Wretchedness, Pascal and Grace

If there were no obscurity, man would not be sensible of his corruption; if there were no light, man would not hope for a remedy. Thus, it is not only fair, but advantageous to us, that God be partly hidden and partly revealed; since it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, as to know his own wretchedness without knowing God.

Pascal’s Penseés #585

This week has been wretched. Or rather, this week has shown me to be wretched. I wrote earlier of being chastised by a friend, and also in my reflections on Scripture I noticed myself to be offended, even repulsed at Jesus. Is this an inappropriate response? Is it unfaithfulness? Have I shown myself to be apart from Christ?

I find comfort in Pascal’s reflections on this point. In the brief statement above, he examines why there is some hiddenness in God. For many there is much of God which is self evident, be that in creation or in experience or in philosophy. There are some parts of God which seem clear to all. However there is something more.

It is this something more which Pascal places in obscurity. It is this something more of which I have fallen short, and failed to see and cherish. In my unbelief, I have not manifested the life of Christ in my actions and relationships. I know it is there, but it is hidden from me.

Why? So that I might know my wretchedness.

In this God has shown me a kindness. This is the kindness of preventing me from believing myself to be better than him. Yet the sweetest kindness is that of knowing God’s forgiving grace given for that wretchedness.

So though I know myself to be wretched, I know all the more God’s greater goodness which covers such a wretch.


Add yours →

  1. I am so sorry Ian but having just read your comment on Friendly Like a Knife and this post – I don’t even recognise what you are talking about – it certainly seems to bear no relationship with the Word of God I read, with the God I know, and with the walk with God I experience. I just don’t understand where you are coming from?


    • Beverly: I’m going to continue the discussion in this thread only, rather than stretch it between these two posts.

      Can you explain what you mean and give examples? The comment is a little too vague to really address the issues you’ve raised.



  2. I see you begin by appearing to use one of Pascal’s more egregious appeals to mystery. The supreme cart-before-horse trickery of ‘if it was easy to see God, then what would be the point of faith?’ Am I wrong?


  3. http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=02e97ce2b8777d1b57103a1b4&id=d3e94c23aa

    For the second time this week – I feel the Holy Spirit has provided just the right words for me. The other day for Ben , today for you. I feel that you are trying to concentrate on denying the flesh in order to get closer to God and you remain permanently confused and frustrated. Why not try it the other way around and see what happens?


    • Deny God and get closer to the flesh, you mean? Not a terrible idea. 😉


    • Beverly: I see your concern, and I appreciate what you are saying in noticing that perhaps I am trying to ‘deny the flesh’ to get closer to God. I wouldn’t think of my experience of the Christian faith in such terms.

      When I was confronted and called to account, it was clearly my sin or my ‘flesh’ (which, as I read Paul, I understand to mean humanities tendency toward sin rather than God) which was being held up to the light. The light of Christ shone through his body, the church, to illuminate my own darkened heart. Clearly with a darkened and cold heart I responded badly, and the post was a half sarcastic, half true reflection on the experience. I am, however, thankful for the experience.

      I also spent time in the scriptures practicing Ignatian spirituality and again I was confronted by my own frustrating lack of faith, hope and patience. This was why I found myself frustrated and Jesus’ demand that I give out of what I do not have.

      And so when I read Pascal I was comforted in a large measure. That might sound odd, but his reflection on God was to say that though God is hidden from us, and we are apart from him, nevertheless it is for our benefit that we should only ever have true communion with him through the forgiveness of our sins. Without forgiveness, of course, there would be no union with God.

      Yes, God makes known to me my own corruption and falleness, as Pascal says, since God is not fully revealed to me. For him, and indeed for me, it is better that I know myself, which means to know my wretchedness than to imagine myself blameless before God. That, in my estimation, would be a far graver sin and would open a door to a greater darkness still.


  4. Well Ben I understand from you that is exactly how you have chosen to live your life – only trouble is absolute truth (God) is still absolute truth even it you choose to deny it!!

    Of course I mean concentrate on God and not on your flesh and you will find you become more holy by accident than you could ever become on purpose.

    One drop of Jesus blood is worth far far more than all the sin in the world so why not put all our effort into concentrating on Jesus’ blood rather than our sin.


  5. As soon as you have some ‘absolute truth (God)’ to show me, then I’ll happily shift myself to that picture of reality. What can be asserted without evidence may just as well be dismissed without it.


  6. What a limited life you must live Ben if the only reality you accept is that you have personally been in contact with. Presumably that makes all of history and all of anybody elses exclusive experience untrue for you. Lets ask your wife if the pain of childbirth is any less real because you personally haven’t experienced it!!


  7. You may be confusing me with someone else, as I have neither a wife, nor a child.
    That’s unimportant, though. What is vaguely pertinant is your failure to distinguish between evidence-based methods of determining reality (ways that are testable, repeatable and immune to confirmation bias and other fallacies) and the crude ways of thinking you ascribe to me.
    I submit it is you who is living the shallow pitiful life of one who values her own ‘insights’ and beliefs so highly that they are loath to put them to the test against the whetstone that is reality.
    Good luck.


  8. But this is where you miss the evidence based method of determining the reality that is Jesus Christ – these are not”my” insights and beliefs – they are the insights and beliefs of the real live person who provably and repeatably walked this earth and disturbed the lives of jews and romans, royality and poverty.

    Because you choose not to believe in his reality doesn’t make his reality nonexistent.

    Ian – more helpful insight to encourage you in your walk http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=02e97ce2b8777d1b57103a1b4&id=0915ad8dc5

    By the way Ben the tired old phrase you use of “evidence-based methods of determining reality (ways that are testable, repeatable and immune to confirmation bias and other fallacies) ” that you put your faith is actually worth your further examination. I would suggest you seriously examine the facts (the data) behind the biased interpretation proffered to you and others by scientists who have a point to prove (or a benefactor to please) – you will be surprised to find just how biaised the interpretation of that very data that you put your faith in is.


  9. Go back to your increasingly insane world filled with godless manipulative scientists (trying to please a satanic clique of “bosses”, weren’t they, last time you brought this up in an evolution ‘debate’?) where a real, live Palestinian Zombie walked this earth and died for your sins.

    This is an ahistorical claim, and you know very well that the most we can say about the life and times of Jesus ben Joseph is that his messianic cult thrived, not unlike ANY popular religion – and I presume you don’t take their claims seriously.
    All you ever have to offer is a denial of reality and a cryptic declaration of undeniable evidence for your position which you ultimately never produce.
    I mean:
    “Because you choose not to believe in his reality doesn’t make his reality nonexistent.”
    Is that the best your argument has to offer? Really? I have often thought it was a sign of nefariousness (as opposed to ‘specialness’) that religion asks to be excluded from the same -yes- evidence-based methodologies we use to evaluate every other claim about the world. You are doing a stand-up job of endorsing that probability.


  10. God loves you Ben. Jesus died for your sins on the cross – he took the penalty you and I should have paid – he’s calling you to put your trust in Him and see just how different life can be – why don’t you stop fighting him and give him a chance – what have you got to lose?

    There is right and wrong – you know that. There is an underlying moral code that science can’t explain – you know that in your heart. There is a thing called LOVE which science can’t explain – you know that too. Stop running from him Ben – run towards him and experience his utter peace and joy in your heart.

    The fool says in his heart there is no God. The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. The foolishness of God is wiser than men. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth – but shun profane and vain babblings for they will increase unto more ungodliness.

    So I withdraw from your profane and vain babblings Ben and turn back to reflecting on the Word of God.

    I will pray for you.


    • This is nearly the funniest thing I’ve ever read, Beverly, short of something by Wilde, or Wodehouse. Well done.

      I can’t really be bothered to stoop down tonight to try to explain exactly where I think your thinking is awry. Suffice it to say that I remain unconvinced – and that is not MY fault, Beverly, but incontrovertibly yours.

      You want a discussion in future? If so, here’re some pro-tips:
      #1. Don’t call me a fool. Even a craven zealot should be able to see that that tack’s not going to get you anywhere. I shouldn’t have to tell you why, but I will: it smacks of childishness and an unwillingness to do anything but insult the opposition.
      #2. Bear in mind that what the non-theist is experiencing is not denial, but (if your position is true) ignorance. Don’t talk as though the person really believes in -insertdeityhere- but is denying it. This sort of thing shows a lack of respect in the conversation. I for instance try to take people’s professed beliefs at their word – that they at least believe/disbelieve them.

      In conclusion:
      You pray for me, and I’ll think for you.


  11. Sorry Ben but God disagrees with your analysis. You have said before that you have read His Word – you will then know that I am not calling you a fool, God is. You will also know that God doesn’t call the non theist ignorant – but in denial and without excuse before God. Even the secular world agrees with God’s analysis on this – as the quote says – there are no athiests in the trenches.

    I am not quoting my words or my opinion – I am just quoting the Word of God. Ben I don’t have a religion – I have a relationship with a living God.

    I am not seeking to “win you with words” vain philosphy is is just a way of detracting from the absolute truth.

    1 Corinthians 1 verses 17 to 21

    However “funny” you find my writings Ben you WILL one day stand before your maker. I continue to pray that you willingly submit your life to him while you have the chance.

    What say you Ian?


    • I feel no need to speak for God. God is perfectly capable of speaking by himself. I, to use the language the Evangelist used of John the Baptist, am here to bear witness to the Light.

      I understand that to mean, in the context of this blog, writing on my experience of that same Light.

      As far as I am concerned, I do not bear witness so long as I speak unkindly or ignorantly of others. These are not the attributes Jesus seeks me to express. I do not need to be rude, obnoxious or arrogant. And I do not use Scripture as some kind of platform for such shameless acts.

      I cannot bully, embarrass or humiliate anyone into submitting to God. And even if they were to submit, it would be to my power and not to God.

      As much as I disagree with Ben’s conclusions on many matters of life, I think he was right to call you out on 1. Calling him a fool, and 2. Claiming he merely denies what he knows to be true.

      In telling Ben that you are quoting Gods words to him, you are expecting of him a faith which he does not possess. It’s like expecting a physics student to understand the philosophical implications of a Greek classic. Which you have read to them in Greek.

      To do thus is unkind, in my estimation, and demonstrates an unwillingness to find a common language by which mutual understanding may be achieved.


  12. Interesting point of view Ian – but not one I think the apostle Paul would have agreed with you on – or else he would never have written down the words led by the Spirit in the first place. The message of the cross offends people – we are told that – the goodness of God leads to repentance – we are told that too. But to deny the truth to avoid offence is certainly not a stance that anyone recorded in the bible takes. Ben questions and ridicules Jesus – his life and death and resurrection and in turn my very life – breath, existence for living and reason for life – and that is not deemed offensive by you – just intellectually amusing – and yet I quote scripture – just to state the truth – and I am deemed offensive. That is exactly a point Paul makes and says he is willing to risk being thought of as offensive in order to speak the truth.

    God Loves Ben – God died for Ben – God wants more than anything in the world for Ben to love him and live his life according to God. That is wonderful wonderful Grace. Oh that Ben will find and accept that love and grace. Am sure we will both continue to pray for Ben.


    • My, my, I clearly have a lot of thinking to do.
      Yeah, what Ian said.

      The ‘no atheists in foxholes’ is about as authoritative as any insult based on a perceived stereotype. Though I like to think the same might hold for Christians; doesn’t ‘thou shalt not kill’ prevent one from entering a foxhole?

      Here’s the thing, Beverly: you SAY you’re speaking the word of (a) god, but without any more than that I simply can’t trust merely in your conviction. Especially if there’s evidence which suggests you’re mistaken about the world. I had a very similar conversation with a muslim a few months ago who was convinced the nature of Allah was so self-evident in the world that the fault must lie with me in denying him. ‘Denying’. When did humans surrender the ontological default to theism, I wonder… how early?


  13. You have a long conversion here, all I can say that let’s respect everyone belief on religion and let’s not fight because we have different definition of our faith in Him.


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