Pascal's God- Shaped Vacuum

Pascal's God- Shaped Vacuum

by Peter Brian Gilbert


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Blaise Pascal wrote the Pensées to his skeptical and restless friends to move them to seek God. The Pensées are widely regarded as one of the most exhilarating and effective defenses of the Christian faith ever written, particularly for today's readers who resemble Pascal's friends. This comprehensive guided tour of Pascal's Pensées, plus biography of Pascal's courageous life, aims to benefit seekers and believers by conveying Pascal's insights into: (1) Why a human being is miserable without God; (2) Why Christianity uniquely offers a winsome and efficacious cure; and (3) Why Christianity, despite modern objections, is plausibly true. The greatest significance of Pascal's Pensées may be their compelling articulation of the unique relevance of Christ's gospel for our time. In T.S. Eliot's words, "But I can think of no Christian writer, not Newman even, more to be commended than Pascal to those who doubt, but who have the mind to conceive, and the sensibility to feel, the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering, and who can only find peace through a satisfaction of the whole being."

Pascal's signature Pensée undergirding the themes of this guided tour is number 148: "What else does this craving proclaim but that there was once in man a true state of happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object, in other words by God himself." Through this Pensée and many others Pascal wakes us up to appreciate that we may have a God-shaped vacuum in our heart, as suggested, for example, by our affinity for diversions and indifference as ways to avoid addressing our grimmest problems such as our impending deaths, unhappiness, and unjust self-absorption.

The Pensées in particular address how a person this side of the technological revolution can seriously consider Christian truth and life in the face of contemporary countervailing currents including scientism, cynicism, and entertainment culture. Pascal's case for why to seek and believe is especially relevant for today because he wrote to modern secular society, to ambitious pursuers of career success, to the bored and indifferent, to intellectual skeptics. In contrast, classical rational apologetics hardly penetrate this group, because they neglect the readers' psychology, mistakenly pre-supposing they are open to seeking God. By combining style, wit, and reasoned arguments to move both the heart and mind, Pascal's Pensées are known for setting his listeners on fire to take up an interest in seeking.

The Pensées will appeal to those who enjoy brilliant writing and wish to gain deeper insight into the human condition. As Professor Henry Phillips put it, "Pascal offers a portrait of the human condition that provokes questions whose answers will be found only in the Christian religion." The Pensées are especially on target for readers who struggle with how a reasonable person living in today's technological era can be a Christian; for these Pascal is indispensible reading and the ultimate mentor.

In addition to helping seekers work out their doubts about belief, this guided tour aims to make Pascal's thoughts practically helpful for a Christian to live life congruently with the gospel, and in particular to better weather modern doubts and criticisms. This book was inspired by the excellent guided tour of the Pensées (Christianity for Modern Pagans, 1993) by Professor Peter Kreeft, and from learning that many fellow Christians count the Pensées as one of their all-time most helpful reads. Given the stature of Pascal as a colossal Christian thinker, it is surprising that very few comprehensive guided tours with objective to help modern seekers and believers have been published, and this book helps fill this space.

Forward by Reve

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781461181101
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 04/09/2012
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

I received a PhD in biostatistics at the University of Washington in 1996, and since then have worked toward the development of a preventative AIDS vaccine, including spending 5 years as a faculty member at The Harvard School of Public Health and the last 11 at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. My career has focused on the statistical design and analysis of HIV vaccine efficacy trials, conducted in North and South America, Thailand, and Southern Africa. This work has emphasized writing, speaking, and teaching, and one of my favorite activities has been advising doctoral students and conducting the vaccine research with them. I have also enjoyed serving as the statistician on the U.S. FDA's advisory committee for licensing vaccines.

The originality and persuasiveness of The Pensées first grabbed my attention in a French literature class in 1988 while an agnostic college freshman. This Pascalian inoculation led to my seeking God at University Presbyterian Church (UPC) in Seattle and coming to believe Christ a year later. My passion for Pascal led to teaching a course on The Pensées at UPC, which seeded this book. Earl Palmer was Senior Pastor at UPC at the time, and has immensely encouraged me in this project. I am grateful to Earl for writing the forward to the book, and for his own role as a guided tour to Pascal's Pensees in UPC sermons over the years.

While guider tours of Pascal's Pensées have been written by theologians, philosophers, historians, and scholars of the French language, I have not seen tours led by scientists. By centering my whole professional life in the fields invented and carried forward by Pascal- mathematical probability and empirical science- I share Pascal's scientific angle for viewing the world; hence my career affords me a fresh perspective on Pascal's ideas. The book closest to this one is Peter Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans (1993), which may be the only other comprehensive guided tour of The Pensées in the last 20 years with goal to help seekers and believers appreciate Pascal's incisive thoughts and to grow their faith.

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