Saturday, 27 August 2011
Imagine you are making your way into the grocery store. As you enter, an employee stops you and says, "Excuse me, there may be a bomb in the building." What would you do? Most likely, you wouldn't enter. I know I wouldn't. Although I don't know for certain if there's a bomb in the building, I wouldn't take the risk. I wouldn't risk my own life, or possibly the lives of my child/husband if they were with me on my trip. I think we can agree that you are indeed being very careless, at best, for entering the building knowing there's a 50/50 chance you could lose your life.
Of course, things aren't that simple when it comes to God*. Blaise Pascal — French philosopher, scientist, mathematician and probability theorist (1623-1662) — argues that if we don’t know whether God exists then we should play it safe rather than risk being sorry.
Here's how it works.
If you do believe in God, and God does exist: you get heaven
If you do believe in God, and God does not exist: you get nothing (death is the end)
If you don't believe in God, and God does exist: you get hell
If you don't believe in God, and God does not exist: you get nothing
As you can see, it is in your best interest to believe in God. After all, hell would kinda suck, right? So why are there atheists? Or agnostics? How could it possibly benefit them to take such a risk with their eternal destinies?
Although it seems pretty simple and straight-forward, there are plenty of objections to this argument. What critics are objecting to is Pascal's subsequent advice to an unbeliever who, having concluded that the only rational way to wager is in favor of God's existence, points out, reasonably enough, that this by no means makes him a believer. A belief based solely on prudential reasoning is not true belief after all. A God who is all-knowing will clearly see through this facade. If this type of "faith" can get you into heaven, then heaven will, undoubtedly, be filled with selfish people-people who don't necessarily want to worship God, but who wanted to save their tails from his wrath for all eternity.
Another objection is that people just can't do this. Meaning, there are plenty of nonbelievers who are scared of hell, but not scared enough to follow the Lord. They can't just look at this wager and say, "Hey this is right...well, I'm a Christian now!" Think about it. Have you ever met a Christian whose testimony was "Well I became a Christian when I realized that I didn't want to go to hell and thought I'd play it safe." I've heard hundreds of testimonies of how people came to Christ, and that's one I've never personally heard. Clearly, this reasoning would cause us to raise our eyebrows and seriously question the sincerity of this person's faith.
So, you may be thinking, didn't Pascal understand that? Is he as shallow as to think that people can just "believe" on a whim? Actually, he's on to something.
I have asked the following question to at least ten people who were not Christians: "If Jesus came down right now and asked you to follow him for the rest of your life, would you?" I got nine "no"s for an answer and one "maybe". That should tell us right there that, it's not that we don't believe because we're just not convinced. We don't believe because we don't want to. It's not an intellectual decision, but a moral one.
This wager should tell us a lot about ourselves. Pascal is quoted as saying, "Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true." The fact that it would do nothing but benefit us...for eternity....to follow God, yet we don't....that should tell us about the genuineness of our beliefs (or lack thereof). We would rather stay how we are, in our risky state, than submit to God. There are plenty of Scripture verses to show that we are actually not in a morally neutral state. We cannot just, on a whim, choose good or evil. We are, by nature, slaves to sin (Romans 6:6). We have a free will but not a good will. We will always choose not to obey God, because we would rather go our own way. We would rather serve ourselves than our Creator, for no other reason than because it pleases us more to do things our way. Had Adam and Eve's scenario been replaced with you and me, we would've chosen the same thing. The only thing that can free us from our bondage to slavery is Christ's sacrifice and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The only reason anyone is a Christian, including myself, is because God has chosen to lift the veil that blinds our eyes and recreate our heart in such a way that it simply cannot say no to him. We love Christ. We can't get enough of him. The sin we once loved, we now abandon, and the Christ we once ignored, we now embrace.
Read this carefully: Christianity has never been about being convinced of God's existence, or merely about "believing" he exists. NEWSFLASH: Satan believes in God! "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder" (James 2:19). But last time I checked, demons are not going to heaven. Just believing in God's existence isn't what gets people to heaven.
I don't look forward to heaven because there's going to be happiness, no more death, and peace. I ultimately look forward to heaven because I get Christ! I get to forever be with him and learn about him for the rest of eternity.
I think John Piper puts it best: ""Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel."
*For the sake of consistency and simplicity, we are assuming the existence of the Christian God for this argument
What are your thoughts on Pascal's Wager? Is it safer to assume there is a God? If it is, why are there people who don't believe?