Blaise Pascal is a famous intellectual from the 17th century. He was a mathematical prodigy, a philosopher, and a Christian. He planned on writing a defense of Christianity, but he died at the age of 39 before it was finished.
One of the amazing things about Pascal is that he was very sick in the final years of his life, and, yet, he continued to work on his apology for the Christian religion. He was racked with pain from both stomach and brain cancer—the latter causing him debilitating headaches. He believed that his sicknesses were just a part of being a fallen man, and that it should not stop his intellectual work for his faith.
After he died his work was published posthumously entitled Pensees or “thoughts.” Pensees is basically his notes from his uncompleted apologetic manuscript. Pascal’s Pensees transcends the intellectual ages—reflecting on scholarly concepts that are still resonating within academic circles. In reading Pascal’s “thoughts” you can see how he addresses fundamental Christian principles like the soul and immortality.
The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. All our actions and thoughts must follow such different paths, according to whether there is hope of eternal blessing or not, that the only possible way of acting with sense and judgment is to decide our course in the light of this point, which ought to be our ultimate objective.
Pascal points out how important a clear conceptual understanding of our soul is for us as humans. By choosing to either believe or disbelieve in the existence of a soul you are charting the course of your life.
Christians should be developing a clear understanding of our essential human constructs if we are going to properly navigate this challenging world in which we live. Christian insights on humanity give us the most complete understanding of our existence. These concepts have been the cornerstone of moral and ethical behavior for centuries.
In the last 200 years Christianity has been under a relentless onslaught by the rise of empirical science and its accompanying philosophy. Christianity has often allowed other fields of inquiry to dictate the terms (paradigms) by which it could do research. This further undermined the nature of the theological investigation. Some allowed Christianity to be relegated to and regulated by the same paradigms that the sciences fell under. Others abandoned intellectual inquires in theological areas altogether—preferring to have a “simple faith”.
In an interview with RELEVANT Magazine, Dallas Willard (Christian Philosopher at the University of Southern California) had this to say about the fall of religious knowledge:
Our culture’s faith is in the sciences, and we don’t think of God and we don’t think of the spiritual aspect of the person as real. We still talk about it, of course, in endless discussions on public television or on Oprah. But, religion and spirituality is generally treated like this in our culture: it’s a big discussion and sells lots of books, but it’s not supposed to deal with anything that’s factual.
Neither of these positions should be acceptable to the Christian. If Christianity is true—if our souls are truly immortal—then there are important implications to that truth that we must wrestle with as believers.
In the same article Dallas Willard points out the importance of a Christian intellectual life:
You know, what we need to do as Christians is to learn to think carefully and well. And that means, as Paul says, try all things, put everything to the test. But you know, we’re really quite lazy mentally as Christians. We don’t feel, I believe, that God is really on the side of thinking or thinking on the side of God, and as a result, we don’t discipline ourselves to think.
The Christian life is one that is intellectually difficult. Often people do not want to wrestle with the complicated concepts of the faith. GK Chesterton in his book, What’s Wrong with the World, had this to say about the difficulty of Christianity: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
To follow Christ is difficult work, but it is what our eternal souls are made for. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” He also states in I Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
Our understanding of human immortality should drive our present actions. To live as a Christian means to strive to understand who we are in him, and how we live given that understanding. If humans are immortal we should think much more deeply about the eternal consequences of daily interactions with people. Acts of kindness, care and love are not transitory things, but these actions truly impact the human souls we have contact with on a daily basis—forever.