(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

During the night of November 23, 1654, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal experienced a profound religious conversion. Thereafter he always carried with him a description of the event:From about 10:30 at night, until about 12:30. FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ . . . Jesus Christ. . . . Let me never be separated from Him.

Pascal went on to write his Pensées and thereby became one of the most passionate defenders of the Christian faith.

Pascal’s best-known contribution to religious philosophy is called “Pascal’s Wager.” In the section of his Pensées devoted to it, he speaks about the search for God. For Pascal, that search is the quest for meaning in life, not least of all because God provides the hope that we can be redeemed from misery and death. The question of one’s immortality is of particularly great consequence. If only death awaits even the noblest lives, we will possess no lasting satisfaction. To have only doubt is a great burden where such questions are concerned, but even worse is a failure to try moving beyond that condition. As Pascal’s conversion experience suggests, he thought that religious experience could convey a kind of certitude, at least in the moment of its happening. He recognized, too, that life goes on and is never completely immune to...

(The entire section is 535 words.)