I know most people have given some thought to the afterlife, perhaps they have been influenced by popular media, movies, books, or relatives. They may have been given imagery of clouds and angels floating in the atmosphere as young children, and they have never let go of this “angelic” image of a heavenly existence. My wife, is often very intrigued about the stories of those who have claimed to visit the other side of existence, and with words unable to describe the beauty they saw, show us all by the abrupt change and acceptance of God in their lives. Unfortunately for the western world and the predominance of Judeo/Christian beliefs, a swell of non-belief seems to have begun. Largely the ranks of unbelief range with a spectrum of complete apathy and nonacceptance, to the disillusioned who have personal demons to wrangle with and assume the responsibility on their own (at least this is what they tell themselves). However, the whole topic, as a perfunctory pursuit of faith has always grabbed my attention. Those in life, who are so sure there is no existence past the one we know now, and are willing to bet the farm to prove it. From talk-show hosts, to movie stars, to the guy in the office next to you, we see more and more people embracing nothing as faith and the degradation of morals in their wakes. Relativism is on the rise, people can do what they please as long as it isn’t hurtful (in the legal sense) and at the same time, judgement is only reserved when we, as the all-knowing judges, permit a subjective reality to measure each situation hiding behind an austere façade of objectivity. If I were a betting man, this would be the equivalent of walking up to a table of hardened poker players, betting the house, and expecting to win on the first bet. Life just doesn’t happen like this. Expectations of no work, no planning, and no struggle are what you expect to hear from youth with little to no experience in this world, and not from intelligent and compassionate individuals. So, Blaise Pascal, in the early 17th century proposed the structure of what would be called “Pascal’s Wager”, representing two choices. The first choice is to believe the existence of life ends when we die, no more, nothingness abounding. The second, is a belief in God and eternal life based on our faith and struggles within the context of our faith. The wager is presented as, even if you don’t believe, wouldn’t it be far better to try and believe on the off chance there really is a God, and this God has given you free will. In other words, isn’t it better to hedge your bets on the belief of a God, rather than bet everything you have on nothing?
This is truly a wager of biblical proportions, it carries with it the most venial of human thoughts when trying to figure out a problem, but is presented with a coldness only an atheist could embrace. So, where do you go from here? Can anyone be so sure there is nothing, to take the wager and bet on nothing?
Over the years, after many discussions with my wife, and her help to expose the holes in my general thought processes, and we’ve wondered what it actually takes to convince a person there is nothing, not to be confused with an agnostic but a true atheist? This is to say, what happens in the intellectual growth of a person, personal events of their life, or the perceptions they form from all the above to lean on the side of the argument with the least amount of proof. To be fair, there isn’t one conclusive argument from a modern standpoint which indicates the existence, and all I mean is, there wasn’t an event where the heavens opened up, God leaned down and uttered, “Well, now you know”. However, this isn’t to say there isn’t any evidence whatsoever either. So briefly, I wanted to take a look at those events which might push someone away from Christ’s light, and then what may be the most reflective sources to show us the true path of faith.
To begin, people fall away from faith every day, for one reason or another, but what seems to be the most insipid reason tends to be a personal desire for self rather than other. Perhaps the desire to do what we want to do, but then we become turned off because men or women who don’t know anything about our lives insist on telling us what to do. This oligarchy of moralistic teaching teeters on the fact, we were not consulted before the decision was determined. Which seems to lift up the selfish indignation we feel, and moral high-ground we assume to possess without ever realizing the moral struggle it takes to know the high-ground is nothing we want to be on. Some people are just plain bored with what it takes to know God, the silence it requires of us, and in a culture so bent on the need for entertainment at every second, silence is the last distraction we want to deal with. Then there is the problem with pain and suffering, the only seemingly good argument from the surface, an atheist has. However, placed into a proper context, becomes a straw man argument, based in a logical fallacy. Whatever the reason someone fails to believe in the unending love of God, for them the reason is non-negotiable, and in order to thwart this self-determined knowledge, the wager presents a scenario where even the most hardened of critics would have a hard time disavowing.
Unfortunately, people are disavowing God in greater numbers than we’ve ever seen. These were some of the reasons which plagued my own journey of faith, these reasons presented a challenge which I wrote of as passe but in my own brand of apathy I embraced. I never really gave much thought or time to the mediocrity I existed in, I only was just living and living for myself primarily. When we see those around us embracing an existence without God, aren’t we willing to do just about anything in a hope they will see the joy we see? This is how I feel a lot of the time, I want to present the truth as I know it, but I constantly run in to people who never see what I’m explaining the way I see it. They are firmly rooted in non-belief, and like I pointed out before, many stick to the problem of pain and suffering. So, let’s address this. Why does pain exist? In Aquinas, Summa Theologica, he presents the argument from the objection first; if something is infinitely good, then it cannot be bad, and since there is evil (bad) on Earth, then this is the proof God doesn’t exist. On its surface, this seems like a well thought out theological point of view, but if we examine the result of this objection against a back drop of free will, we find it carries no merit whatsoever. A benevolent God, who is love, meaning God can be nothing but love, creates in us the ability for love but at the same time knows there will be those who choose the opposite and in order to acquiesce on his gift of free will, he allows us to act accordingly. God doesn’t just love me, or you, but God loves all, and in order to give the free will, he must allow the narrative to play out as it will. This may seem unusually harsh, the knowledge God has the ability to stop pain, but doesn’t, creates a sense of resentment for many. However, this plays to the knowledge, we neither know the narrative nor are we privy to the conclusion, but we must accept our role in the story and embrace the author who lovingly created us as a character in this life. The ability to endure pain, creates in us the knowledge of God’s existence, as a matter of truth, God’s truth in our lives is presented in such a way, a greater good might come from the pain or suffering developed from the sin of another.
Years ago, I attended a funeral for a young woman, who passed away from cancer. The church was filled with relatives, schoolmates, community members, and clergy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, this was a young woman who truly touched the lives of the people she was around, based on all the words spoken about her, she was the brightest reflection of light possible. She loved God, and to us, it seemed as if God was taking her life away from her. For what reason? Why did she have to go, and not some deranged killer terrorizing children? The answer came in the words spoken by the priest as a reminder of who Christ was and who she was to him. The priest, a very well-spoken man, who always seems to have the right words at the right time said, “Her journey in this life is over, she rejoices in the presence of God”. These words struck me like a thunderbolt and mixed with the words of my wife, “each one of us has our own cross to bear”. Take a minute and think about this. For anyone who doesn’t believe in God, this might sound like the hopes of a deluded man, but for those with true faith, usually a not and a grunt of acceptance follows. Like when talking to anyone with life experience to anyone with little or none, a truth is revealed and all we know to do is nod. We accept it, we acknowledge its place in our existence, and by our nod and grunt, and we accept what we need to do in order to meet this head on. Ok, so where does Pascal’s Wager come into play? Right here, at this point this is where I would usually lose those sitting on the proverbial fence, their amusement in what I’m saying vanishing and their interest slowly going back to what they know (or rather don’t know) as a matter of course. The wager is presented to bring them back and show them an inescapable truth, although be it, a truth with choice.
The choice is as stated before, you can believe in nothing and you might be right, but wouldn’t it be better to believe in something and be wrong, because what have you lost by belief. An all or nothing scenario presented, and if we choose nothing, and there is something we lost it all. However, if choose God, and it turned out there was nothing, we would never know. I will admit, I don’t really like the coldness of this approach, even if it is true to one extent or another. The fact of the matter is, God isn’t a bargaining chip, and a life lived without faith is a life which never experienced true joy.
This is where we seem to be at in relation to where God expects us to be, which is to say, we are below the level of a simpleton to the knowledge of God, and our intellectual postulates of final determination are more musings and rudimentary modes of thought much like a dog trying to figure out how the food comes out of the hole in a dispenser. This isn’t to say we are dogs, but from the relativistic point of view in thought, we are similar in distance from intellectual capabilities. So, it seems due to this understanding, God expects this from us, and in doing so, all which is needed, is the spirit and willingness to look towards the light. Pascal’s Wager seems to be an attempt to do just this.
As to the relevance of thought which doesn’t exclude the wager, but emboldens the existence for what the wager proffers, are those events (miraculous in nature making them supernatural events) presented to us as evidence of God’s love. Instead of waiting for a voice to come from Heaven (which if we heard, we may dismiss as some new technology), we need to step back and deduce what it is we’re seeing. Since we have the ability to intuit what we see on a regular basis, is it out of a realm of possibility to determine a supernatural existence when there is no plausible explanation of the event, and an event which is determinedly an exposition of God’s love. Those with true faith know when they read or see something of an extraordinary nature exactly what it is, but those with little or no faith excuse away the events as explainable, even if they can’t explain it. The wager is present to bridge the gap in their own minds as a means of transportation to one day get to believe the supernatural explanation of the event, even if they don’t know how it happened. For instance, when many people saw Christ die on the cross, their hopes for a messiah (a chosen one) were dashed, because of their fervor and the fervor of the Pharisees searching for them, they chose to hide. However, their faith was rewarded, by Jesus’s presence among them for the next forty days. His presence, emboldened them to truly embrace their faith, and their actions in this life emboldens our own faith, two-thousand years later. Those who read, but don’t believe attempt to come up with simple explanations to the existence of our very nature. Seems a little lopsided to me, but at the same rate, they usually won’t be swayed, so presenting a truth to them in the very paradigm of their own existence as though it were a mirror allowing them to see a glimpse of what’s behind them, allows for an ignition of what may be the beginnings of a true faith. God doesn’t need us to know immediately, God just needs our desire to know and He’ll do the rest.
With all the events over time which have occurred, but with the amount of time between events, it’s easy to see sometimes how people can become so removed from God’s light. However, much like Pascal’s Wager, we see those timeless examples of rational thought on what might be considered the irrational or at the very least super-rational as a means of grip rather than explanation. It’s very easy for us to exclaim a person isn’t listening when they don’t believe what it is we have to say, or they don’t buy what we’re giving them as it relates to Christ’s Divinity. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, they were probably raised different, with a different upbringing, different influences, different politics, and because of their differences to your own, have a common ground is unlikely to happen. However, if there is foothold for them to climb up the mountain of faith, then they have a real chance to begin their push towards God’s love, and this push is really all it ever takes, because faith isn’t always an accent up the vertical face of a mountain, sometimes it’s the landslide from the mountain which gains speed and momentum the further along it goes.
Pascal’s Wager is a simple way to combat a paradigm of thought in faith. Those who say, “I can never believe in something so ridiculous” are attempting to explain the unexplainable, but leaving the theory of choice at their feet will begin to chip away at their façade of arrogance, hopefully it will give them enough time to allow God’s joy to enter their hearts. The world is of God, so too should the people. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!