Covering Pascal’s Wager

From time to time, we all get hit with evidence of our mortality. Last Thursday, Erick was rushed into the CVICU (cardio-vascular) and told by his doctors that he shouldn’t be alive. In 2005, I visited a close family friend in that same ICU who suffered a gunshot wound with four separate “1 percent” injuries–what doctors call medical conditions with a 99 percent mortality rate.

He ended up spending 40 consecutive days in the STICU (“the stick” for surgical trauma) battling what is normally a “catastrophic” necrosis and septic infection from the bullet’s damaging shock wave. My friend was 22 at the time. Against all odds, he fully recovered, married the sweetheart who stuck with him through the entire ordeal, earned a bachelors and masters degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech (with honors) and lives on the west coast with a growing family.

Don’t tell me God doesn’t exist.

Yet when I write a piece about how America has thrown off our moral moorings, I always hear how there’s no God.

You’re entitled to believe that. Our country was not founded as a theocracy. It was founded, as the Mayflower Compact read, “Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king & country.” But God gains no glory from forcing others to believe in Him.

But let me first ask you a question: Are you prepared to cover Pascal’s wager?

Either life is this short, sensory-overloaded headlong plunge into YOLO, followed by nothing, or it’s just the very tip of a journey to infinity. The fulcrum upon which our choice balances is whether we believe that the universe was created by an uncaused, all-powerful, intelligent agent or it’s just here as a result of its own accident.

Since none of us was here when the “Big Bang” happened, we can’t rely on reason to provide an answer.

The wager is simple.

1. God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
3. You must wager (it is not optional). We all die.
4. 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. (…) 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. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

You can either live your one life as if there is no God, and die with an equal chance of missing an infinity of happiness, trading it for an infinity of judgment and separation from God. Or you can live your one life as if God exists, giving up even all that you possess in order to attain an eternal reward.

If you give up all and are wrong, you’ve only lost a few common and fleeting pleasures in your one life, which you still lived happily believing for a reward. Really, you’ve lost nothing that you didn’t have to begin with. But if you give up the eternal reward and are wrong, you’ve lost everything.

That’s a bet I would not, could not, cover. Nobody could. All the riches of the world could not be enough to cover that wager. It’s not a safe bet, ever.

Faith in a God that cannot be proven rationally is not rational. However, belief that you should have faith is perfectly reasonable, as Pascal, a mathematician and philosopher, laid out in an airtight argument. Even Pascal acknowledged that not all can believe–that faith is an irrational action of the mind. He addressed it this way.

But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. 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, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.

Pascal’s wager does not hinge on whether you do believe now–it hinges on your conclusion that you ought to believe because it’s the only rational action. Once you have considered this, you should begin to see others, who have given up their own lives for the sake of the Gospel, not as fools, but as the wisest people on Earth.

One day, we all become the ultimate statistic: 10 out of 10 of us will die. How will you answer Pascal’s wager?

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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