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Paschal’s Wager

cointoss.jpg “We toss the coin, but it is the Lord who controls its decision.” Proverbs 16:33 TLB

Our scientific age has schooled us to run calculations for every venture. The stock market, financial investments, business ventures and insurance policies are all predicated upon calculated risks. People enter sweepstakes, compete on game shows, bet on sports contests and play the lottery against impossible odds, all in the illusory quest for huge sums of money. Odds-making finds its way into nearly every aspect of life. Doctors inform patients as to the percentage of a surgery’s success and the chances of side effects from medications. Lawyers impress upon their clients the probability of winning a case. Geologists measure the likelihood of earthquakes and meteorologists forecast the chances of rain or snow.

Blaise Paschal, a brilliant mathematician who reached his prime in 1650, posed this stark conundrum to his colleagues in an effort to apply the new field of probability to matters of faith: “Either God is, or he is not. Which way should we incline? Reason cannot answer.” In other words, if we were to wager the existence of God, how would we stand? The conclusion he reached over three centuries ago remains instructive for us today.

According to Paschal, two questions demand an answer before anyone can decide whether to believe in God. First, what are the odds of being right? Second, and more importantly, what are the consequences of being wrong? The answer to the first question is simple: The odds are one out of two, or fifty-fifty. The second answer is far more crucial. If one says there is no God and he is wrong, he reaps eternal damnation. “Which way should we incline?” Such severe consequences heavily outweigh the most enticing odds. For Paschal, a deeply religious man, the only sensible answer was yes.

The willingness to take a chance varies according to the consequences. People will take long shots if losing means little or nothing. The higher the stakes grow, however, the more conservative they become. No thrill, even for the inveterate gambler, compensates for total loss. Despite these caveats, many fail to read the numbers accurately. Others are driven by rash and reckless behavior.

Just as the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ robe, many impulsive souls today think that accepting or rejecting God rides on a mere roll of the dice. They place everything in this life, and the life to come, on the table, hoping that “Lady Luck” smiles on them. The tragic truth about Paschal’s wager is that there is no wager at all. Perhaps God is a fair bet in the minds of statisticians, probability experts and gamers. But the believer rejects even the premise itself.

Don’t gamble on God. The Bible says, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). The gambler begins with uncertainty, but the believer begins with faith. The gambler hedges his bet, but the believer casts all his lot with God.

Don’t gamble on your soul. In the parable of the rich man who built more barns, God said, “…This night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:20). A modern advertiser coined the phrase that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”, but the eternal soul is a far more terrible thing to lose.

Don’t gamble on the rapture. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation…The Lord is not slack concerning his promise…but the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” (II Peter 3:3-4, 10.) With the fulfillment of scores of Bible prophecies, many of them in our generation, we have every reason to expect the imminent rapture of the church.

Don’t gamble on the judgment . Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Many people today to whatever they can to wiggle through every loophole and out of every commitment that they possibly can.

“The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Psalm 14:1. God is not a gamble. The conclusions of atheists and agnostics find their basis not in statistics or probabilities, not in convoluted claims of superior logic, not in their finite experiences, but in folly. “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. II Timothy 1:12.

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