Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pascal On Seeking Truth

"My whole heart strains to know what the true good is in order to pursue it: no price would be too high to pay for eternity." (429/229)

"There are only three sorts of people: those who have found God and serve him; those who are busy seeking him and have not found him; those who live without either seeking or finding him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy, those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable." (160/257)

-Pascal, Pensées

"All men by nature desire knowledge," writes Aristotle in Metaphysics. "Seek and you will find," says Jesus (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9). In Jeremiah 29:13, God says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart."

Pascal observes that we try and fill our void with various diversions, but notes "this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself" (148/428).

How should we seek truth? Pascal suggests we seek with our "whole heart." We should "strain" to know "the true good" and "pursue it."

Neither Pascal nor the Bible suggests seeking truth on the basis of feeling alone. The mind plays a vital role (Matthew 22:37).

Jesus is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6) and while it is true we are told to seek, it is also true that God calls to us and desires to relate to us personally.

Pascal provides a sketch of three kinds of people. The "reasonable and happy" are "those who have found God and serve him." They are reasonable because as Paul said, Christianity is "true and reasonable" (Acts 26:25). These people are "happy" because they have found the source of their longing and desire.

Others appear uninterested in seeking and, therefore, they do not find. Pascal calls them "foolish and unhappy." Some scoff at the idea of finding truth.

Then there are those kinds of people who are indeed seeking, but haven't yet found truth. Pascal calls them "unhappy and reasonable." They know that there must be more to life and, in some, their "whole heart strains to know." In the spectrum of seeking, they are on the right path.

The mindset that believes this earthly life is all that exists often leads to materialism, hedonism and, in many instances, the despair of nihilism - what is the point of living a meaningless existence?

But what if we truly are eternal beings and what if Christianity is true? Would not enduring suffering be a price worth paying for an eternity of joy? Pascal thinks so and so did Paul (Romans 8:18).

Seekers may become weary of searching, but Pascal says they must continue nonetheless: "It is good to be tired and weary from fruitlessly seeking the true good, so that one can stretch out one's arms to the Redeemer" (631/422).

The search may not be easy, but it is worthwhile.

1 comment:

Doug Groothuis said...

We cannot be reminded of this too much. Thank you.