Pascal and Booking Your Summer Holidays
Today is Blue Monday. Apparently it is ‘officially’ the most depressing day of the year.
In 2005 a travel company came up with a great marketing idea for selling holidays after Christmas. They worked out using ‘science’ that Blue Monday is each year’s most depressing day. It is the Monday closest to the middle between Christmas and the January pay check. Debit cards bills are arriving. The days are still dark, cold and wet. It seems summer is a long way off. So what better time to book a holiday!
For Christians as we read our culture what does the fact that we ‘celebrate’ the fast turn around from the high of Christmas to the low of Blue Monday tell us about the world we live in?
The search for happiness is a dominant theme in culture. If we can find our ‘happy’ then all will be well. Of course people have always longed for happiness but a culture ruled by feelings and emotions has made happiness a dominant theme far louder than fulfilment, success, service etc.
One cause of this may lie in Post Modernity’s critique of Modernity. Modernity was characterised by the quest for certainty and truth by reason alone. Post Modernity is characterised by the rejection of absolute truth and instead locates truth within the individual. This promotion of the individual has caused us to look inward for what matters in life.
You can see it when you watch reality TV shows about people wanting to become pop stars. It does not matter what experts think, what matters is what I believe about myself and what I think I can do.
But the problem with looking inward is what we find.
Writing in the seventeenth century the French Philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about a tension and contradiction that exists within each of us. The contradiction between what is wonderful about us and what is also tragically wrong. He wrote that we suffer from both greatness and wretchedness.
As Christians we understand this as what it is to be made in the image of God and to have fallen under the curse of sin. For Pascal it follows that as a result, we all seek happiness. We were made to be happy in God, and having lost that we seek it elsewhere. Pascal comments that we all strive towards being happy and no matter how much happiness we find, we still all complain. Why? Because our search for happiness is rooted in that tension of being both great and wretched. We suffer from ‘the wretchedness of a disposed monarch’. We have lost the most amazing thing and anything less than getting it back will not satisfy.
Pascal himself found the solution to this tension. After his death a piece of paper was found sown into the lining of his jacket.
“The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology. Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others. From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,
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.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen.”
He is said to have been reading of the crucifixion when he was suddenly overwhelmed with the nearness of Christ. Pascal meticulously transcribed the night of his conversion, his “night of fire,” sewing it into his jacket where it would remain beside him until his death eight years later.
True happiness is found in God alone. This is the Christian message. This is what Pascal discovered. God in Jesus Christ has removed the barrier of sin. We can return to the relationship for which we were made and there we can discover the true happiness that exists between a loving creator and us, the crown of his creation.
Our task, as the people of God, is to reveal the true source of happiness to our culture. To show that we have a ‘happy’ that is not dependent upon the weather, job satisfaction, health etc but is rooted in the love of God. A love that he longs to share with everyone.