The faith of a Mathematician

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,  clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…”   –  Colossians 3:12-14

I believe it was Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician, inventor of the first calculator, aspiring theologian (he created the “wager argument” for the existence of God), who in his posthumous book Pensees (Fragments) suggested that if a Christian experiences a crisis of faith he or she should simply act as a Christian person would ideally act, and do it persistently, and soon faith will follow, will rise again.   For Pascal faith could be something aroused by faithful behaviour rather than faith serving as the starting point from which acts of faith are inspired.   It may seem or sound like a sort of artificial manner of tapping into the spiritual, but I can attest from personal experience – it works!   By actually attempting to live out the teachings of Jesus –  on forgiveness, on mercy, on compassion, on servant-hood, etc. – faith can be reinvigorated, rediscovered.

Was Pascal offering a type of behavioural modification therapy far ahead of its time?   Perhaps.  Nonetheless there may be something to be said for adorning ourselves with Christ-like attitudes and behaviour wherever we happen to find ourselves in the journey of life, faith crises or not.

I have probably shared with you at some point in time that Colossians 3:12-17 is a personal favourite.  It is agreed by most Bible scholars that Paul originally wrote the entire Letter to Christians at Colossae (in Asia Minor, east of Ephesus), in the early 50’s C.E. to address a “philosophy” whose ideas were challenging the young church.  Perhaps this philosophy was a form of Gnosticism.  For me, this part of Colossians serves as an encapsulation of the Christian life of discipleship, and that’s why it means so much to me.   Whether in the midst of a faith crisis or not, the idea of ‘clothing’ myself or ‘putting on’ the behaviours or habits described,  especially when I am not inspired to do so, is both instructive and empowering.  To seek to be compassionate when every fibre of my being wishes (for a period) to be judgmental;  to strive for kindness when winter’s length has got me down;  to embrace humility when I’m almost persuaded by the secular culture to live pridefully, etc.   Discipleship, faithful living and serving requires work, effort, discipline and, perhaps, as Pascal asserts, acting like a Christian even when our hearts are not inclined to do so.

Tomorrow is the second Sunday in Lent.  Around the world a billion or so are contemplating the fundamental story at the core of the faith.  It is a story of ultimate grace, a story of infinite love, a story of God naming us as “chosen, holy and beloved” just as we are.  May the story continue to transform us and inspire us, that we, both individually and as Christ’s church, might reflect God’s light into the world.

God of Grace, you have come to us in mercy, in humility, and in vulnerability, to show us the power of your love.  May we seek to love as we have been loved, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to serve as we have been served, that we might be ambassadors of the story,  proclaimers of grace,  messengers of mercy, in all we say and do.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.