I hope you’ll understand and forgive this somewhat lighthearted and rambling discussion about Pascal’s Wager, but I got to read a delightful post called, “Pascal’s Wager- Gambling For God?” by Inverted Logic and it merits a response.
Let me begin by stating that Pascal’s Wager is kind of misunderstood in pop culture to be about gambling. That’s what a “wager” is, right? Yes, but it’s about far more than that, it’s really about probability theory. Math. Science.
My dad was a physicist, so we were all over probability theory, calculating the odds for everything, with a bit of quantum mechanics thrown in for good measure. I’ve written a few posts about the mystery of unmatched socks in the dryer. What I mean is that there have been long seasons in my life where if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. That’s actually irrational, against the laws of probability, but that was my reality.
I once had a major revelation in faith, preceded by a meltdown of course, in my laundry room staring at some 53 stray socks, not single pair in the bunch. What are the odds?? How could the washing machine “know” to eat just one of each color?? If God is sovereign, if it is the will of God that rules our world and not just random luck, then surely He is just messing with me now! Because the odds of that happening are simply astronomical. Impossible.
It’s rather banal and ordinary, a sad tale really, about a woman who broke over piles of unmatched socks, but it was awesome too, it was ground breaking, it was a beautiful revelation about God that changed everything for me. Blaise Pascal outlines some of his thoughts with these two nuggets, “There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason,” and “It is not certain that everything is uncertain.” I surrendered something that day, my sense of control, my insistence on leaning into my own understanding, my demand for certainty, the way I had always placed ALL my faith in my own capacity for reason.
All in good humor here, but my trust issues were so profound, so shattered and broken, until that day, I didn’t even trust God with my socks.
So, my first point, Pascal’s Wager is about so, so much more than “gambling.” He was actually a mathematician and a physicist. He writes about probability theory, existentialism, pragmaticism. He points out that while we can discern a great deal through reason, we are ultimately forced to gamble. To gamble is to make a choice, to use your instincts, your heart, to take a wild guess, without having enough rational data to predict the outcome. A leap of faith. A leap of trust. A leap of belief.
My second point about Pascal’s Wager, I don’t believe he is simply arguing, “gamble that God is real or spend eternity in hell.” Inverted Logic said, “I would question the insincerity of faith fostered by the potential of abhorrent outcomes. Is it really genuinely having faith in God if you are incentivized by the fear of being tortured next to Hitler in a fiery chasm for the rest of eternity?” Me too! In fact, I would fully agree. I write a fair amount about my disapproval of the wrath mongers, about how the Bible actually tells us “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
It actually breaks my heart to think of Jesus, of His incredible love for us, of the way He came to give us a whole kingdom right now, and yet many try to reduce the miracle down to, “a ticket to avoid hell?” Reminds of me of the Beatles’ song, “I’ve got a ticket to ride.” It’s a bit like dating someone for their money. It’s like taking the very nature of sacrificial love and trying to twist it into something self serving. We call that kind of faith, “buying fire insurance.”
Personally I believe many of our modern Western perceptions of hell are based far more on Dante’s Inferno than they are on the Bible, but that’s a discussion for another day. It is however, still a good question for people to ask and explore. If the predicted, certain outcome is a fiery inferno for all of eternity, what in the world is going on with you that you would risk that? What do you gain by refusing to believe? What do you risk? Why? Is it rational?
Lastly, Inverted Logic offers us the “just be a good person” idea and quotes Marcus Aurelis, “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.”
It sounds so reasonable doesn’t it? In fact, the best man at my wedding, good friend of my hubby says that very thing, just be a good person and don’t worry about it. I live in a very liberal area, there is often the suggestion that all religions are pretty much equal, that it’s probably better to just be a kind atheist than a rotten Christian. That’s a tough one for me to argue against because it seems so reasonable, so rational. All I can tell you is that every instinct I have just screams “no.” Who we follow matters, “why” we are kind matters, and just being a good person will not save you. Jesus is central to our story. What we do, we must do in His name. Who we are, we are because of His name. His name, His example, His life, His blood, anchors us in way that nothing else can.
I really liked Inverted’s closing paragraph and the importance of just being, something the Bible actually speaks of too, the importance of, “be still and know that I am.”