Fr. Glenn: An Easter Wager

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

A very joyous and blessed Easter to all—the most sacred day of the Christian year as we celebrate the very cause of our joy: the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ on the third day after His death by crucifixion 2000-ish years ago.

Why such joy at this event? Because Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of the one eternal God, and came to the world to: 1) teach us the perfect way to live in loving God and neighbor; 2) died to “correct” the “imbalance” in the absolute and perfect divine justice caused by the transgressions (sins) against God and our fellow Man; and 3) rose from the dead to open the way to eternal life with God for all who accept Him as best they know how and follow virtue—virtue which attains perfection via His teaching and example, bolstered by God’s assisting grace.

This is why both St. Paul and St. John describe Jesus as the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5)—the trailblazer, as it were, whom we are called to follow in God’s grace by fidelity to Him.

Yes, yes … I can hear it now from non-believers: “Boy … those Christians really ARE in la-la land!” Well, you wouldn’t be the first to think so; many during the time of Jesus—and thereafter—have thought so as well. The New Testament is full of references of those who could not believe, such as: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’…After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:60, 66).

St. Paul and other apostles experienced this difficulty in leading people to the Christian faith as well: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles [non-Jews]…” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)  More often than not, the majority of those who heard their preaching did not believe for the same reasons as many today: it sounded too fantastic, and where’s the proof?

Well … what says history? Well … there’s no video, but we see at very least that a man named Jesus—though an uneducated carpenter/laborer from an insignificant despised village in Roman-occupied country—began a movement by His teaching, works and example, first accepted by an odd assortment of mostly uneducated fishermen/workmen/despised persons (a tax collector working for the Romans, for one) and would eventually spread throughout the world to become one of largest religions in the world. This Jesus was not king or conqueror or hero but died as a criminal by crucifixion—abandoned by all but his mother and a few others. Soon Christianity’s most ardent persecutor—a Jewish Pharisee named Paul—made an immediate conversion after what he reports as a vision of Jesus long after Jesus’ death, thereafter becoming one of Christianity’s most ardent advocates. And, adding to their bona fides, we remember that the apostles gained nothing but toil, pain and persecution for their trouble, yet endured until martyrdom because of what they had themselves witnessed in Christ. Now … does that seem at all likely if some “supernatural” (simply meaning “beyond our own human ability to discern”) power were not supporting it? Alas … space does not allow for the many other “proofs” of faith—philosophical, supernatural events, etc.

The mathematician Blaise Pascal—admittedly a devout Catholic—outlines in his “Penseés” (no. 233) what has become known as “Pascal’s Wager”. He argues that the rational person would seek to live as though God exists and seek to believe in God, for if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a comparatively minor loss in earthly pleasures. However, the unbeliever risks (wagers) losing infinitely more (eternity in Heaven, including possible eternity in Hell). This wager, he says, is one we all must make.

Pascal ends his discourse thus: “Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side [of Christian faith]? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly, you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognize that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.” (Penseés, 233)

Obviously, this avenue is not the ideal. The desire—even by Pascal—would be that one would come to faith first, seeking to live a good Christian life of virtue and charity, of humble service to God and our fellow men and women. Yes, as a sort of corollary to Pascal’s argument, one author has written that, if the atheist lived as if he were a devout Christian for a year—in charity, reading the Gospels and scripture, and in meditation trying to pray—he, too, would come to faith. And, after all, is not the mutual service and kindness which is ideal of Christian faith also the ideal of all human society?

And, so, we Christians rejoice this day … and long to rejoice one day with all the world, remembering: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…”  (1 Peter 1:3-4) And so … may you and all your family have a joyous and blessed Easter.

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