Ponderings on Pascal’s Wager

Pascal argued that if we do not know whether God exists or not, we should play it safe and believe, rather than risk being sorry. In his time and culture, that was likely a reasonable stance… but in the day’s of Apostle Paul, taking such a position seems pretty counterproductive. Consider what he said in 1 Cor 15:19

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

I remember reading this way back when and often thought, what on earth was Paul talking about. Did he secretly think that approaching life with an eat drink and be merry today for tomorrow we die attitude was better? Was he so enamored with getting rich, that the costs of following Jesus were just too high? Or maybe he had held a high degree of bloodlust such that exacting his own form of justice on others was so much better than letting God take care of things.

It just didn’t add up… until one considers Christianity in Paul’s time was very small in scope and easily overpowered by the Romans in their might makes right approach. In a related vein, you had the Roman’s saying, follow our laws, worship our King or die, you had the Jews looking for any deviations of their purity codes to squash, you had folks looking for easy marks, ie those who followed the beatitudes and/or the golden rule to take advantage of. Christian’s were often discriminated against, persecuted, tortured or killed… so in that respect, following Jesus was fraught with peril. Thus, if there was no God, if there was no resurrection, then followers of Jesus subjected themselves to persecution and death for no reason.

Pascal’s era and culture were vastly different than Paul’s though, likely not all that different than when cultural Christianity reigned in the US. Ie, when you needed to be a Christian church member in good standing to be eligible for promotions at work, to run for public office, to be eligible to become a well thought of pillar of the community, and in some locations, to even buy real estate or conduct trade. In other words, not only was there an eternal issue to be concerned with, there was an earthly one too. The costs of believing were pretty limited in scope and in some cases, it may well have been quite costly to not do so.

And this makes things messy… likely not all that different than the day after the feeding of the 5000. Folks returned and Jesus sort of called them on the carpet in John 6:26

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

Such is where the dangers of semi-Pelagianism wrt to Pascal’s wager come to rise, ie that we on our own power can choose to believe, in contrast with what Jesus had to say a couple times in John 6.

44. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

and 63-65
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

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