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Pascal's Pensées: Thoughts Worth Thinking
-- This month, we focus on a work by a man who most people agree, secular and Christian, was a genius: Blaise Pascal.
Pascal's legacy of scientific achievement is almost without equal. By age 30, Pascal had made vital contributions to mathematics, physics, meteorology, and what would become computer science.
But as impressive as all of these accomplishments are, Pascal's most important legacy is his apologetic for the Christian faith, the Pensées.
At age 31, Pascal had a religious experience that made all of his achievements seem insignificant by comparison. He described his experience: " . . . about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve, fire." The God he encountered was the "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob," and "not of the philosophers and scholars."
The experience so changed Pascal that he devoted the rest of his life—sadly, only eight years—to defending the Christian faith. The Pensées, which is French for "thoughts," are the product of this desire.
Unfortunately, the Pensées live up to their name. They were literally written one thought at a time. Pascal never finished them, and what he wrote was never systematically organized.
So, you need a guide to the Pensées, and you cannot do better than Ken Boa, whose "Great Books Audio CD" series will help you appreciate the Pensées and other seminal works of Western civilization.
As Boa tells us, the Pensées are "300 years ahead of [their] time." In them, Pascal anticipates much of the way our postmodern world thinks and feels: our sense of boredom and the desire for distraction that it creates. As Pascal put it, "if we were happy, the less diverted we would need to be."
But we are not happy. According to Pascal, the human condition was characterized by pain, ambiguity, and a lack of clarity, all of which gave rise to anxiety and angst. But rather than deal with "the tough questions of life," we distract ourselves with what Pascal calls "vanity," including the desire for fame and notoriety.
The goal of his Pensées was to create an apologetic that described and spoke to the "whole of our experience": our hearts and wills, as well as our minds. As Pascal famously put it, "the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing."
According to Boa, the message of the Pensées is that man is both fallen and is redeemable. As Pascal put it, "the grandeur of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable." This misery can make us aware of our need for God and point us in the direction of the only One who can deliver us from our misery: Jesus Christ.
The Pensées' insight into the human condition is why Pascal is probably more influential 340-plus years after his death than during his short life. His ability to depict postmodern man is even more remarkable than his anticipation of the computer.
That is why you should learn more about Blaise Pascal. And a good place to start is by listening to Ken Boa.
Order your copy of Pascal's Pensées from Shop CBN.
Subscribe to Dr. Ken Boa’s Great Books Audio CD Series.
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From BreakPoint, Copyright Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint
with Chuck Colson" is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship
Ministries. Reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship
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