All or nothing.
by Desmond Ford
The Frenchman, Blaise Pascal, was a genius. He invented and sold the first calculating machine, a forerunner of the computer. He also planned the public transportation system for Paris. He was a wonderful man, but died aged 39. He wore himself out with think ing, I think.
Pascal had a wager for unbelievers: “Belief in God is rational. That’s because if God does not exist, one stands to lose nothing by believing in him anyway; while if God does exist, one stands to lose everything by not believing.” Thus, the person who believes has everything to win and nothing to lose. The person who does not believe has everything to lose and nothing to win.
I remember once being worried when I was living and studying in Michigan. One or two of our children was sick. I was supposed to do several years’ study in about a year and a half. One of my teachers was an alcoholic, another was a homosexual. There were various other problems.
I was cycling along one day, worried. Suddenly, I believe the Spirit must have witnessed with my spirit.
If there is a God, came the thought, there’s nothing to worry about. God knows all and can do all. He’ll make all things work together for good. And if there is no God, again, there’s nothing to worry about, because nothing has value.
Nothing is worth worrying about unless God is. (And if God is, then we don’t have to worry because we are in His care.) If there is no God, there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, there is no value. If there is no value, there is no use getting upset about anything. So there is no use worrying if there is no God. Why move?
Winning and losing
An ancient philosopher was telling his disciples that there is no good reason for doing anything. At that moment, a chariot, out of control, came hurtling toward the philosophical group. The philosopher ran as fast as the others. The students asked, “Why did you run? You said it doesn’t matter what you do.”
The philosopher explained, “That’s why I ran. It didn’t matter.”
If God is there, there is nothing to worry about. If God is not there, there’s nothing to worry about. That’s my paraphrase of Pascal’s wager.
The believer has everything to win and nothing to lose by believing. Eternity, joy, meaning, reason — all these glorious things to gain. The unbeliever has everything to lose and nothing to win. All the unbeliever has is hollowness and deadness.
Unbelief is deadening
Deadness. That is why some people are so frantically living. That is why they have to keep the radio or TV on all the time. That is why they must fill their lives with noise.
My wife Gill calls it static. That’s appropriate. People fill their lives with static. They are madly dashing down this path or that. Their busyness crowds out the great thought “If I am a responsible being, what will happen when I die?”
People don’t want to face that. They are afraid to face it. Pascal was right: He knew that keeping ourselves occupied isn’t enough. He tried at one point to live a frivolous life. (It is said he laid down the principles of probability theory as he tried to win at gambling.) But frivolity is not enough.
Of course, Pascal’s wager is not the reason we become Christians, despite the truth of his wager. The reason we become Christians is that the love of Christ compels us (see 2 Corinthians 5:14). But it doesn’t hurt to remember that unbelief has nothing to offer.
Emptiness of philosophy
David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, had a Christian mother. When she heard of the splendor of her son’s genius, she was converted to his atheism.
Years went by. David received a letter from his mother.
My dear son, my health has failed me. I am in a deep decline. I cannot long survive. My philosophy affords me no comfort in my distress. I am left without the hope and consolations of religion. My mind is sinking into a state of despair.
If you can afford me some substitute for the loss of the hope of religion, I pray you will hasten home to console me. Or at least write to me regarding the consolations that philosophy affords at the dying hour.
The famous philosopher had nothing to say.
Is it not an amazing thing? All the philosophies of the ages have been unable to agree on one single thing.
A philosopher without the Bible is a blind man in a room without windows and with no light on, searching for a black cat — that’s not there! All the philosophies of all the ages never agreed on one thing. Hume’s dying mother begged, “Send me the consolations of philosophy in my dying hours, as I’m weak and depressed and despairing. Send me the consolations.”
There aren’t any. I’ve taught philosophy at college; I know. There are no consolations in philosophy.
Sanity through faith
The Spirit of God gives us sanity. You don’t have to be a scholar. Victoria, a humble Christian, was worried about her agnostic shoe-repairer friend. She prayed that she might help her friend. She went to the shoe repair shop and asked, “My friend, answer me honestly and live by your answers. What sort of a world would it be if everybody loved Jesus and tried to follow Him?”
The shoe repairer thought for a while and said, “Well people like that would build up the world in goodness and hope and faith and love.”
“My second question is,” said Victoria, “What sort of world would it be if people who reject Jesus and reject God ruled everything? What sort of a world would that be?”
The shoemaker thought a while and said, “Well, that would break down everything. All that’s good and holy and pure and true would be broken down.”
He went on, “I see what you are saying. I see it. You have a faith that builds and I have a faith that destroys.”
Ingersoll and Moody
At the death of his brother, American orator, Robert Ingersoll, said, “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights, but only an echo answers our wailing cry.”
Ingersoll and Dwight L. Moody died the same year. The contrast was so tremendous that the newspapers noticed it.
Ingersoll’s mother and daughter would not allow his corpse to be taken out of the house. Only when the stench was so terrible was the body removed. The cremation service was without one ray of sunshine or hope. Everything was so depressing, the newspapers wrote it up as a tragic end.
Moody died at the same time. The morning of his death, his son heard him talking to God. He was praying, and it almost sounded as though he were singing. Then Moody said, “Son, this is no dark valley. This is bliss. My coronation is coming. This is no dark valley.”
Moody’s son instructed those in charge of the funeral, “Not one sad note. All is to be triumph and all be joy.” And it was.
We are remembered
I leave you with the story of the thief, one of the men put to death on a cross on either side of Jesus (see Luke 23:40-43).
Here is a man at his darkest extremity, his life ebbing away, a life that had been filled with evil. Suddenly, he is confronted with God’s incarnate love. He calls out to Jesus, “Lord, remember me.”
And Grace answers him, “You shall be remembered. Death is not the end. You will not be forgotten. Those mocking people down there think they are seeing the end of you. No, no, no. You shall be remembered.
“You will outlive the pyramids of Egypt. You will outlive sun and moon and stars. You will be remembered, and you will be with Me in paradise.”
Taken from an issue of Good News Unlimited. Used with permission.
About the Author
Dr. Desmond Ford is president of Good News Unlimited in Auburn, CA. You may e-mail him or GNU at firstname.lastname@example.org.