Arts and Culture

Pensées - Short Thoughts on Various Topics

Author Greg Koukl Published on 01/01/2017

There’s a lesson to be learned from using vignettes like these. Sometimes all it takes is a short reflection or a briefly explained insight to put a stone in someone’s shoe, gently prodding them to see things from a different perspective.

            In 1662, a remarkable mathematician and Christian thinker named Blaise Pascal passed on, leaving a loosely organized collection of reflections written in defense of his Christian convictions. It was published posthumously under the title Pensées, which simply means “thoughts.”

            Sometimes it takes pages and pages to develop a concept well. Other times a short vignette will do. In the next two issues of Solid Ground I will share with you a selection of “thoughts” I have gathered over the years addressing a wide range of issues relevant to your role as a Christian ambassador.

Unbelievable Unbelief

         The skeptic says, “If God would only show Himself to me in some dramatic, miraculous way, then I’d believe in Him.” This kind of person overestimates himself, I think. Even miracles can be denied or dismissed.

         During Jesus’ passion week in Jerusalem, He was called to nearby Bethany because His friend Lazarus was dying. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was gone. In a dramatic scene Jesus called him forth from the tomb alive, still wrapped in burial clothes.

         This was a spectacular miracle performed in public for all to see. What was the response of the Jewish leaders? They decided to kill Jesus. “This man is performing many signs,” they said. “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn. 11:47-48).

         But Jesus wasn’t the only one they needed to eliminate. They also had to get rid of another piece of evidence: Lazarus. “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus” (Jn. 12:10-11).

         Instead of falling to their knees in response to this obvious display of Messianic power, the leadership conspires to kill the very man whose public resurrection was proof positive of their error. I call this “unbelievable unbelief.”

         Do you think if God just did a miracle it would change a person’s rebellious heart? Don’t count on it. Jesus said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).

            As one wag put it, a skeptic with such an experience would not seek God, he’d seek a psychiatrist. Oh so true. The sun melts butter…but it hardens clay.

Love Needs an Education

            In Philippians 1:9-10, Paul prays that our love as Christians will abound in “real knowledge and all discernment.” The Apostle knows that love needs an education before it will actually approve what is excellent (v. 10).

            The problem is, “love” can inadvertently approve what is evil. It happens all the time, e.g., Christian parents of gay children who think loving their child means full acceptance of—even celebration of—their sinful behavior. Only “real knowledge and discernment” will protect us from having our personal feelings distort our moral judgments. Even emotions like love should be theologically informed. Paul makes it clear elsewhere (1 Cor. 13:6) that it’s actually a lack of love to rejoice in what is unrighteous.

"Forced" to Be Parents

            A new challenge to the pro-life view is the claim that restrictions on abortion actually force women to become parents against their will. This, of course, sounds like an unconscionable intrusion of government into our private lives.

            I agree, no one should be forced to become a parent against her will, but this is not the situation we face with abortion. If the unborn is a human being, then pregnant women already are parents. It’s morally self-evident that no parent should escape her responsibilities by killing her unwanted children. The only legitimate way to escape from already being a parent is through adoption.

            Clearly, the issue isn’t unwanted parenthood. If the unborn is a human being, the woman already is the child’s mother. She should not be permitted to take his life just because she doesn’t want to continue being a parent.

How God “Hears” Prayers

            How can God hear all our prayers at once? This is what children ask, but the question comes up with adults, too. The answer is easy, though.

            God doesn’t learn our requests by listening to them.  Since God is omniscient—He knows everything, including our prayers before we pray them—He gains no information when we pray. He has always known what our prayer would be. Having always known, He’s also always known how He would respond. The purposes of His will regarding the prayer have been eternally established.

            Prayer is not just an empty ceremony, though. God’s knowledge of our prayer depends on the fact that we pray. If we don’t pray, then there is no prayer for God to have known in advance. He only knows our prayers beforehand because we actually choose to pray them in the future. That’s why, even with a God who knows everything—including our prayers in advance—prayer still matters.

When to Hold and When to Fold

            How do we know when to stick to our guns on an idea and when to change our view? Here’s what I suggest: Hold to your view only as tenaciously as the evidence permits.  Be gracious at all times.  And be humble to change your view when the evidence warrants that.

            Here’s what I mean. There are some ideas I’ve researched and thought through very carefully.  I can lay out my case for anyone to consider. Though it’s always possible for me to be mistaken, still, I have a confidence because I can defend my convictions with good evidence. Because I’ve done my homework, I will not surrender those views easily.

            On things I haven’t thought out, though, I am provisional. I may have opinions, but I’m not going to defend them aggressively. I’ll say, “This is my thinking right now and here are my reasons, but I could be wrong. I need to do some more work on this. What do you think?”

            It’s good to get in the habit of saying, “I could be mistaken.” Look at the other point of view as honestly as you can. Is there merit in the idea? Is there error in your own thinking or a misapplication of a verse? Have you been blind to something that seems obvious to everyone else? Keep going back to the reasons, but don’t be afraid to keep your eye out for something you haven’t considered.

            Dogmatism results when we cling to our views without proper justification. It’s not an attractive way to represent Christ. Worse, we may end up vigorously defending a view that’s false.

Rubber Crutches

            When people ask me, “Isn’t Christ just a crutch?” I have a simple reply. I tell them, “You’re right. Christ is a crutch, but you’ve asked the wrong question.” No one faults a lame person for using a crutch. Lame people need crutches. The real question is, “Am I lame?”

            The fact is, everybody leans on something. As a Christian I lean on Jesus, because He’s a crutch that can hold me. What about you? The real issue is not whether you’re leaning on a crutch. Everybody does. The real question is, “Can your crutch hold you?”

            When I was a kid and someone told a dumb joke, we’d say, “That’s as funny as a rubber crutch.” The point is “rubber crutches” aren’t funny. As it turns out, though, a lot of people are leaning on crutches that will never hold them.

            What’s your fancy? What is it that makes your life work for you? A relationship? A career? A bank account? Your health? Power? Each of those is a rubber crutch. If what you’re depending on for security and significance can be here today and gone tomorrow, then you’re in trouble. You’re leaning on a rubber crutch. And that’s not funny.

            Yes, the Christian leans on Christ. Call it a crutch if you want, but our crutch can hold us. A Christian is someone who admits his deep need. He knows he’s broken in many ways, and needs help.

            When you finally come to your senses and realize you’re deeply broken, Christ isn’t “just” a crutch—He’s life support system.

Double Standard on the Problem of Evil

            If the truth were known, we do not judge disasters based on unprejudiced moral assessment, but rather on what is painful, awkward, or inconvenient for us. We don’t ask, “Where is God?” when our pleasure comes at the price of another’s pain (e.g., when our adultery destroys a marriage and the lives of the children involved).

            The reason is we don’t want God sniffing around the darker recesses of our own evil conduct. Instead, we fight intervention when any evil that God allows brings us personal benefit. We don’t really want Him stopping us from hurting others; we only cry foul when He doesn’t stop others from hurting us.

Are All Religions Equally Good?

            The concept that all religions are basically good is flawed because it doesn’t pay enough attention to the end product. Many religions have good moral teachings, but any religion that gives temporal benefits without ultimately leading us to the true God is treating the symptom and not the disease.

             There is a serious philosophical problem with saying that all religions are equally good in an ultimate sense. Their contradictory ideas about God and the afterlife and a whole bunch of other things can’t all be correct at the same time. Someone must be mistaken.

            If issues of religion have eternal consequences, then errors in thinking are infinitely tragic. To rephrase Karl Marx, false religion is the opiate of the people. It soothes, but does not cure.

God in Man’s Image?

            If we were to invent a god, what would he be like? If we fashioned a god of our choosing, would we create a god like the one in the Bible? A god formed by human hands would mirror human sensibilities and human proclivities. He would think and act, more or less, like we do. As our invention, his morality would reflect our desires. When we erred, he’d cluck his disapproval and then dismiss our frailties with an affectionate kids-will-be-kids shrug. After all, nobody’s perfect. And this is the kind of god many religions seem to produce.

            The curious thing about the God of the Bible is how unlike us He is. His wisdom confuses us; His purity frightens us. He makes moral demands we can’t live up to, then threatens retribution if we don’t obey. Instead of being at our beck and call, He defies manipulation. In His economy, the weak and humble prevail and the last become first.

            Is this the kind of god we would invent? Is He the kind of god we would create if left to our own devices? Or have we seen the true God and trembled, closed our eyes, hid our faces, and turned our backs?

Were You Ever an Unborn Child?

            It doesn’t seem to make sense to say you once were a sperm or an egg. Does it make sense, though, to talk about yourself before you were born? Did you turn in your mother’s womb or kick when you were startled by a loud noise? Did you suck your thumb? Were those your experiences or someone else’s?

            If you were once the unborn child your mother carried, then you have to accept an undeniable truth: killing that child through abortion would have killed you. Not a potential you. Not a possible you. Not a future you. Abortion would have killed you.

            This is why abortion is tragic. It kills more than a human body. It kills a valuable human being.

I’m Just a Little Sinner

            Those who think they’re “basically good” should do a little math. Counting only the sins you committed from age ten to sixty—just those fifty years—how many sins would you have committed if you only sinned ten times a day?

            This is a very modest figure, by the way, ten sins a day. Keep in mind we’re not talking about just murder, pillaging, stealing and the like, but all manner of offense against God including the attitudes of your heart, and motives as well as actions.

            So what’s the sum? Sinning just ten times a day for 50 years amounts to 182,500 infractions of the law. What judge would let you off with that kind of a rap sheet? And that is a best-case scenario.

            Basically good? No chance.

Is Abortion a Holocaust?

            Jews recoil at the use of the word “holocaust” to describe legalized abortion. To them it’s an offense to the memory of six million Jews who perished under the Third Reich. The Jewish Holocaust was obviously more heinous than the same amount of abortions would be.

            Think about that for a minute, though.

            Notice first that this objection depends for its force on a tacit denial that the unborn are fully human. If they are, who would say that taking the life of a youngster (in this case very young) is not the moral equivalent of taking the life of an adult? Generally, we are more shocked when a young life is taken, though both old and young are equally valuable in virtue of their shared humanity.

            There does seem to be a sense, though, in which the evil of the Nazi Holocaust was compounded by the circumstances under which it was done. Aborted human beings die relatively quickly and, by comparison, with little or no mental anguish. (This is certainly not always true, but that’s another issue.) Jews, on the other hand, were treated like animals—terrorized, persecuted, raped, beaten, and then eventually murdered.

            The Nazi holocaust was worse than the abortion holocaust, not because the unborn are not human, but because of the barbaric conditions under which Nazis eliminated those they no longer valued. Both are unspeakably evil, purely based on the number of human lives sacrificed. In the case of the Jewish Holocaust, though, the evil is compounded by the circumstances under which it was done.

            Clearly not all holocausts are equal. Some are more egregious due to the additional suffering, loss, and assault on human dignity they entail. Still, the destruction of 3,000 unborn children each day in America for over 40 years is a holocaust of significant magnitude since valuable human beings are being wantonly destroyed.

Are Our Lives Our Own?

            Is life a gift with a transcendent purpose to be fulfilled, or do we own ourselves and have the right to do with our bodies whatever we please? It’s a crucial element that is usually left out of the assisted-suicide debate.  Are our lives our own?

            This question can be answered in part with a little reflection. Why do we feel compelled to talk someone out of suicide? Why try to dissuade them? The reason is that we have an intuitive sense that life has transcendent purpose. We’re so sure of this that we try to stop people from killing themselves and “wasting” their lives.

            A life can only be wasted if it has a purpose that is never fulfilled. If there is no purpose in life, there is no tragedy when an infant is still-born, or when terrorists take out a nursery, or when high school students are killed in a plane crash, even though they all die “before their time.”

            Notice that the notion of “untimely” death here has no relation to a person’s own subjective goals. The goal of a suicidal person is to die, a purpose he fulfills if he takes his life. An infant who dies unexpectedly has no goals or aspirations of her own. Yet in both cases we have this nagging suspicion that something is wrong.

            Our sense of tragedy lies in our conviction that these people did not fulfill some larger purpose in life, one bigger than their own temporal wants and desires. If such a purpose exists—and our intuitions suggest it does—then our lives are not our own to do with as we please.

            God has made it clear we are not the masters of our own lives. Our existence is not a thing we own, but a sacred life we are entrusted with. The commandment “Thou shall not murder” forbids us to take an innocent human life. It applies to taking our own lives and not just lives of others.

            There’s a reason for this. The fifth commandment was given not because murder violates personal liberty by taking something that belongs to someone—his life. That’s covered in the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Instead, it prohibits the unwarranted destruction of a human being because he’s made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). Murder is primarily a crime against God.

            Our lives are not our own, they’re a gift with a purpose to be fulfilled.

Freedom and Rationality

            Here’s an argument against naturalistic determinism based on the relationship between free will and rationality.

            Free will makes rationality possible. If there is no free will, then no one is capable of choosing to believe something because of good reasons. One could never adjudicate between a good idea and a bad one. He’d only believe what he does because he’s been predetermined to do so. Arguments wouldn’t matter.

            That’s why it’s odd to hear someone try to argue for determinism. If he’s right, then his conviction is not really based on reasons—on the merits of the view itself—but rather on prior conditions that cause his belief. He’s determined to believe in determinism, and we’re determined to believe in freedom.

            So, oddly enough, if there is no free will, no one could ever know it, since they could never conclude such a thing based on reasonable deliberation. Instead, their belief would be a result of circumstance completely beyond their rational control.


            There’s a lesson to be learned from using vignettes like these. Sometimes all it takes is a short reflection or a briefly explained insight to put a stone in someone’s shoe, gently prodding them to see things from a different perspective. 

            Many of your interactions will be with people you’ll see again since you’re in relationship with them. This means that much of your effort will be in planting and nurturing rather than in harvesting.

            As a Christian ambassador, be prepared to take small steps, engaging someone over time. Offering little tidbits like the ones above is a great way to get them thinking and, hopefully, move them towards Jesus.