Blaise Pascal was a 17th Century mathematician, philosopher, and controversial apologist for the Christian faith. He is, for many, most known for the invention of the roulette wheel, and for “the wager.”
The wager put forward the idea that humans should believe and obey God as it is a rational act. If God doesn’t exist, a person will have only lived their lives with the insignificant loss of some pleasures, or temporal gain. If God does exist, however, a person who follows a faithful life will receive an incredible gain for their efforts (heaven). The inverse is also true, if there is a God, whose ways are not followed, then the rejector of God’s path will face ultimate loss (hell).
Personally, while I find the formula compelling, I still find it wanting theologically. It in a sense makes doing right a mercenary act, and reduces philanthropic altruism to an act of selfishness. The two great commands of the Law – to love God, and to love your neighbour become just calculated strategies for one’s own advancement.
Our faith should be as the hymn suggests “based on Jesus’ love and righteousness.” We do not work our way to heaven, nor connive to avoid hell. Salvation is a gift of God. As James’ epistle suggests, we work because we are saved, not to be saved. Our lives are acts of thanksgiving and of love. They should be no less.
How shall I approach my life,
to live for ill, or well?
Should it be just what’s good for me,
some wager by Pascal.
All concerns – for me alone,
making others’ lives a hell,
Me, myself, and I – come first,
Never a need to atone.
Even acts for others’ good,
the avoidance of acts untoward,
Seldom right for right’s own sake,
are but paths to some reward.
To serve God my creator
With heaven not the goal – main
For others’ blessings
I’ll strive to live, no matter what the pain.
This is no wager,
the roll of some cosmic dice.
It is but the right thing to do,
allowing no gains to entice.