Tag Archives: pascal

Love, Fire, and Blaise Pascal

There’s a passage in scripture that we all know, in fact, it’s probably so common that’s simply faded far into the background. It’s the story of the woman with the purfume, and while familiar, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:

36One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

The first question that comes to mind is: what just happened? She poured what where? Followed quickly by: that seems like quite a waste. It’s true, this is a strange passage, it’s rooted in the customs and moires of an ancient culture and can be a bit obtuse to modern readers. It also seems a bit irrational, why would she waste so much money on a trivial action? Aren’t there better ways to spend ones resources in service of the kingdom?

The problem is, this isn’t a story about rationality, it’s a story about love.  This is what all those endless country songs are about. This is the ending to all those movies. This is every drawn out metaphor that Mark Helprin ever concocted. If you’d asked this woman why she did what she did, she would’ve stared back at you, puzzled, and ask: why wouldn’t I?

But it also goes deeper, this is not simply a woman in love, this is a woman forgiven. This is a woman who has been redeemed from the depths of despair and given a new hope. For her, there is nothing in the world that can even possibly compare to the gift she’s been given. If I may dip into pop culture for a moment, and decidedly coarsen the dialogue, it reminds me of this.

Actually, that doesn’t even come close to what it means, but it’s a funny distraction. The real problem with this scene, is that we’re not supposed to see it. This is not a public act for the enjoyment of all, this is a private moment. A gesture of deep love that resonates strangely with the other people in the room. But Jesus responds. He doesn’t condemn her, he defends her. He doesn’t suggest improvements as to how she might better frame her emotional responses within the accepted sociopolitical context, his response is simple.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:50

For whatever broken, painful, awkward form her love took, whatever emotional baggage, or unrealistic expectations she brought with her, Jesus didn’t care. He saw her heart, he knew her love.  If people could simply wrap their minds around the idea that God takes our imperfect, weirdly dysfunctional love and affection, and welcomes us as we are, here and now; well, I don’t think things would quite be the same.

As I was reading, my mind immediately went to two other stories from the annals of time. Two other stories of drama, and emotion. Two other expressions of love, two other glimpses into hearts renewed. While they may be familiar, even over played at times, they’re worth quoting in full. As you read them, don’t let them simply be more words on the digital page. Imaging the words as pouring from the hearts of the authors. Or if it helps, imaging Hunter Hayes singing it. Or you know, someone better.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

– St. Augustine ‘The Confessions’

 

From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.

Fire

‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
‘Thy God shall be my God.’
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word.

Amen.

– Blaise Pascal ‘The Night of Fire’

Both these men saw God. And they saw him in their own way, in their own language. Pascal came to the end of his reason, truly saw Jesus, and suddenly everything around him paled in comparison. In fact, he sewed this vision to the inside of his coat, so it would be with him always. Augustine came to the edge of the world, to the end of everything this earth could provide, and found nothing. Except, him who his heart had been searching for all along.

But the story doesn’t end there, in all three vignettes, the beloved do not remain the same, they are changed. Though they came with broken hearts, twisted love, and captive minds, they left changed by the person and love of Christ.

This is a powerful story. This is a stunning story. This is a transformative story. As we read it, we cannot allow the text to become dry and dead. This is not a factual recounting of mythic history, this love as real as anything the great romantics ever dreamt of. When you read it, feel the heartbreak, feel the passion, and feel the overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and awe that comes in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

Let me never be cut off from him!

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”