Blaise Pascal was a man who liked to have a fling on the horses or whatever they did back in the seventeenth century. As we know there are two kinds of gambling, one entirely based on chance, like the roll of a dice, and others where there is some skill involved; playing poker.
Being a mathematician Pascal was intrigued by the subject of probability; what are the chances of rolling a three on the dice? Why, one in six of course is the answer. Ultimately he became the father of what is now known as probability theory. Today he would have been an actuary.
Being a Christian he also applied his mathematical mind to his faith, proposing what became known as Pascal’s Wager. He recognised that in all of us there is some niggling doubt that God actually exists before we take the plunge and open the door to Christ.
Am I about to take a step into the darkness of stupidity? Perhaps indifference to God would be more appropriate. But atheism makes little sense to many scientists; the probability that Creation came about entirely by chance is utterly remote.
That would be entirely contrary to Newton’s third law of thermodynamics; without a creator, things move from organised to chaos, not vice versa.
Pascal’s Wager works like this. If God really doesn’t exist, as Richard Dawkins suggests, then Blaise argues that there is nothing lost by taking that step of faith into the dark and inviting Christ into your life. Perhaps you may lose a bit of face if you told a few of your skeptic friends.
But we all make decisions and looking back realise what fools we were, so there’s little lost Pascal would argue in talking the plunge into a life of faith.
One such decision that comes back to haunt me personally is that a teenager I was given old, horrible, starchy broad beans to eat, and forced to swallow them despite my protestations. I made a vow that they would never again cross my lips, a vow I kept for over fifty years.
Then unwittingly I was offered a dish of young, freshly-picked broad beans, not knowing what they were. What a fool I had been for over half a century missing out on this wonderful legume. How wrong we can indeed be.
But back to Pascal’s Wager. He argues there is little to be lost if unsure in making the choice to believe in Christ and follow Him, and it turns out that the atheists were right; there is no God. But if He does exist there is so much more to be gained that otherwise we would have lost out on.
As CS Lewis describes we will be surprised by joy, experience peace quite beyond our understanding in difficult circumstances and forgiveness of our sin; and eternal life. There is so much to be gained, so little to be lost from having an honest look at Christ.
Pascal’s Wager can be applied to many situations where we are unsure, when there is little to be lost and potentially so much to be gained.
For example, perhaps you are unsure whether your should spend say R200,000 on building a solar farm on your roof. It's a lot of money the skeptic in you argues; it is a gamble.
Pascal’s would argue that no, it is not a gamble; there is little to be lost in putting in a solar generator if you can afford it. Even if Eskom comes right next week you will still have free electricity in five years, having paid off the debt.
But if Eskom does not come right, as it probably won’t, there is potentially so much more to be gained.
Pascal’s Wager can be applied to any of the decisions we have to make where there is little to be lost, but potentially so much more to be gained. You could apply it for example whether to plant an avocado tree in your garden as I did four years ago. R150 was spent, and the sweat off my brow to dig a square hole one metre deep.
Last year the gain was 7 avos. This morning I counted about a hundred; so much more.
But Pascal applied his wager to weightier matters; taking the profound step of opening the door and letting Christ in; so little to be lost, but so much to be gained in this life as all people of deep faith will attest, and the next has yet to begin. But perhaps first there must be a night of fire. What started out as the worst of times ends up being the very best.
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