Puddleglum's Wager

Pascal's wager is well known and oft repeated. It goes something like this: If the Christian God is true, then the punishment for going to hell is almost infinite and the reward for going to heaven is almost infinite. But if there is no God and atheism is true, the punishment for being wrong and the reward for being right are both the same - you die and disappear. Therefore, it makes sense to 'bet' that Christianity is right. The worst that can happen is that you are wrong (atheism is true) and you die and disappear. On the other hand, if you bet that atheism is true and you are wrong, you spend eternity in hell and if you are right, you get the same fate as the Christian that was wrong (you die and disappear).

While there is a certain logic to this, I think there is also a certain shallowness to it. Is a faith based on a raw calculation of safety really be a genuine faith?

But there is a 'wager' that I find to be compelling and important: Puddleglum's Wager.

In CS Lewis', "The Silver Chair," there is this great passage where the main characters are lost in an underground world and a witch tries to convince them that the underground world is all that there is. She casts her spell and then starts applying reason. If they argued that they had once seen the sun, she argues that the sun is just an imagined bigger version of a lamp. If they pointed to the great lion, Aslan, she would say that they were just imagining a bigger version of her house cat. But then one of the characters, a gloomy man named Puddleglum says the following,

"'One word, Ma'am,' he said... 'One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Supose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say." 

His argument, if you follow, is that if life is as dark and uninteresting as to claim that there is no sun, no lions, no sky, or world beyond the gloomy life below, he would prefer to chase fantasies. I feel this way with purpose. If atheists are right, this is the world. It is not freedom to believe that there is no purpose beyond ourselves. It is not freedom to believe that there is nothing beyond the material and natural. It is not freedom to believe that there is no postmortem existence. It is not freedom to believe that when we die, our existence fades into dirt. It is a dark gloomy underground world. Without light or hope or meaning.

And this was a wager that Puddleglum had to make. He had to bet on there being a world that was not dark and gloomy and underground. There had to be a sun. There had to be Aslan. And this is a wager that I have to make. There has to be a God. There has to be meaning. There has to be purpose. 

In contrast to Pascal's Wager, this wager is not built on safety or indifferent calculations. It is built on love. Love for what the bible tells us God is like. Love for what the bible tells us this world is about. Love for what the bible tells us Jesus is. Love for fellow humans that we want to go on beyond the here and now.

The faith of Pascal's Wager is hardly faith at all. But the faith of Puddleglum is the very definition of faith: love for God and his creation. And for this, I push in all my chips. I risk it all.


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