Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pascal on God's Self-Revelation

This quote from Blaise Pascal nicely sums up a theme we've studied of late:

God has willed to redeem men, and to open salvation to those who seek it. But men render themselves so unworthy of it, that it is right that God should refuse to some, because of their obduracy, what He grants to others from a compassion which is not due to them. If He had willed to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, He could have done so by revealing Himself so manifestly to them that they could not have doubted of the truth of His essence; as it will appear at the last day, with such thunders and such a convulsion of nature, that the dead will rise again, and the blindest will see Him.

It is not in this manner that He has willed to appear in His advent of mercy, because, as so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy, He has willed to leave them in the loss of the good which they do not want. It was not then right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make Himself quite recognizable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.

Blaise Pascal, Pensees #430

I find I can read a paragraph from Pascal over and over, and each time I see something new in it. And to think, the Pensees (A French word meaning "thoughts, ponderings") were only his scribblings - scattered ideas that might have eventually been organized into a very different sort of book, had he lived longer. They were posthumously gathered and published, to the delight of many saints in subsequent generations.


  1. Derek,

    I hate to pick (which means I'm about to). I haven't seen the full context of Pascal's quote. But the theology of it looks a bit rocky to me. Jansenist or not this seems to fall short of the full measure of the truth.

    Who actually seeks? (Psalms 14 and 53:1-3, Rom 3:10-12) And if they do, why do they? (John 6:44)

    What's this about "so many making themselves unworthy of His mercy"? How, then, is a person to make himself worthy of mercy? That's a contradiction in terms. That all are unworthy, is what makes his mercy to be mercy - and therefore renders salvation to be by grace alone.

    It is truly incumbent upon all men to seek God with all their heart; and God has indeed provided sufficient information, even in general revelation, to condemn them for not doing so. But the moral inability of unregenerate people, culpable as it is, so vitiates the decisions of the will that no man truly seeks after God on his own initiative.

    It seems to me that Pascal fails to take the final step in acknowledging the total depravity of fallen man's nature. Perhaps I am misreading him? What do you think?



  2. Tony,

    You make several good points. There are some weaknesses in this quotation, to be sure. However, I published the quote because I believe what it says is not technically incorrect, just incomplete - and it makes the right points concerning God's self-revelation in the incarnation. And I especially like they way it affirms irresistible grace.

    Notice that Pascal does not say we can make ourselves worthy, nor does he directly say that some are worthy. He also does not say anything about how or why we begin to seek God. I believe he may have wanted us to ask ourselves the very questions you are asking, and then come to Biblical conclusions. I find Jesus using a very similar technique in the Gospels. We would take issue with some of His teaching if we didn't know the motive behind it. For example, He told the rich young ruler to gain eternal life by keeping the Law. When we ask ourselves "why?" we begin to see that He wanted this man to find out he was a sinner and stop trusting in the Law for salvation. What better way than to give him a command that is morally impossible for him to fulfill: "Sell all you have and give to the poor." For this man, that was the ultimate application of the Law. And he would/could not do it. We must not conclude that Jesus teaches salvation by works in this passage, even though He SEEMS to on the surface. In fact, it is so opposite to the drift of New Testament teaching, it virtually forces us to think more deeply about the matter. In my mind, it also verifies the honesty of the Synoptists. They didn't scratch out the seemingly contradictory teaching, but left it there for us to wrestle with.

    One thing we must bear in mind when reading the Pensees is Pascal's intended audience. He wanted to write a definitive apologetics resource that would help unbelievers to see the reasonableness of Christian faith. So, we should not expect him to delve too deeply into issues like election. The Gospel commands us to repent, to believe, to seek God. We would not tell unbelievers they are incapable of obeying these Gospel commands, we simply call them to obey. If they obey, we know it is by divine enablement. If they do not obey, we know it is because they cannot do it in their depraved condition. Likewise, Pascal's conclusions are true - God has given plenty of light to those whom He Himself has moved to seek Him. And He has remained obscure enough to leave the non-elect in their sin.

    We could make the quote more Reformed by adding something like, "Only those who are drawn by grace will seek God. No man will seek God apart from His drawing grace." And I doubt Pascal would disagree with the addition, if he knew it was going to a Christian audience.

    That's my take on it. Thanks for the great questions.

    Grace & peace,

  3. Hey Derek,

    Thanks for pointing me to this.

    I loved the paragraphs from Pascal. I think I know whats going on, its actually very Calvinian. Part of this is a misunderstanding. Melancthon has been accused with holding to a passive synergism because he said "we allow" God to regenerate us.

    The problem is, Calvin says exactly the same thing over and over. He says we refuse to allow God to regenerate us. He calls on his reads and congregants to allow God to regenerate them, etc. By our unbelief, willful, we disqualify ourselves thereby making us unworthy.

    Our duty before God is to do nothing that hinders his drawing us. Keep in mind, for Calvin, the special calling of God can have a different meaning: Institutes, 3.24.8.



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