I’ve long had a vague familiarity with Blaise Pascal, and was always challenged whenever I stumbled upon quotes or references from his Pensees. I even took the title of my blog from a quote in Pensees! So…I figured it was high time I delve into Pascal’s Pensees for myself. I was happy to discover this book: Christianity for Modern Pagans – Pascal’s Pensees. In it, Pascal’s Pensees are edited, outlined, and explained by theologian Peter Kreeft. I started on it a couple weeks ago. Pascal and Kreeft alike are brilliant, and I continue to be deeply challenged as I make my way through it.
A little about Pascal: He was a 17th century French scientist, mathematician, philosopher, and Christian. In his 30’s, he started writing a defense of the Christian faith but died at age 39 before completing it. However, his notes and thoughts were gathered together and became the famous book Pensees. (Pensees literally means “thoughts”.) Since his notes had not been finally arranged into book form, it is helpful that Kreeft in the above mentioned book does some arranging and outlining for us. The book’s format is well done – Pascal’s pensees are in dark print, and Kreeft’s thoughts are in regular print – so there is no confusing the two.
What excited me when I was reading it yesterday was that I came upon thoughts that relate to my last blog post: “Is God Hiding?” We have to pay attention to see evidence of God in the world, and we can miss it altogether. Has God made it too hard for us to find him?
Below is a Pascal quote from Pensees on this issue, followed by Kreeft’s explanation. Pascal’s writing in this particular excerpt is a bit cumbersome, but if you take a moment I think you’ll appreciate it.
Pascal: ...If he [God] had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightening and such convulsion of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.
Kreeft’s thoughts: If God wanted to get our attention, he could have become a mile-high green giraffe instead of a man; then even the indifferent sophisticate would have taken notice.
Why didn’t he perform more miracles? How many blind men did he leave unhealed? Why did he raise only Lazarus and the widow’s son from death? Why doesn’t he create great bold letters in the sky every evening at 8pm spelling out “I am who I am” and invite scientists to send up rockets and investigate them, and annihilate them every night at 8:30? Why didn’t Jesus stay on earth and invite us to experiment on him in a laboratory?
There are 3 answers:
First, he wants to give us time to repent. This is Pascal’s point here. It is also Scripture’s point: Genesis 15:16, Isaiah 48:9, Luke 13:7-9, Romans 2:4. He will show himself clearly one day. But then it will be too late.
Second, he wants to effect a true relationship with us, not one merely of intellectual belief but of personal faith, hope, love, and trust. The propositions of lovers are different from the propositions of syllogisms.
Third, he is both love and justice; if he manifests himself truly it cannot be without love or without justice. His love led him to save all who will have him, and his justice led him to punish those who will not have him. Thus he respects our free choice. He deprives the damned only of the good that they themselves do not desire.
**There is more by both Pascal and Kreeft on this issue, but I hope you appreciate the above excerpts. The Bible teaches that those who seek God will find him. Adequate clues of God’s existence will be found by the honest seeker. I know faith can be a terrible struggle, and I hope this doesn’t sound trite. But perhaps some need to reexamine their motives. Are you honestly seeking answers, or just looking for any excuse not to believe? There is a difference.