Pensees

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When the blog speaks of a pastor’s pensees (French for “thoughts”) it would be good to introduce you to Blaise Pascal. I’m borrowing the word “pensees” (pronounced pawn-says) from the title of a book of his thoughts as collected.

Pascal (1623-1662) was a French scientist, philosopher and theologian. I consider him to be a fine Christian thinker. He believed skepticism was a dead end but he also did not place too much emphasis on rationalism, trying to reason your way to God. While Christianity is not less than being rational, it’s certainly more. He is well known for saying, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.” My understanding is that during Pascal’s day the traditional arguments for God’s existence did not convince people so much of his writings connected religion to what people experienced and sensed as a normal part of their lives.

His conversion comes out of a very externally religious life as a Catholic. Then came a turning point when he experienced in his heart the mystical, overwhelming love of Christ. He took a piece of paper and wrote, “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt joy, peace, God of Jesus Christ, God of Jesus Christ, My God and your God.” He sewed this paper into his jacket lining where it stayed until he died. As a result of his conversion he began to write down a series of “thoughts” which put together is now called “The Pensees”.

Here’s one reason why Pascal is so important. Have you ever heard a quote attributed to Pascal, “In every person there is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill”? Actually, in my reading of Pascal, I can’t find that exact quote. However, he did say something close…

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Pascal,Pensees #425]

Pascal is telling us the reason why we try to fill ourselves with everything around us and it still seems only temporally filling (like a Chinese dinner) is because the emptiness is an eternal hole that can only be filled by an Eternal Person. And so Peter Kreeft rightly concludes, “Christ is precisely the single point to which Pascal drives us through all his points in his Pensees. Every pensee, every word in every pensee , is a cobblestone in the road leading to the same Christ, a sign pointing to the same home. The whole structure of Pascal’s argument is Christocentric.” (Christianity for Modern Pagans)

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