Pascal is a programming language. Pascal is also a unit of pressure used to measure internal pressure. But Pascal is also our subject of Five Minutes in Church History.
That computer programming language and that unit of pressure are named after Blaise Pascal. He was French, a mathematician by training, and a physicist who tried his hand at inventions. He was also a philosopher, a theologian, and an apologist.
He was born in 1623 and died in 1662. Those thirty-nine years were rather full. Pascal has been described as a mind on fire, and that’s what he was. As a teenager he made breakthroughs in physics and invented and constructed prototypes of the mechanical calculator. I don’t think there was an area of geometry, math, physics, or physical science in which he didn’t explore, create something, or offer a new theorem that has stood through the centuries. He was a true genius.
In 1654 he had a religious experience, and as a result, he wrote out this saying: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars.” He wrote that on a piece of fabric and had it sewn into the interior of his jacket. And as he aged and changed jackets, he would pull that piece of cloth out and put it in his new jacket, and it wasn’t discovered until after his death. One of his servants was going through his things and found that testimony. Pascal was telling us about the God who revealed himself, the God who was known. We might say the covenantal God: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. The God of Blaise Pascal.
Pascal’s conversion led to two major writing projects. The first was the Provincial Letters. These were letters written on ethics, and they angered both the King of France and the Roman Catholic Church. The second was the Pensées, which is French for “thoughts.” Pascal started this project in 1660, two years before his death. He didn’t finish it by the time of his death; it was published posthumously in 1670. It’s a series of nearly a thousand small thoughts. Some are sentences, some paragraphs, addressing what he called “the reasons of the heart.”
Some of his famous pensées deal with what is known as Pascal’s wager, which is based on probability theory. You can say God is, or you can say God is not. If you say that God is and it turns out to be true, what have you gained? You’ve gained everything; you’ve gained an infinite amount. If you say God is not, and that’s right, then what have you lost? You’ve not really lost infinitely; you’ve just lost perhaps finitely. But if you say God is not, and it turns out that God is, you’ve lost everything, and that’s not a wager you should make.
God is, and by believing in him, we have everything to gain. Pascal also had a lot to say about Christ in the Pensées. At one point he writes, “The two oldest books in the world are those of Moses and Job, the one a Jew, and the other a Gentile. Both of them look upon Jesus Christ as their common center and object.” Isn’t that beautiful?
As Moses and Job looked to Christ, so did Pascal. He wrote in his Pensées, “So I hold out my arms to my Redeemer, who having been foretold for four thousand years, has come to suffer and to die for me on earth at the time and under all the circumstances foretold. By his grace I await death and peace, in the hope of being eternally united to him; yet I live with joy, whether in the prosperity, which it pleases him to bestow upon me, or in the adversity which he sends for my good.”
That is Blaise Pascal, resting in the arms of his Redeemer.