Reflections with Blaise Pascal
If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous. –Blaise Pascal (Pensees).
Above is a quote from one of the most important Christian thinkers, and perhaps one of the most significant thinkers in general, that 17th century Europe has produced. Blaise Pascal was a famous French mathematician who is known for both his intelligence and passion in all areas of his life. Pascal was passionately devoted to scientific inquiries in which his tremendous intelligence was displayed. His work in certain areas of science has influenced many generations and still has sway in the scientific community today. Though Pascal is known for his brilliance scientifically, he was also a zealous enthusiast in espousing true doctrine as it pertained to the Christian faith.
It is my humble opinion that we as the modern church are able to learn great and important truths from this thinker and apply them to our Christian worldview. In reading through Pascal’s Pensees, the quote from above is one that has forever been entrenched into the depths my mind. I say this because I think that Christians today can glean great biblical insight for their faith by critically thinking through Pascal’s expression. The great truth advocated by Pascal is that our Christian faith has features of being both mysterious and reasonable; both are essential to Christianity and you cannot have one without the other. If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. One of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith is to realize that we serve a God who is incomprehensible to the finite human mind. This is not to say that humans are unable to know God in any way, such as a bizarre deism would have us to believe, but rather that the full extent of God’s being and actions cannot be fully grasped. The Apostle Paul agrees when he states,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Rom. 11-33-36 (ESV)
Note that Paul’s admission of God’s greatness is the finale to some of the most theologically rich chapters in all of Scripture. Paul concludes his thought on doctrine with the admission that God’s ways are unfathomable. Also, the noted Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, begins his work on the doctrine of God with this statement,
Mystery is the vital element of Dogmatics…nevertheless, the idea that the believer would be able to understand and comprehend intellectually the revealed mysteries is equally unscriptural. On the contrary, the truth which God has revealed concerning himself in nature and in Scripture far surpasses human conception and comprehension. In that sense Dogmatics is concerned with nothing but mystery, for it does not deal with finite creatures, but from beginning to end raises itself above every creature to the Eternal and Endless One himself” (Doctrine of God, Pg. 18)
The point to consider from Pascal’s admission is that our Christian faith is not the result of some Cartesian rationalism in which we cannot accept unless totally proven by reason. In fact, the only reason why we are able to know God at all is because He has revealed Himself to us in Christ (Jn. 1:18). If God had not revealed Himself in Christ, then we would be completely in the dark as to what He is like and what He does. So then, perhaps the correct application of Pascal’s thought in the sense is to humble ourselves before God and proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” For God is a God so great that our finite humanity is not able to fully comprehend such a glorious being, but thanks to God’s goodness, we are able to know who He is because He revealed Christ to an undeserving and sinful humanity. This truth should humble our hearts and entice true biblical worship.
If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous. On the other hand, though we often should admit ignorance when it comes to the reality of God’s being and actions, Pascal also argues that without reason our faith is absurd and ridiculous. This, too, should be accepted in light of biblical testimony. One such example comes to mind in dealing with the resurrection of Jesus.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. – 1 Cor. 15:3-6
An important theme that distinguishes Christianity from other religions is that it is historical. Christianity does not rely merely on the mystical in what it claims. In fact, Christianity is a testimony of the fact that God has come to His people in actual human history. This is ultimately displayed through the coming of Christ into human flesh, by His death, and His resurrection as the text above describes. Scripture attests to a faith that is reasonable based on the truth that God has visited His people and communed with them. It is not as if we are left to only deal with only the realm of the mysterious or the unknown, but rather we have good reason to believe in the work and actions of a mysterious and ultimately, incomprehensible, God. Since God has entrenched Himself in human history and revealed Himself, we have good reason to believe Scripture’s testimony.
So then, the importance of Pascal’s thought is two-fold. As Christians we must remember that God is completely incomprehensible in that we will never exhaust our knowledge of Him. We will never be able to reduce God to some philosophical syllogism in which we are able know Him extensively. He is infinite and we are not. We are to also remember that though God is mysterious, our faith is also reasonable because God has indeed visited His people and has revealed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. Let God then receive many praises because of His greatness.
Check these out: