A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Poets, playwrights, philosophers, and psychologists all take their turns offering insights on the “human condition.” They seek to explain the basic nature, identity, struggle, and aspirations of human beings. In fact, all philosophies and religions try to define and explain humanity’s underlying condition. But do any of them succeed?

One Christian author who I think has written candidly and insightfully about the state of human beings is French scholar Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). (Of course, I share Pascal’s faith so I’m hardly neutral on the matter.) Pascal was a founding father of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. A true Renaissance man, Pascal was a mathematician, physicist, logician, inventor, and an intuitive Christian thinker and apologist.

In his theological and philosophical masterwork Pensées (French for “Thoughts” or “Reflections”) Pascal develops a provocative outlook on human beings. Here’s a handful of his perspectives on the general state of humanity and a brief explanation.

Five Insights on the Human Condition

1. Human beings reflect an enigmatic nature of “greatness and wretchedness.”1

As a historic Christian, Pascal here offers a biblical description of humanity’s identity and condition. The greatness of human beings (in reason, technology, art, etc.) is tied to their exceptional identity as bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). But that image has been significantly tarnished through humankind’s collective fall into sin (Romans 3:23) and accompanying moral wretchedness. Thus, human nature is puzzling and conflicting. Other worldviews—both secular and religious—struggle to account for this enigma.

2. The human person is often afraid to “stay quietly in his room” alone with his thoughts.2

To be alone affords time to look inward and take stock of one’s inner life. Such reflection often reveals an existential aloneness and neediness that many people purposely avoid. There is an uneasiness in the soul. Pascal’s Christian worldview would assert that original sin has left people out of sync with God, with others, and even with themselves. The human heart reflects this estrangement.

3. Humans spend much of their lives following “diversions.”3

Pursuing answers to the deep questions of human existence (God, death, and the hereafter) can prove difficult and threatening. It is much easier to divert attention to the current pragmatic concerns of egotism (self), sensualism (sex), and materialism (money). The Christian worldview explains that blinded by sin, most people are not hostile, but rather ambivalent, to spiritual things. Many engaging options in life and the world can distract a person from spiritual pursuits.

4. “The [human] heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”4

For Pascal the heart reflects not mere emotion but an instinctive intuition of truth apprehended by the soul. Thus one’s most basic beliefs in life (God, mind, morality) are never merely rational or empirical. Philosophers recognize that beliefs may be rational (following reason), irrational (conflicting with reason), or nonrational (prior to or beyond reason: assumption, intuition, mystery). Pascal’s reference to the heart seems to fit with the intuitive nonrational category.

5. Humans only “know themselves” through knowing Jesus Christ.5

The Christian faith proclaims that human beings were made to know, love, and serve God. Yet sin has brought forth separation. However, by embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior a person comes to know both God and themselves. Pascal thought humans discover their true selves in being restored to God. Grace serves to heal and revive the tarnished image of God within. This restoration is a common theme in other Christian writers as well (Augustine, Calvin).

Identifying and explaining the paradoxical nature of human beings is indeed challenging. Thus, a worldview’s anthropology (origin, nature, and destiny of human beings) that accurately explains the human condition may be considered most plausibly true. In this way, Pascal’s Christian perspectives on the human condition are not only provocative but seem to correspond well to reality.

Reflections: Your Turn

What do you think of Pascal’s view of the human condition? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. Blaise Pascal, Pensées (New York: Penguin, 1966), 117/409.
  2. Pascal, 136/139.
  3. Pascal, 133/169.
  4. Pascal, 423/277.
  5. Pascal, 189/157.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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