Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), well-known French mathematician and philosopher, was also a devout Christian. His best-known work was his Pensėes, a volume of loosely assorted thoughts on God and man. In his observations on man, he wrote: “What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe!” “Is it not as clear as day that man’s condition is dual? The point is that if man had never been corrupted, he would, in his innocence, confidently enjoy both truth and felicity, and, if man had never been anything but corrupt, he would have no idea either of truth or bliss.” “ … we have an idea of happiness but we cannot attain it. We perceive an image of the truth and possess nothing but falsehood, being equally incapable of absolute ignorance and certain knowledge; …” He then goes on to say, “ … so obvious is it that we once enjoyed a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.”
Pascal was a Jansenist, a member of a Roman Catholic sect which was highly suspect in the church because its teachings seemed a bit too close to the Calvinistic Protestantism of his day. As a Jansenist, he held a high view of the Scripture. The above observations, though they show clear rational thinking and a knowledge of human psychology, obviously are colored by his knowledge of the Word.
Recent events in the news somehow show how modern and relevant Pascal’s observations are. The senseless shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead comes to mind. Not simply the event itself, but all the talk that followed. Add to that Don Imus’ foot-in-mouth and all the talk that followed that. (I won’t even mention the bad tech foul the other night at the Spurs/Mavs game, that possibly cost a ref his career.)
We talk and talk: TV shows, newspapers, newsmagazines, even Oprah. Everyone has an opinion. But as we listen to all the opinions we realize that Pascal was right: Man (humankind, to be politically correct) is both a ‘repository of truth” and a “sink of doubt and error.” We seem to have no ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong and why and what to do about it. We spend a lot of time trying to fix blame.
Pascal understood. He understood the truth of Genesis 3. I believe we must go to this chapter and the one preceding to really get a handle on what’s wrong.
The story in Genesis 3 begins in a garden, an apparently perfect garden. Genesis 1:31, says that all that God had made “was very good.” In this garden God placed the man that He had created (Genesis 2:7, 8), also apparently perfect and then created a woman as “a helper suitable to” him, also apparently perfect. (See A SUITABLE HELPER) They were God-like beings, created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27).
So the stage is set: a perfect couple in a perfect location, all the food you want to eat; a cushy job. Naked with no shame. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Problem: there’s one prohibition. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), or penalty of death.
So what happened? The serpent tempts the woman. (We’re told elsewhere that this serpent is none other than Satan himself, a fallen being: Revelation 12:9). The woman takes the fruit of the forbidden tree, hands it to her man (who the Hebrew text says was “with her”), he eats it, and suddenly everything goes wrong.
Now I don’t believe this was some sort of magic tree. They gained knowledge of good and evil by disobeying. It was simply a test case. God had put them in a perfect environment. God apparently wanted the willing obedience of the man and woman. He gave them the freedom of choice to obey or disobey. And they disobeyed.
We see the results of the fall immediately: Guilt – a broken relationship with God and with each other; shame; attempts to cover the shame (See LIES WE (CHRISTIANS) BELIEVE ABOUT OURSELVES); and excuses.
Paul tells us in Romans 5:12, that through this act, sin (guilt) and death entered the human race. So when we look at man today we see, as Pascal did “that man’s condition is dual.” We see great acts of love, courage and heroism. We see horrible acts of hatred, cowardice and murder. Sometimes by the same person.
And we waste a lot of time and energy trying to shift the blame, just like the first man and the first woman. “The woman YOU gave to be with me – she gave it to me and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). We make ourselves loin coverings of leaves to hide our nakedness (Genesis 3:17) and never do take the blame or responsibility. Sound familiar? Turn on your news broadcasts and/or talk radio and you’ll hear more of the same.
But the beautiful thing is that God Himself takes care of our guilt and our shame. In the Genesis’ story we read that “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and covered them.” And He’s done the same for us and our guilt and shame. “He made Him who knew no sin (Christ) to be sin (a sin offering) on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).