Pascal’s Pensees: The Indifference of the Soul to Spiritual Realities

One of the great emphases that Pascal makes in his work that stands out to me is that of the foolishness of spiritual indifference. In the section of the book that we have read so far, it has been one of his most lengthy focuses. I think he has identified things so exactly right in so many ways. And it is one of the key matters of life that he is talking about here, too, not some philosophical irrelevancy. Some parts of Pascal’s writing so far have been (for me) a bit too abstract or involved in philosophical queries that are not so clearly profound to the average readers (i.e., us). But not so his emphasis here. He does an excellent job of highlighting what ought to be the attitude of every living man in relationship to the great spiritual questions of life.

He breaks down all of mankind into three classes:

There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable. (Kindle location 1474-1477)

The first group are the only ones who are happy, he says, those who have sought after and found God. So true it is that real happiness can never be attained except in knowing God, whom to know is eternal life. And what do those do who have found God? They serve Him!

The third group he labels as “foolish and unhappy.” These are those who do not know God but simply do not care enough about the matter to seek him out. Pascal treats of this type of person on various occasions. Here are some things that he says about such a man:

The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us, and which touches us so profoundly, that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is. (1130-1132)

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. (1141-1142)

Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content, professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature. (1150-1153)

But as for those who live without knowing Him and without seeking Him, they judge themselves so little worthy of their own care, that they are not worthy of the care of others. (1203-1204)

Is Pascal fair in this assessment of men who do not put their full energies into seeking after God? Is it a bit harsh to say that they “must have lost all feeling”? To say that they are “monstrous” and “so silly a creature”? And finally that they “are not worthy of the care of others”? (To be clear and fair, Pascal does add to this last point that our Christian charity should move us to care for them anyways. He is not advocating that we should just leave them to their own devices without caring for and loving them and at least trying to bring them to faith and repentance. He is merely saying that they are very far from worthy of this love because of their cold hardness against the pursuit of God.)

I do not think that Pascal is too harsh here at all, but exactly right. Have we come to realize what he is assuming, that the one great object of life is to seek after and know God? To pursue any other goal in life before this is the most foolish of choices! Pascal rightly exposes the foolishness and pride of such a man. We were made for this purpose, and we are then denying the very meaning of our existence not to seek after God and live for and with Him.

And yet, do we not live today in a world where people do not seek after God? And it is not only today, for Pascal says in his day that the vast majority live in this spiritual indifference. But how many people do you know who make it the one great task of their life to seek after God? Thankfully, there are some, and I trust we do know some, but in the big picture of life, the numbers are indeed few! Most people are consumed with so many worldly matters that they have little time for God.

How many people even would spend, say, an hour a day in reflection and thought and seeking after God? How many people would gladly stop each day and spend time reading the Bible? Again, thanks be to God that there are some such people, but most people do not do this. And Pascal would tell us (and rightly so) that the pursuit of God must consume our whole energies if we have any sense at all. How can we rest if we have not come to peace in knowing God? It is not merely that one hour a day that shows true love and feeling for God, but a life given over entirely to Him from start to finish.

Pascal tells us that there are only two kinds of reasonable people:

Finally, let them recognise (sic) that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him. (1201-1203)

Do we realize and agree with what Pascal is saying here? If we think to have found God, there is only one reasonable course of life: To give all our heart and energy to serving Him. For those of us who are Christians, this must be the truth of our lives, or we do not truly know God. Let us serve Him with our whole selves!

But if a man has not come to find God, what reasonable course is left him? There is but one: To seek God with all his heart and energy. He cannot simply trifle with the matter, but he must pursue this grand object with the whole of his soul. In truth, the Bible tells us that this is how we will find God, when we seek Him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13). Again, how many people do this? Not nearly so many as do not know God, that is for sure.

What can we do to awaken such insensible sinners to their need? This is a great question that many have wrestled with. Ultimately, we know that we cannot force anyone to seek after God. We know that only God can awaken and stir and draw a man within. For our part, though, what we can do is preach the truth and urge men to repent and seek after God, trusting that God will work within the man by His Spirit to give him opportunity to seek after life and truth in God.

It is a sad fact to see so few men seeking after God, but this is a dark world indeed. Let us, then, who do have the light serve God with a whole heart as a testimony to those who are in spiritual stupor. Let us not by our own carelessness give support to those who would carelessly neglect God and say that it must be so if even the Christians themselves live so carelessly. True knowledge of God comes through strenuous efforts, and it likewise results in the greatest energies and desires to serve Him and please Him with the whole of our lives.


About amspencer1984

I am a Christian who desires to serve in God's kingdom in the best way possible. I have served as a foreign missionary in southern Mexico. I have worked as a youth minister at my local church of Grace Baptist in Dickson, TN. I have also recently begun to write books with a desire to help others grow in life. I hope that they are helpful and effective in doing that. I have been married to Alicia Spencer since 2003. We have six children and give thanks to God for all of them.
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