If we whittle down our faith, we are left with two base ideas: what we believe and what we do.
There is nothing more traditional in Christian faith than arguing over which one is better.
Betting on God.
Blaise Pascal made my favorite case for belief. Unlike most apologetics, which argue the case for God’s existence, Pascal argued instead around the act of belief.
- If you believe in God and God exists, then your faith will be infinitely rewarded.
- If you believe in God and God doesn’t exist, then no harm, no foul.
- If you don’t believe in God and God doesn’t exist, then you are out nothing.
- But if you don’t believe in God and God does exist, then you could be out everything.
Pascal’s Wager is hyper-rational. And it’s predicated on a certain view of God which is totally debatable, but its substance is powerful.
If God doesn’t exist, then your belief is irrelevant. What you believe and how. But if God does, then your belief matters a great deal. So it is wise to believe in God and act like it. It’s the smartest bet.
Betting on Action
What Pascal assumes is not only Christian belief, but behavior as well. That there are modest costs in the calculation. Being a decent person being one of them. These costs are minor compared with the potential personal gains in the end.
It’s similarly rational to argue that the far greater wager has nothing to do with belief, but with action.
For those costs associated with living a Christian life will ultimately lead to a more just society. Benefits extending beyond the believers and to the whole of society as well. Our neighbors benefit when we deal with Christian principles of love and hope and caring for our weakest neighbors.
It also highlights the potential way God may be widening the circle in Jesus. That the question we must always ask ourselves is not Is Gandhi in hell? But How might Gandhi reveal God?
For isn’t it possible that God might use the outsider to reveal the divine? Like Jesus does with the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son? That when he says that if the people aren’t up to the task, he’ll get the stones to cry out?
Such a view of God requires us to see what happens when action has an opening. When we’re doing what God wants.
Not as a repudiation of belief. But in the exaltation of what God has come to do?
More than nice.
Now, what that coming to do actually means, is another story. We often describe our faith in the most basic ways and with the simple invocation that we are to be nice. That our faith is defined by kindness.
Be a good person.
And I totally get that. I know where that comes from. That’s one of the things I learned from church.
But kindness isn’t the summation of the gospel. It isn’t enough to be a decent person, never quarreling like the evangelist tells Timothy. Or like Wil Wheaton’s mantra: “Don’t be a dick.”
It’s about goodness and what God means by “good.”
And justice and what God means by “justice.”
Love. And what God means by “love.”
It isn’t about a character trait. It is, as Martin Luther argued, not about being, but becoming. Becoming good, just, and loving. Always becoming.
The choice we have is not the classic separation between faith and works, belief and action, but between our sense of selves and our sense of the divine project, the missio dei.
Not who you are or what you do. But who we are becoming together.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!