goers who have blurred the lines between Biblical truth and personal opinion, and what they think is of God are only the teachings of man. Maybe they’ve been exposed to people who call themselves Christian but haven’t given up racial prejudices. Maybe they are having a hard time reconciling the Biblical message with what they’re being taught in school, or what’s going on culturally around them. Maybe they think educated people don’t believe in God and that religion is superstition. Maybe they think it’s God versus science and don’t get it that not only is scientific inquiry legitimate, but that God put it all together to begin with, and holds it all together in a way that far surpasses any stereotype–and is, in fact, the actual source of it all to begin with!
Pascal’s answer to someone like this is that they should give themselves a chance to know God personally:
“I should have given [I would give up] up a life of pleasure,” they say, “if I had faith.” But I tell you: “You would soon have faith if you gave up a life of pleasure [you’ll see God is real if you give up the bad things in your life]. Now it is up to you to begin. If I could give you faith, I would. But I cannot, nor can I test the truth of what you say, but you can easily give up your pleasure and test whether I am telling the truth.”
Groothius indicates, “…the investigation of Christianity should also include exposure to its public expression, its forms and practices…As Pascal observed, these activities (along with rational reflection [taking the time to think through what God says]) may help one truly discern the state of one’s own soul before God and the glories of the Christian revelation itself.” (Groothius)
In order to rightly evaluate the claims of God we must first 1) pull away from the bad things in our life and then 2) immerse ourselves in the good things–the full scope of Christian life. Then–and only then–we will be in a fair position to evaluate.
Let’s read what Simon Peter, one of the original twelve disciples who was there and saw it all, wrote about all of the things they were telling people about Jesus:
“When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented. But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes. Jesus heard the voice of God, the Greatest Glory, when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” We heard that voice from heaven while we were with Jesus on the holy mountain. This makes us more sure about the message the prophets gave. It is good for you to follow closely what they said as you would follow a light shining in a dark place, until the day begins and the morning star rises in your hearts. Most of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in the Scriptures ever comes from the prophet’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever came from what a person wanted to say, but people led by the Holy Spirit spoke words from God.” (2 Peter 1:16-21 NCV)
Please show Yourself to be true to me! Amen.