reading Pascal

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)

"I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber." (Blaise Pascal)

"'There is no peace,' says the LORD, 'for the wicked.'" (Isaiah 48:22)

WE ARE RESTLESS. Why don't people see that knowing God, their Creator and Redeemer, would bring such great and eternal satisfaction? In his Confessions Augustine wrote about the restlessness within the heart of man before coming to God. John Calvin in his Institutes wrote about how our misery and alienation from God should drive us to seek to know who God is, that we may find in him the life and peace we long for. But generally, people seek for peace through other pursuits: money, politics, sex, romance, the joy of sports, victories, fame and recognition from fellow professionals, or reputation in our community. There is "eternity in their hearts", but they don't want to think about it. 

PASCAL AND DIVERSIONS. Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) was a brilliant French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and philosopher. Around 1660, toward the end of his life (he died at 39), he was working on a manuscript, The Evidences of Religion, which was an apologetical defense of Christianity. He died before finishing it, and a posthumous edition of his entries (some of them just sentence fragments) were collected topically and published as Pascal's "Thoughts" (French, Pensées).

MISERY. The second section of entries is "The Misery of Man without God" (#60--#183). By misery he does not primarily mean physical or medical conditions, but rather, our moral and spiritual corruption. His main idea is that people should be seriously seeking God since they know that life is short and uncertain, that sin brings misery, judgment is coming, and eternity is a long, long time. But rather, people pursue ways of not thinking about this at all. When he writes of "diversions" he is writing about all the pursuits in life which divert us from the all-important pursuit of God.  

Here are some of his statements, the entry number being in brackets. I've added a few of my own comments in parentheses. 

[67] The vanity of the sciences. Physical science will not console me for the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences. (What good does it do us to say that "scientific studies show that...", when we have no basis from which to discern what is right and what is wrong in applying those findings.) 

[84] The imagination enlarges little objects so as to fill our souls with a fantastic estimate; and, with rash insolence, it belittles the great to its own measure, as when talking of God. (That is, we make little things to be a big deal, while neglecting or disparaging the really important things.)

[100] [A person] devotes all his attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself...  Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence... Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart.

[131] Weariness. Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.             

[139] I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. (In other words, we can't sit still and be happy, because deep down we're unhappy and don't want to think about it. So, we go off chasing something...)

[141] Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare [rabbit hunting]; it is the pleasure even of kings. (I.e., sports take precedence over eternal matters.)

[146] Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end. Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man.

[150] Vanity is so anchored in the heart of man... [Everyone] wishes to have his admirers. Even philosophers wish for them. (Pascal recognized that about himself!)

[152] Most frequently we wish to know but to talk. (We want to learn things not so much to become wise, but in order to impress others with what we know.)

[162] Cleopatra’s nose: had it been shorter, the whole aspect of the world would have been altered. (I love this! It's the idea that if Cleopatra hadn't been so physically beautiful Roman leaders would not have engaged in such tumult as they did, and the empire could have been spared so much death in warfare.)

[165] If our condition were truly happy, we would not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy. (Again, why are we so restless?)

[168] Diversion. As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all. (It's easier to avoid those troubling thoughts...)

[171] Misery. The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it.

[183] We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it. (The conclusion to this section of Pensées: people are running toward death, ruin, and eternal judgment, and yet, they are doing everything they can to avoid seeing it. They do not want to know the truth about themselves nor about God.) 

The point is -- and this is just the first of his section on apologetics -- that our human misery, sin, and deception should drive us to seek God, rather than to avoid matters by pursuing whatever will cause us to forget our true condition before a righteous God. 



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