Recently, my pastor shared a quote from Blaise Pascal. The quote I found online at Good Reads was translated differently:
The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.Blaise Pascal
In the version shared by my pastor, the word ‘wretchedness’ was used in place of the word ‘misery.’ For me to better understand the quote, I have to make it more wordy.
The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride. The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way because in Him we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness.
The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride.
The first part of the quote makes me think of two types of people. One type is the person who says things like, “I’m a good person. I’ve made mistakes but I’m doing fine on my own. I don’t need religion. I don’t need to be saved.” This person uses other people as their measure of goodness. When talk of religion comes up, this person may bring up the second type – the religious hypocrite.
The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word ‘hypokrites,’ meaning ‘an actor.’ The religious hypocrite has knowledge of the Ten Commandments and religious virtues but lacks knowledge of their own wretchedness. They are self-righteous and self-important, pious, holier-than-thou. They make a display of their good works. They look down on and condemn other sinners.
Both types of people are relying on themselves to earn salvation. Thinking you are morally superior to others is a form of pride. But anyone who does not acknowledge their own sinfulness in relation to God is using a false measure of righteousness. The proper measure of righteousness is not other people. The right measure is God. We all fall miserably short of our glorious, holy Father.
The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair.
The second sentence makes me think about people who compare themselves to others and conclude that they are inferior, unworthy of love. They may even say, “I’m a bad person. I’m a failure.” Perhaps they have been criticized and verbally abused by others so much that they have no self-esteem. They feel remorse for their mistakes and wish they could undo them. They feel wretched. They can’t stop thinking about the things they have done wrong.
The person who has knowledge of their wretchedness but no knowledge of God may feel hopeless, especially if they have never been shown grace. They know that they can’t earn their way to salvation. They know they don’t deserve to be forgiven.
Jesus is the middle way.
In Jesus, we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness. Many people have knowledge of God but they don’t know God. Jesus shows us who God is because He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”John 14:6-7
My sinfulness created a vast canyon between me and God. Jesus is the bridge between us. Jesus makes it possible for me to have a personal relationship with God.
Jesus taught me that God’s commands are more than a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s commands are about love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Jesus pushes me to be a better person than I would be if I just followed the Ten Commandments. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other check.
Jesus taught me that the contents of my heart are just as important as my behavior. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.
Jesus sees right through hypocrisy and condemns it. Do not do what they do for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for people to see.
Jesus taught me that God has compassion for sinners, for the outcast, for the least among us.
Jesus taught me that God rejoices when the lost are found. Even in our wretchedness, we are as precious to Him as rare pearls.
Lord Jesus, you are the way and the truth and the light. You are the cure for my wretchedness. Thank you for saving a wretch like me. In you, I see God and know His love and mercy.
Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash