Blaise Pascal was born in France in 1623. He lost his mother at the young age of 3, and grew up with his two sisters and father. Pascal showed great academic prowess even in his youth. He grew up during a time period when Rationalistic thought was very strong. The enlightenment thinkers Voltaire and Descartes were some of his contemporaries, and he did not hesitate to interact with their writings. Pascal was also an able scientist, and his "go out and see" style of discovery ran a bit counter to the rationalism of his day; in addition to laying a foundation for the scientific method as we know it. Pascal was neither a rationalist nor and empiricist however. He saw the uses of each, but he recognized that each were to be viewed from within the context of a religious perspective. One of Pascal's most famous quotes betrays his critique of pure rationalism:
The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.1
When he was converted however, Pascal's intellect was to be forever redirected. On November 23, 1654 he experienced Christ in a special and salvific way. He described the encounter as follows:
"From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."3
Now, I want to draw your attention to an aspect of Pascal's thinking that I believe is 100x more applicable to us than it was even during his own time, That idea involves entertainment and recreation and its place in the lives of the vast majority of people in American society and culture. Listen to what Pascal had to say during his own day:
The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.4
As human beings living in the 21st century our anthem has more and more become "working for the weekend." Why do we love weekends so much? It's because that is my time off when I get to do what I want to do, and live how I want to live. What then do 90% of Americans spend this time on? Entertainment and recreation. This perspective speaks volumes about our true passions and desires in life. As a society we are more advanced than ever and yet we spend all of our technology and skills trying to free up more time for us to entertain ourselves. Movies, television series, sports, video games, hobbies, socializing, you name it we do it. Anything we can do to distract ourselves from the real things that matter in life. Anything will do if it will muffle the sounds of our screaming consciences.
Don't get me wrong, entertainment and recreation has its place. However, the spot of #1 most important thing in the world isn't it. We are distracting ourselves to death. Indeed, Satan's most powerful weapon against us is our own passion and desire to deaden our conscience and find some "consolation." Satan distracts us all the way into Hell. Even for genuine believers, Satan distracts us into relatively fruitless walks and lives. We have bought the same lie that he is selling to everyone else, and we consume it just as feverishly.
A contemporary and insightful perspective on this topic comes from a band that I rather enjoy. I leave you with a song that speaks to this very topic. Listen carefully to the lyrics, and gives some serious consideration and prayer to the role that diversions and distractions play in your life.
1 Ted Cabal, “Notable Christian Apologist: Blaise Pascal,” in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Chad Owen Brand et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1243.
2 Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 61.
4 Elliot Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).