Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher and Christian apologist, adds to this observation and refers to it as “diversion,” surmising that “being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things” because these things remind them of their feeble, mortal, unhappy condition. Each man and woman has his or her own way of diversion, be it by boisterous social life, gambling, drinking, war, excellent cuisine, travel, romance, financial security and gain, technology, even philosophy if it is the kind that has a perspective as wide as the point of a pin and that endlessly toils for no real purpose—none of these are “true bliss.” Instead, these activities and addictions serve only to drown out the piercing and alarming voice of reality and death. Engaging in such activities diverts our attention to pleasures and excitement and inhibits keen introspective thought, the sort that would make us painfully aware of our wretchedness and mortality.
Although the prospect of death makes us miserable, it forces us to confront our mortality and search for a remedy, if we do not immediately numb ourselves with the drug of distraction. The problem of a mortal is that he is mortal. The remedy is to become immortal. But, of course, that remedy is beyond mortal capability, by definition. Likewise, the problem of man is that he is wretched and sinful. The remedy is to become truly happy and good. But again, that lies beyond his capacity. One might argue, as Rousseau did, that man is naturally good but is corrupted by society, or by whatever other cause someone may conjure, but can anyone argue that man, at some point, sooner or later, will most certainly die? There is no remedy, then, it seems.
Unless, that is, he turns, to a higher being who is immortal, perfect, and good, and has the ability, and the benevolence, to cure us of our condition. Religion in general aims to answer man’s challenging questions and to point to a solution that remedies his insuperable problem—namely that of his inevitable fate. The stare of death goads religion for a satisfactory reply, and subsequently, a response is given, but, as Pascal affirms, it ought be one that leads to the acquisition of happiness: true happiness, not a numbing counterfeit. So, in order to accomplish this, religion must be true and give true answers and solutions:
To make man happy [true religion] must show him that a God exists whom we are bound to love; that our true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him. It must acknowledge that we are full of darkness which prevents us from knowing and loving him, and so, with our duty obliging us to love God and our concupiscence leading us astray, we are full of unrighteousness. It must account to us for the way in which we thus go against God and our own good. It must teach us the cure for our helplessness and the means of obtaining this cure.
After a string of arguments, Pascal, in confidence, concludes that the only religious practice that unfalteringly, effectively upholds the standards of true religion is Christianity. Christianity shows us an immortal God who, by submitting himself to death, defeated death once and for all in the Harrowing of Hell, and who offers the gift of grace and reconciliation—to become a new creature by dying to the old self, and to have the hope of a blissful afterlife, by faith in him through his Son, Jesus Christ. The mortal does not become an immortal and does not avoid death, per se, but does attain everlasting life, the happiest and fullest of ends, as well as the restoration of his relationship with God, fulfilling the human duty to worship and serve him.
The removal of distraction is the first step towards eternal life. We by ourselves cannot solve the problem of death, literally, figuratively, or spiritually, and destruction and evil still reign on the earth despite our objections and attempts. One can only ignore it for only so long, and perhaps after it is too late. Joseph Pearce wrote an excellent essay in these very pages, “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” outlining the pride and narcissism of addiction, particularly electronic, and its remedy, humility and truth and wonder. We may not have the power to subdue death and destruction, but we know who does have it and who lends us this power. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we may look upon the misery of our world with great sorrow, yet without fear or despair. Let us, then, follow the example of a humble, contrite spirit, aware of his own frailty and destiny, and embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Find the proper place to die, so that you may live, reborn and renewed.
Pastor Timothy J. Atkins
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Pastor, Teacher, Discipler, and Follower of Jesus.