Is Belief in God a Safe Bet?

A sculpture of Blaise Pascal from the Musée du Louvre, Paris.


A sculpture of Blaise Pascal from the Musée du Louvre, Paris.Flickr Ricky Leong (CC)

On the evening of November 23rd, 1654, the brilliant polymath Blaise Pascal was thrown from his horse-drawn carriage, the creatures having been frightened by a thunderstorm. The horses fell off the bridge they had been crossing into the turbulent river below, and Pascal was left dazed in the road.

That night, toward the midnight hour, a grateful 31-year-old Pascal (who was still recovering from, and spiritually reflecting on, the death of his beloved father three years before) had an intense, mystical vision for close to two hours. Following the vision, Pascal wrote on a piece of parchment, “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars…Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy… This is life eternal that they might know you, the only true God.” He sewed the parchment into the lining of his coat, and seemed to have carefully moved it to new garments every time he changed his clothes. He told no one—a servant found it in the last jacket he wore, years after he died.

Pascal may have almost died that day, and he was supremely lucky to have not, but he also believed that he was lucky in another way as well; for this singular event so focused his mind that all of the spiritual writing he had been drawn to during years of his father’s illness was crystallized. He believed the incident had saved his soul as surely as blind chance had saved his body on that bridge over stormy waters. Inspired by that experience, he would go on to place luck at the center of his Christian apologetics.

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