Blaise Pascal was a brilliant French Christian and mathematician in the 17th century. He is known for much, but one of the things that has most carried his name through history is the famous “Pascal’s Wager.” This philosophical wager is used much in apologetic circles. I know this because I used to so often circulate it.
However, as I have matured in my faith, and therefore, in my apologetics methods, I have come to see that this wager is not a wager we should make, and it is not a bet any of our opponents ought to take.
The wager is pretty simple. In general, it simply asserts that there is not much to lose by being Christian. Typical, the wager looks like this:
“If I am right and you are wrong, when I die I will go to heaven, and you will go to hell. If I am wrong, and you are right, then we will both go to the same place, and I will have still lived a pretty good life. All Christianity does is encourage living a good life. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose.”
To put it more scientifically, here is how Wikipedia defines it:
“Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).”
Upon biblical and logical examination, this wager is not worth making. I would ask all Christians who enjoy using this to bear with me as I try to explain.
Pascal’s Wager is a False Dilemma
This wager necessarily excludes all other religious opinions with no grounds for doing so. If we are asking the rational Atheist to live as if God exists, he needs to know which one to live by. Thus, the wager does not help him. The problem is the Mormon, Muslim, and Jew could all tell this to the Atheist. If we are going to suspend reason and pretend there is even a remote chance that Christianity is not true, then all options need to go on the table.
Therefore, it is simply not the case that if we are wrong we go in the ground. If we are wrong we may go in the ground, depending on who is actually right. If the Muslims are right, we will go to hell forever. If the Mormons are right, we will go to one of two heavens most likely. If Jehovah’s witnesses are right, we will go in the ground.
Christianity being wrong does not make Atheism right. There are more than two options to choose from. Christians, in this hypothetical, have just as much to lose as the Atheist for being wrong: we could both end up in hell together.
Pascal’s Wager Encourages False Repentance
If a Christian uses Pascal’s Wager and it works, then it still doesn’t work. The reason is because the Christians goal is that the Atheist would come to repentance and faith. We want the Atheist to recognize their sin against God, repentantly ask for forgiveness, and then live to the glory of God in Christ Jesus zealously.
Simply believing God exists because there is more to gain from it is not genuine repentance. That is not love for God. That is not faith in Christ. That is hedonism.
We Are Most To Be Pitied
One of the most overlooked issues with the wager is the assumption that Christianity is worth it if it isn’t true. The wager paints a picture as if the Christian life, while sacrificing some material gain, overall is not too bad. However, the apostle Paul paints a much more morbid picture of a Christianity that is not true. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19,
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If we were wrong, the response would not be, “oh well, at least I lived a good life!” We would be pitied more than anyone. We ought to be pitied above all. That’s miserable. Christianity, if not true, should be avoided at all costs.
Notice how Paul cannot even assume the fact that God does not exist. Without Christianity, Paul still holds on to a just God who is going to judge us in our sins.
This verse is likely why Pascal needed to strip Christianity from the wager and simply bet on some generic deity god. For if we make this specific to Jesus, then the consequences for being wrong are suddenly very great.
God Is Not a Bet
Underneath Pascal’s Wager is the assumption that the person we are speaking to genuinely does not believe there is a God. It assumes Atheism and Agnosticism are real things. It assumes the impossible. Romans 1: 18-21,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
As Sye Ten Bruggencate once said,
“God is not a bet. He isn’t even a good bet. He is not even the best bet. He is the certain God who they know exists.”
The Triune God of Scripture is the certain God that everybody knows. The God of Scriptures lives. They know it.
They are without excuse for denying it.
They must be called to repent of their sins against the God whose truth they have exchanged for a lie.
The problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it pretends the bet hasn’t been made yet.
They made their choice. We call them, not to gamble with their souls again, but to be saved by faith in Christ Jesus assuredly.