Ok, folks…time to make some synapses fire. Today’s history/philosophy lesson: Blaise Pascal. He was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Catholic philosopher in the mid-1600s. If the name sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve heard of Pascal’s Wager (basically the idea that if one can’t prove God’s existence through reason, one should wager that God exists anyway because if you live that way your life has everything to gain, and nothing to lose). In addition to his major philosophical works, he made significant contributions to the world of physics; more specifically to the study of hydrodynamics and vacuums. The dictionary defines a vacuum as: “Emptiness of space; a space absolutely devoid of matter.” It’s interesting to learn that, at first, Pascal didn’t believe that vacuums actually existed. Surely something was occupying that space. However, after a series of experiments, he obviously came to the conclusion that nothingness is real. You can see a parallel between his scientific findings and his religious and philosophical exploration. Pascal is credited as having said:
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.
A “God-shaped vacuum.” An area in the heart of every man, woman, and child that is “absolutely devoid of matter.” This is why we ache. This is why we are never satisfied by life’s sundries. This is why marriages fail; why credit cards get maxed out; why bars are full at happy hour. The nothingness is real, but we try to force matter into an area that was made devoid by design. A little research into the religious musings of Pascal will lead you to find that he was a Jansenist, an off-shoot of Roman Catholicism very similar to Calvinism. Jansenists embraced St. Augustine’s doctrines, especially the need for God’s grace. Grace- undeserved favor. We live under the expanse of a great God who, through sending His son, reached down to touch the vacuum in the hearts of humanity to let His grace- the only matter that can fill the void- slowly seep in, fill the cracks, and make Love beat in our chests. The miracle of Christ’s life and death occupies that space. Isn’t it remarkable that Christ’s sacrifice is the thread that runs through history, connecting us with these thinkers and philosophers? We can look at the life of Pascal and see how God was teaching him and filling the vacuum in his heart with revelations of His grace and love through Christ. May those who come after us be able to look at our lives and see how the marvelous grace of God made the nothingness scatter.