Have you ever heard the phrase, “better safe than sorry”? It is often applied to everything from wearing a seat belt to using a helmet when riding a bike to going to throwing away milk that has a slight sour smell.
The idea that we might as well do something that might not be unnecessary in order to overcome the possibility of being unprepared in an emergency is so ingrained in us that we take it for granted.
It is a flippant, throw-away concept used all too often throughout our daily lives. The wisdom of the notion, however, cannot be understated.
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher who famously posited that we humans bet on God’s existence with our eternal lives. Pascal’s wager is that we should believe in God, because it is better to be safe than sorry. If God exists, belief with get into Heaven, while not believing in Him will land us a first-class ticket to eternal damnation.
I have heard this “wager” expressed by many Christian apologists in an effort to make our supernatural belief in an omnipotent Creator seem more rational and logical to skeptics.
When speaking with an atheist who believes there is no afterlife, an apologist will say something like, “if you are right, then nothing happens when we die. If the Bible is right, then your disbelief will take you to Hell.”
This is a fantastic logical argument, and it puts pressure on an atheist to re-evaluate their sincerity in believing that nothing waits for us after death. The hope for any Christian who presents “the wager” is to cause enough cognitive dissonance that the atheist will convert at some point. Is this method appropriate for Christians to use when spreading the gospel?
The Wager is not The “Good News”
The gospel, or “good news,” is the Christian message that God sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins so that we can be saved from eternal damnation. All we must do to accept the gift of salvation is to acknowledge and repent of our sins, believe that Christ died for us, and accept Him as Savior.
Salvation is intended to be so simple that even a child can understand it. It is a matter of faith, not logic or reason. Pascal’s wager, on the other hand, puts faith on the backburner. Rather than focusing on developing a personal relationship with the Creator, one just need to desire an insurance policy in case their worldview is incorrect.
This does not mean that Pascal’s wager is not worth appealing to, but I would caution against using it as a lone method of reaching the unsaved.
The Wager and the Gospel
A proper use of the wager is as an addition to the gospel presentation. Here is an example of how that would work:
- Romans 3:23 says we have all sinned.
- Romans 6:23 says that the wages of that sin is death.
- Romans 5:28 says that because we are sinners, Christ died for us.
- John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him shall be saved.
- Romans 10:9-10 says that we need to confess with our mouths and believe with our hearts that Christ died for us and was raised from the dead proving that He is God.
- Romans 10:13 says that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
- Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by God’s grace through our faith, not because of any work that we can do. This is a gift from God, and no matter how good of a person you think you are, you are still a sinner headed for Hell unless you accept God’s gift for you.
- The gift of eternal life is free, but the wages, or cost, of sin is eternal death. Is waging your eternity on rejection of Jesus Christ a gamble you would be willing to make?
You see? Pascal’s wager can easily be used in conjunction with the Roman’s Road and help tie a nice rational bow to a message of hope and faith. On its own, the wager is akin to a pressure sales technique. However, it can be a powerful closing argument when used with Scripture.
I appreciate and value apologetics, logic, and rationality. The gospel is quite rational once we accept the irrationality of the Creator of the universe becoming human to suffer physical torment and die for His broken, sinful creation. The gospel should be the focus of our ministries as Christians.
The wager requires the gospel, not the other way around. That is the most appropriate application of Pascal’s wager.
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