Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Blaise Pascal

Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

The cackle or the egg?

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The cackle of a hen is a promise that she has laid an egg. But my farm boy experience taught me that sometimes the cackle was a false promise – no egg could be found.

Christians put a lot of emphasis on experiences, and rightly so. Christian life is a new life that must begin with a new birth, an experience. As we grow after the new birth, there should be other experiences: a deeper consecration, a correction in the course our life has been taking, a conviction about whom we should marry, a conviction for service.

I wonder, though, if we should put less emphasis on the experience and more on the result. Some people claim heart-warming experiences with the Lord, but nothing changes in their life. They have mistaken the cackle for the egg.

Blaise Pascal wrote that the heart of man is so wicked that as soon as he begins to think of getting converted he believes he is converted. Someone who has travelled in Christian circles long enough knows what an experience sounds like. He may want so badly to have his own experience that he manages to convince himself that he really has had one.

This is a dangerous situation. Forty years ago my wife and I went to hear David Wilkerson speak in Regina, taking a friend with us. Our friend was deeply moved during the meeting and stood when the call came. All the way home she bubbled over with how her life was going to be different from then on. The bubbles lasted a couple of days and then were gone, leaving no sign of a change in her life. It wasn’t David Wilkerson’s fault, he gave good direction, but our friend didn’t make a connection with God. The cackle filled a momentary emotional need but left no trace of changed life.

As Mennonites, we do not baptize solely on the basis of a person’s experience. The person who claims to have had a new birth experience tells that experience to a congregation made up of people who are born again and know how it transforms a life. The congregation decides on the baptism, not just on the basis of the experience, but on the substance of the changed life they have observed in the convert.

I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful of anyone. But I do want to point out the emptiness of telling a wonderful experience with the Lord when there is no evidence of a changed life. Years ago a friend told me about someone with whom he’d had some costly business dealings. I’ll call the man Andy. My friend said “Every time Andy gets into trouble, he get’s born again. He’s been born again four or five times already and he’s still the same man he always was.” I knew the circumstances and I knew my friend was telling things as they were. Andy’s multiple claims of being born again were no more than empty cackling.

I don’t want to hear that so-and-so has had an experience. I want to see that his life is transformed. Just like I don’t care how often a hen cackles, I want to see the egg.

The sad condition of man

Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast.

-Blaise Pascal

In defence of doubt

As Christians, we tend to have this utopian belief that a true believer will never have any doubts about matters of faith. Thus, when a brother or sister has the courage to admit to doubt, we react with something akin to panic.

Why do we react like this? Isn’t it because deep down we ourselves doubt whether there is a satisfactory answer for the doubt expressed by our brother or sister. So we label the doubt as unbelief and tell the doubting person to repent of that unbelief.

In most cases doubt is simply a feeling of uncertainty, a longing for answers and not a refusal to believe. We all have doubts at times and it is not healthy to suppress them. If we go on for too long simply stifling our doubts, they are apt to erupt one day into a major crisis of faith.

We need to look for answers to our doubts, and to the doubts of others. Right here we often encounter the biggest doubt of all: are there really answers to our doubts? How can we even know that God exists?

We should be wary of answers that assume that faith and reason are mutually exclusive realms and that we just need to have faith. Sometimes Christians use a variant of this type of answer by coming up with stories that supposedly prove Creation, the existence of heaven or hell, or some other tenet of the faith and say we have a different kind of knowledge than the world has. Most of these stories do not stand up under close scrutiny and have the effect of confirming the world’s perception that Christian’s aren’t very bright.

Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” Yet he went on to develop arguments to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. There is no contradiction here — Christian faith does provide the best explanation for things as they really are. Those who rely on reason alone and deny the very possibility of God have created well thought out explanations for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena, including the workings of the human mind. The problem is that new evidence keeps cropping up that does not fit these explanations, so new explanations need to be developed.

There is no absolute proof for any aspect of Christian faith; on the other hand, there is no evidence that contradicts the faith. When looked at objectively, without the blinders created by a refusal to admit any possibility of the existence of God, it becomes clear that God is the explanation that best fits all the available evidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith then is really all we need, faith in God and faith in what He has revealed to us in His Word. But questions and doubts will arise, and we need not fear them.

The world has developed supposedly scientific ideas about what is best for the mental and emotional well-being of mankind. Here too, an unblinkered look at the evidence shows that they don’t really work. Having confidence that there really is a God who created the world and everything in it, including us, should give us confidence to trust that His plan for the church and the home are exactly designed to meet our real needs. Let’s not panic when someone expresses doubts. Consider that an opportunity to examine the evidence and have our faith renewed.

Knowing our own wretchedness

I am quite well aware that I am an imperfect person. Such awareness means that I am a truly humble Christian, doesn’t it?

Or am I mistaking complacency for humility? Perhaps I should come right out and call it lukewarmness. That is what God called it when He told me what He thought of me almost 45 years ago. I opened the Bible at random and my eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” He was telling me that I left an awful taste in His mouth and He just had to get that taste out of His mouth.

Has God ever spoken severe, disapproving words to you? If so, it was not His intention for you to go off and start a pity party. Those were words of mercy, calling you to repentance. We cannot become a child of God if we think we are doing pretty good without Him. The severity of God in revealing the depth of our corruption is the most effective way of leading us to repentance so that we can experience His goodness and mercy.

When Isaiah saw God, he didn’t just bemoan his imperfections; he said: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). That confession moved God to cleanse his lips and then send him out to speak powerful words on God’s behalf. It is always the case that when we are most aware of our own depravity, we are just a step away from experiencing the greatness of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

The apostle Paul was acutely aware of his weaknesses. He confessed to being the chief of sinners; he said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Yet he also said: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I like the way Blaise Pascal put it: “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because He shows us both God and our own wretchedness.”

Blaise Pascal on the prophecies

If a single man had written a book foretelling the time and manner of Jesus’s coming and Jesus had come in conformity with these prophecies, this would carry infinite weight.

But there is much more here. There is a succession of men over a period of 4,000 years, coming consistently and invariably one after the other, to foretell the same coming; there is an entire people proclaiming it, existing for 4,000 years to testify in a body to the certainty they feel about it, from which they cannot be deflected by whatever threats and persecutions they may suffer. This is of a quite different order 0f importance.

 

Since the prophets had given various signs which were all to appear at the coming of the Messiah, all these signs had to appear at the same time. Thus the fourth kingdom had to come in when Daniel’s seventy weeks were up and the sceptre had to be removed from Judah.

And all this came to pass without any difficulty. And then the Messiah had to come, and Christ came then, calling himself the Messiah, and this again without any difficulty. This cleanly proves the truth of prophecy.

No evidence for this hypothesis

The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine those twelve men meeting after Jesus’s death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost.

-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

What do we have inside?

Ravi Zacharias, in one of his books, quotes an African proverb which says: “A man shows what he has inside by what spills out when he is bumped.”  Much as we might wish to avoid it, we are going to be bumped, by circumstances that we did not foresee and by people who do not see things as we do.  If the words that then come spilling out of our mouth are caustic and foul-smelling, this is not a good sign.

The African proverb just quoted is simply a reformatting of the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:18: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”

The apostles give similar instructions: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10).  “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1-2).   “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:31).

The only conclusion to draw from this is that doctrinal truth is not the sole test of authentic Christianity.  As Blaise Pascal said, truth without love is really idolatry.  Yet we dare not make a choice between the two.  Truth is every bit as important as love to our salvation.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, the Apostle Paul speaks of ” all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”

How then can we be saved?  To ask that question is to reveal doubt about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  It is one and the same Spirit which guides us into all truth (John 16:13) and grants unto us the fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faith (Galatians 5:22).

Evidences of the Resurrection

People despise Christian faith.  They hate it, and are afraid that it may be true. – Blaise Pascal

Unbelievers say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about the resurrection to save face.  How believable is that?  How long would the disciples have kept up that fiction, if it was a fiction, when they were being hunted down and killed for their testimony?  All the arguments against the historical reality of the Resurrection bear that same taint of desperately wanting not to believe.

The gospels are reliable historical documents.  Sceptics do not dispute the existence of the people and places mentioned, or the time in which the recorded events occurred.  The existence of four gospels is also persuasive evidence that the writers are describing historical facts.  There are enough differences in the details recorded by each writer to eliminate the possibility that they simply copied from each other.  Yet the similarities are so striking that it is evident that they are each describing something that really happened.

Each gospel writer states that a woman, or a group of women, was the first person to arrive at the tomb on the first day of the week.  John mentions only Mary Magdalene, Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, Matthew mentions Mary Magdalen and “the other Mary”, Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women”.  There is no disagreement here, simply each one writing the facts that were known to him.

This is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.  In that era, and for most of history since then, the testimony of a woman was not deemed worthy of belief, they could not testify in court.  If the writers were making up a story about the resurrection, they would not have placed women at the tomb before any man.  Writers of that era had no way of knowing that two thousand years later no one would consider it remarkable that women were the first witnesses.

The empty tomb was a huge scandal for both the Roman authorities and the Jewish leaders.  They were aware that Jesus had said He would rise again.  They would have spared no effort to find His body.  The fact that it was not found is strong evidence that there was no body to be found.  He had indeed risen.

In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, the apostle Paul lists the many persons to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection, the majority of whom were still alive at the time he wrote.  Despite enormous persecution, there is no evidence that any of those witnesses ever denied that they had seen the risen Lord.

The most compelling evidence is the transformation of the disciples.  All fled when Jesus was arrested.  Peter denied his Lord three times.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt like it was all over.  Yet a few years later it is said that they have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:5).

Can there be any other explanation but that these discouraged and demoralized disciples actually met their risen Lord?  That He would meet with them in a locked room without opening the door, yet broke bread with them, cooked fish for them and ate with them?  That He showed them the wounds in his hands, his feet, his side and invited them to touch Him?  That he gave them a commission, telling them “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.”  And they believed Him.

The kingdom of Christ

From the Pensées of Blaise Pascal (circa 1660):

If the Jews had all been converted by Christ we should only have suspect witnesses left.  And if they had been wiped out we should have had none at all.

The Jews reject him [Jesus], but not all of them: the holy ones accept him and not the carnal ones, and far from telling against his glory this is the crowning touch to it.  Their reason for doing so, and the only one to be found in all their writings, in the Talmud and the rabbis, is merely that Christ did not subdue the nations by force of arms.  “Gird thy sword, O most mighty” [Psalm 45:3].  Is that all they have to say?  “Christ was slain,” they say, “he was defeated and did not subdue the heathen by force.  He did not give us their spoils.  He offers us no riches.”  Is that all they have to say?  This is what makes me love him.  I would not want the man they envisage.  It is clear that it is only sin that prevented them from accepting him, and by their rejection they have become unimpeachable witnesses, and, what is more, in doing so they have fulfilled the prophecies.

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