Ultimate Paradox: Pascal and the Human Condition
Occasionally, I will read a book for a class that really draws me in. Occasionally, I’ll write such reflections down for you.
While I wouldn’t say that Pascal is life-changing, he is thoug
During today’s reading of Making Sense of It All by Thomas Morris, I was struck by his chapter on the Human Enigma. The basic idea that humans can both create the most wonderful beauty and the most destructive wretchedness. We are made with greatness, but we are constantly burdened by sin, regardless of its origin. You may not believe in a divine figure, and you therefore may not believe in the tenets of Christianity, but you can’t deny that bad things happen in the world. You do bad things yourself, and even if you ultimately think yourself to be a good person, there are just times you can’t avoid making poor decisions or hurting someone. Why do we often hurt the people we love the most? Why is there death, disease and decay? Why do we get hurt and hurt others? People blame natural disasters on the science of the earth, but why must the earth be designed in such a way to begin with?
No matter your background or belief, we do bad things. Sin is the best way to describe such things.
Why do we strive to do good deeds? Could it possible be as a subconscious measure to counter the wickedness we face inside our own beings?
How can we do good things, caring for the poor and building a neighbor’s house while another man murders innocent children and his own parents in cold blood? He may have been thinking as rationally as us, but what caused his evil to seek the light of day?
Christian theology counters the idea of the human paradox better than almost any religion we can trace. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and others can only claim that evil is a source of the unbalance of good, or ignorance of good, or some shift of the universe. There is no true origin of sin, but rather it exists as a counter to good that blooms from the human psyche or action or lack of action. Christianity gives an origin, revolving around a Divine Creator and his creation of a perfect world and perfect beings. While I cannot completely understand why God would allow sin to enter this world (the need for the entire life and purpose of Christ), I know that he knew that we would fall, that sin would enter through some means into the world and we would face a counter-measure to our greatness, our likeness to God.
According to the Christian tradition, evil originated among angels, primarily in the fall of Lucifer. Perhaps angels, since being created by God and of a like-mind to God and not being limited to our mortal sensibilities, Lucifer had the will to question God’s power and challenge it. A mortal world provides limitations, and thus in the grand scheme we are more like lab rats than divinities (in the sense that we learn and grow, where I believe angels know from the start). Through Lucifer, in Morris’s words, a “portal for sin” was opened and our greatness, our trace of our Creator, was weighed and countered.
I know some of you reading are not Christians. I know many of you who would stumble upon my blog will not be. What I am offering is for consideration: How can we counter this paradox? How can we justify our ability to love and create and pursue beauty and then at the same time justify or explain our evil tendencies? The same man who can paint a breathtaking portrait and write a classical masterpiece is also capable of murder, of hate and of ignorance. Morality is an issue, but where does morality stem from? If we lived in perfection, what need would we have for morals? Moral principles keep us thinking to what is best and what is right, but if there was no evil, how we would know right from wrong? There would be no wrong. Could we find it despite the perfection we would be living in?
“We never keep to the present.” Pascal claims that we, as humans, “are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us.” Thinking back to a blog entry from a few months ago regarding “Last Day” syndrome, how many of us actually live as if today is the end? We are always stuck in the past or looking to the future. Even if a Creator is not in charge, we could die at any moment. In the grand scheme of a broad, multi-faceted world of different beliefs, the existence of a Divine Being doesn’t change the fact that we die. As we know it now, we die. We could die by natural causes, by disease, by disaster or mistake. You don’t need a God to see the importance of living for today. Particularly for those who find no hope in a God, today is more important than the future because the future holds nothing. You might think you should live for tomorrow as today will have no consequence, but you have no idea if you have a tomorrow. You might as well live for now as tomorrow has no eternal consequence. One person who lives their life for themselves and then dies cannot better humanity.
In the same way, a Christian should live each day for today as if it were their last, but not for these same reasons. They should live fully in the present as they should be considerate of how today will effect tomorrow and how tomorrow will effect the rest of your life. For all you know, today could lead to eternity in an instant, so today will matter most.
For those who are not claiming to be Christians, each day could be your last, so make your impact now lest history forget your existence. You are only one in a sea of continually more people. Your days are numbered, make them count.
For the Christian, each day could be your last since God could call you home at any time. Live a life that runs in accordance with Christ so that when you face your Creator, He might tell you “well done, Good and Faithful servant.” Live to impact those around you, so that even if you might not make a world impact (as you are still only one) you might be an example to the people that see you.
In both cases, hopefully one day you can close your eyes in death and say the same words: “I lived a good life and I did my best.”
We are wretched, we are beautiful.
Morris and I now share the same sentiment:
Created in the image of God, we are capable of knowing God.
Wretched and fallen, we are not worthy of knowing God.
But we are capable of being made worthy.
Our greatness is a sliver of His likeness granted to us.
He will never leave us or forsake us.
In the end, the paradox will still exist: We are wretched, we are beautiful. What do we make of our plight?
(After hearing the whole nature of man.) For a religion to be true it must have known our nature; it must have known its greatness and smallness, and the reason for both. What other religion but Christianity has known this? -Blaise Pascal-
Thank you to Ernest Valea for providing a very interesting document on Comparative Religions for me to consult.