Christianity might seem strange to some, particularly to those who haven’t had a revelation of the reality of God. But when we come to understand the Christian worldview, and how it relates to every human being, we are all forced to consider seriously the idea of salvation and whether ignoring what the Bible says about life after death is really an option.
Such was the conclusion that 17th century French theologian Blaise Pascal arrived at, and which motivated him to compose what subsequently became known as Pascal’s Wager.
Pascal’s argument can be summarised as follows:
- If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
- If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
- If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus an insignificant loss.
- If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus an insignificant gain.
The conclusion that can be drawn from the above statements is that when the odds are weighed, it is most rational to believe in God, and to live accordingly.
Problems with the Wager
There are several problems with the Wager that immediately come to mind. Firstly, the problem of different religions believing in different gods. Choosing to obey the Muslim god would lead to a completely different life than if one chose to obey the Christian god. Even if we agree with Pascal’s argument, we are still faced with the question: Which god do I follow?
Alongside this problem there is also the fact that faith isn’t a momentary decision, but rather a lifelong commitment. I would argue that even if one reaches the conclusion that the rational position is to believe in the Christian God, it’s very difficult (perhaps impossible) to live a committed religious life, unless one’s faith is genuine and springs from knowledge of God’s existence rather than a mere intellectual decision.
The Possibility of Going to Hell
There’s no doubt in my mind that the existence of hell is a logical possibility. I have experienced moments of horrible suffering in my life, and it’s obvious to me that if God can make me suffer terribly in one moment, He could do so for eternity, if that were his will.
But would God really be so cruel? As I ponder my life experience, and the lives of others, I see that although people do suffer, and sometimes terribly, that suffering is always under control, and ultimately limited. It seems to me that God eventually liberates people from suffering, either by healing them, restoring their peace, or ending their lives. Of course, I have no idea what people experience in the afterlife, but I have a hope (and it is only a hope) that God ultimately shows mercy to all sentient beings.
Divine Judgment and Free Will
The whole area of divine judgment is one I have considered deeply, and my personal view is that if God is in control of our lives, as I believe He is, then judgment is a peculiar concept. If there is a day of judgment, God will be judging His creatures for actions that have unfolded in accordance with His sovereign will, which seems strange. There is not space here to examine this problem in depth, but I have done so in my essay An Almighty Predicament, which looks at key arguments for and against Christianity, and which you can download for free on my Essays page.
While I feel the force of the argument presented in Pascal’s Wager, I cannot be wholly dedicated to Christianity while there are certain areas of Christian doctrine that don’t make logical sense to me. To suppress these areas is in my experience incredibly difficult, as whenever I am immersed in Christian living the doubts and problems I have with Christian doctrine come to the surface of my mind and make it virtually impossible to be wholly dedicated to the faith.
It’s not a matter of backsliding, and I want to make that clear. It’s not about falling into sin, or wanting to choose an easy life. I would rather lead a difficult life and avoid hell, of course. But I have a (God-given?) concern and passion for truth, and I find that however much I fear God, and fear hell, I am not able to come to terms with the inconsistencies in Christian doctrine that cause me to draw back from the faith.
Are you convinced by Pascal’s Wager? Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts.