Night of fire describes the turmoil most have to go through before accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Good morning and welcome to this short series from Church of the Ascension in Hilton, South Africa; it's about finding ourselves. The theme is chosen from one of my favourite biblical phrases, “coming to oneself,” taken from the parable of the Prodigal Son.
He got himself thoroughly lost on life’s journey but then at a time of great hardship, came to himself.
This week we will consider two interesting people; firstly Blaise Pascal, a remarkable scientist and secondly Hannah, the mother of the great prophet Samuel.
Day 1: Blaise Pascal's night of fire
Day 2: Hannah prays with the heart
Day 3: Pascal’s wager
Day 4: Blaise Pascal finds himself
Day 5: Blaise Pascal helps us find our own true selves.
Blaise Pascal is not a name many of you will be familiar with, I suspect unless you have studied physics. He was born 400 years ago into a highly intellectual family. His father was a judge and a respected mathematician; his sister a child prodigy in literature.
Pascal Junior ultimately became a giant. A mathematician, physicist and a prodigiously influential writer; and an inventor too. He was a deeply committed Christian.
As a mathematician, he laid the foundation for what is today known as probability theory; in Day 3 we will talk about Pascal’s Wager which concerns shortening the odds when faced with choices.
As a physicist his work on liquids and gases led to him being honoured with his name given to the unit of pressure. When you add two bars to your tyre, you are in fact filling it to 200 kilopascals. He invented the first syringe, the hydraulic press and the first calculator; a truly remarkable person.
To this day Pascal’s Principle, as it is known, defines hydraulics. “Any pressure applied to a confined liquid is transmitted undiminished through the fluid in all directions.”
Every time we press a foot onto the brake pedals of our cars we are indebted to Blaise Pascal. Whenever you lift something heavy, his principle is applied to the discs in your spine.
All of this was back in the 1600’s.
Grace versus works was a hugely controversial and inflamed subject at the time in Catholic circles. Pascal’s 18 letters in defense of a friend led to what was later called “the peace of the church.”
At the heart of the matter was whether someone who had fallen from grace could atone for his continuing sin, without true repentance, by frequently going to confession, taking communion and making indulgences.
His ideas remain central to this day. Does one discover God through reasoning of the mind, or experiencing Him in our hearts? It’s a balance that we recognise and still we find it difficult to maintain. Tomorrow we will talk about Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, in this regard.
For me Pascal was a person who was the antithesis of the oft-promoted idea that science and religion are of necessity in conflict with each other. Here was a human being deeply immersed in mathematics and physics, yet a man of great faith.
For too long we have been under the influence of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, forgetting that Galileo, Newton and Pascal were all men of deep faith in God; so was Einstein.
On a personal note, as a young skeptical student at university I was invited to a prayer meeting. Reluctantly I accepted; my first astonishing observation was that most of those present were from the science faculties.
Up until then prayer was for me a passage read
out of the liturgy; for the first time I came into contact with people
praying from the heart. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s talk.
I leave you with a thought; has your religion yet fallen from your head to your heart?
Night of fire looks at the lives of Blaise Pascal and biblical Hannah.
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