“Pascal’s Wager” is not a proof for God. It is, however, a very powerful common-sense argument for belief in God. Atheists often try to tone down the impact of this “wager.” They say it is no longer logical. But it’s not a proof. It’s not a logical argument. The “wager” is an appeal to common-sense. God gives us an eternal choice that is amazing. Common-sense appeals to us to accept God’s offer. That’s Pascal’s message.
Blaise Pascal was a genius. He also was a child prodigy.
Pascal was born in France in 1623. His mother died when he was three years old. In 1642, he invented a mathematical calculator. The calculator was decades before its time.
In 1654, Pascal had a religious experience. He started writing Christian theology and philosophy. He died in 1662. He was 39 years old.
His most famous theological work is titled Pensées. Pascal wanted to write a philosophy book to defend Christianity. He started writing down his thoughts on scraps of paper. He never finished his book. After his death, his friends collected these scraps of paper. They put them together in a book. We know that book today as Pensées (French for “thoughts”).
The papers in Pensées were numbered. “Pascal’s Wager” is section number 233. It is not a proof for the existence of God. Science cannot conclusively prove the existence (or non-existence) of God. However, consider what is at stake. Your own personal eternity lies in the balance. Look at the evidence. God offers us eternal life. Only a very foolish person would reject God’s offer.
“Yes,” Pascal would say, “we cannot prove these things. But why take a chance? Don’t reject God and lose an eternal life in glory.”
Here are some excerpts from section 233 of Pensées.
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. . . .
Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, I Cor. 1. 21.
I Corinthians 1: 21 says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (NAS) Pascal continues, “it is in lacking proofs that they [Christians]are not lacking in sense.” Reason cannot help us here.
Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? . . . you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked.
We have no choice. The game of life is on. Who is right – the Christian or the atheist? How should you wager? Pascal says to look at the gains and the loses.
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
Suppose you choose God. If the Christian faith is a lie, you lose nothing. When you die you will lie down in the dirt, next to the atheist. There is no future life. You lose nothing. But what if the Christian faith is true? You gain everything. You gain eternal life in glory with God.
Let’s Sweeten the Pot
“What do I have to gain?” The unbeliever wants to know. Pascal asks, “How much are you willing to lose?” If the odds were even, you probably don’t want to bet very much. But what if the odds were two to one? Would you be willing to wager a little more? Would you trade your life for two lives in return? You could gain twice as much.
What if the odds were three to one? How much would you wager? Perhaps a little more. You must play anyways. Why not win as much as you can? Three lives for your one life. What a bargain. But Pascal’s wager goes much further than that.
But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. . . . there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.
Give up everything to gain and infinitely happy life. Renounce everything. Believe in God. Follow Christ. Or, as Pascal asks, “Would you act stupidly?”
The odds are infinity to one. And if in the remote, almost impossible chance that you lose, you lose nothing.
What Would You Have Me Do?
That’s a valid question. We are talking about your life. Give it all to God for some “pie in the sky” idea? I don’t have enough information. And you say I must choose? Pascal says on the behalf of the unbeliever:
Is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards? . . . I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?
Even if I want this new life, how do I get it? It’s difficult for me to believe. What path should I take? Show me the way. Pascal says, “Follow the way of those who have gone before.”
You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed
This path worked for millions of unbelievers in the past. If this path helps you reach faith, follow it. Go to church. Study the Bible. Find a Bible study group. Study the lives of great Christians of the past: William Wilberforce; Francis of Assisi; Mother Theresa. Realize the great secret of their life. It was prayer and daily, personal contact with God.
My path was different. I grew up in church. Church did not mean anything to me. I did all of the things you are supposed to do. My life was empty. Why, I asked?
I never asked God for help. I tried to “be a good person” by myself. But I was not good enough or strong enough. I could not follow God consistently and with my whole heart.
What did I do? I asked God for help. Not once; not twice. Every day I asked God to make me the person He wants me to be. I started going to church again. I studied the Bible daily. I found Christian friends. I’m not perfect. But those who know me say I’m a lot better than I was. And I know God as a close, personal Friend. Abba, Father.
Life is like a twisted road. You cannot walk it without help. The road is not just twisted; we walk it in the dark. It’s like trying to find your way through a forest on a cloudy, moonless night. You can’t see your hand. Not even when you hold it six inches in front of your face.
Who can help you navigate this road called life? Jesus says, “Follow me.” Pray. Ask for help. Listen to what Jesus says. This will help you in at least two ways.
First, you are following Jesus. What better person can you follow? He loves and cares about you. When the path is steep, He’s there to help. When crossing deep rivers, He’s there to take your hand. At the worst times He may even carry you. When you are tired, He will let you rest a while. His touch is tender. Follow Him.
Second, you get to spend time with Jesus. The most wonderful Person who ever lived becomes your best Friend. And His personal characteristics will rub off on you. He will teach you love and kindness. You will develop patience and gentleness. He will guide you into peace. As the Bible says:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Psalm 23: 1-3 (NIV)
Or, as Pascal concludes:
Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognize that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.
May God help you find the path. Follow Jesus. Ask for God’s help. You will gain riches and lose almost nothing.
Criticisms of “Pascal’s Wager”
Non-believers tend to not like Pascal’s wager. They found ways to criticize it. Here are a couple of the most common criticisms.
The first criticism is this: “Pascal’s Wager” does not prove God exists. Pascal agrees. Go back to the start of this essay. What does Pascal say in the very first quote? God is incomprehensible.” Pascal said, “We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is.” Remember?
Of course it’s not a proof for God.
Why put it in a section titled “Proofs for God?” Because so many atheists say it is no longer a valid proof for God. The atheists are right for once. “Pascal’s Wager” is something else. It’s a common-sense challenge to believe in God.
Pascal challenges you to take a chance on God. You have infinity to gain and very little to lose. If you try God and the Bible is true, you gain eternal life in paradise. If the Bible is wrong, you lose nothing.
Atheists don’t like this challenge. The challenge is too powerful. Only a very foolish person will pass it up. Choose God. It is a perfect example of common-sense.
Another criticism of the wager is this: It is oriented toward only one interpretation of God. The Christian faith is the only belief represented in the challenge.
Once again the atheists are right. They don’t get things right very often.
Why is the Christians faith the only one mentioned by Pascal? Because Christianity is the only faith that offers these promises. Christianity presents a God of pure love. He longs for us to walk with Him. He pleads with us to follow Him. Through faith in Jesus Christ we become God’s children. We become heirs to the Kingdom of God. No other religion offers so much for so little.
God loves you. Take Pascal’s wager and see. You have everything to gain and very little to lose.