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On the Gamble of a Lifetime

The old man sat there on the side of his hospital bed. I looked hard into his face. We had known each other for a long while. Now he was facing his last few weeks on earth, maybe even his last days, and he knew it.

“But what if I’m right and you’re wrong?” I asked. “What then?”

We had discussed spiritual matters many times. Our relationship with each other had always been extremely candid. Especially on matters of faith, he knew exactly where I stood and I knew where he stood. In the end we usually agreed to disagree. But through the years, in spite of our differences, we had happily been able to maintain a healthy respect for one other. Even now, welcoming my visit, he was open to considering my challenge. “Go on”, he said.

“All right, think about it,” I continued, “What IF you don’t just die like a dog? What IF you don’t get recycled? What IF there is a Judgment Day? What IF there is a real hell? What IF the Bible is altogether truthful in that which it affirms about Jesus of Nazareth, and about how one must be saved, and about matters of eternity. What then?”

He shrugged. But he was listening carefully. He was thinking.

“Look,” I said, “if you’re right and I’m wrong, what have I got to lose by having lived as if it were all true? If you’re right and there is nothing after this life, it’s no big deal for either of us. That’s true. BUT …if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’ve got everything to lose. You’re no fool. Why don’t you see that? Aside from everything else, what a wild gamble you’re taking! Listen, we stopped in Las Vegas last year on our trip west. We saw a lot of people gambling. Thousands were going at it when we went to bed. The next morning before breakfast, hundreds of folks were already at their slot machines, pulling levers. But nobody within 300 miles of the place would have ever gone for a deal with odds like this!”

Blaise Pascal was a brilliant French scientist and mathematician. He lived over 300 years ago, from 1623-1662. He was only 39 years old when he died, but today you will find his name in every encyclopedia in print. Among his many other accomplishments, he was the very first to set forth a formal theory of probability. When it came to taking a chance, Pascal was an authority.

Here is something Pascal once wrote. It eventually became known as ‘The Pascal Wager’: “What do you risk on the idea that there is a God? If there is no God and you live as if there were, what have you lost? Likewise, if there truly is a God and you live as if there were none, what do you risk losing? And which is the safer risk? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain you gain all; if you lose you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that He is. Jesus Christ is the end of all and the center to which all tends. Whoever knows Him knows the reason of everything.”

It is true that there are far nobler reasons and a far more convincing basis for investing one’s faith in the God of the Bible and in His truth. But Pascal’s Wager should give real pause to any intelligent skeptic.

The old man in the hospital bed that day listened to my challenge, thought about it for awhile, and then changed the subject. Obviously, in some cases, a genuine spiritual conversion experience requires something more than “mere” truth and logic.