“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.”
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“Do you wish people to think well of you? Don’t speak well of yourself.”
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The power of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special efforts,
but by his ordinary doing.”
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Do the above quotes remind you of Proverbs in the Bible? They do have a similar tone, and certainly impart wisdom. But they were not penned by King Solomon. Credit goes to Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).
His name probably sounds familiar. Chances are, you studied him in school, either in math class or science, maybe both.
Pascal’s first noteworthy accomplishment? He formulated a basic theorem of projective geometry, called Pascal’s theorem– at age sixteen!
He invented a calculating device, to help his father, who was a tax collector–when he was only nineteen.
(A Pascaline, Pascal’s early calculator)
Another set of experiments produced his famous law of hydraulics. He contributed important study on the vacuum, on the weight and density of air, and the arithmetic triangle.
Pascal also developed the theory of probability, which is still used today.
And he invented the syringe, the hydraulic lift, as well as the first mechanical computer. A computer language is named after him.
Such broad giftedness wrapped up in one young man! But Pascal was actually embarrassed by all his talents.
Even as he was studying mathematics and conducting scientific experiments, Pascal was also exploring spiritual matters. He and his sister joined a group of Catholics in France, called Jansenists, who believed that salvation was a gift of God’s grace, and could not be earned through good works.
(“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”)
In 1654, Pascal was thrown from a carriage when the horses bolted. The horses died, but Pascal was unhurt. He felt convinced God had saved him, and he began thinking seriously about what God might want him to do.
That night Pascal had a vision of the crucifixion and experienced a profound renewal in his spirit. From that point forward, scientific work was of secondary importance in his life.
At that time, Pascal wrote: “Certainty! Joy! Peace! I forget the world and everything but God!…I submit myself absolutely to Jesus Christ my Redeemer.”
Pascal recorded this and other statements about his mystical experience on a piece of parchment, then sewed the document into his coat. There it remained hidden until it was discovered after he died. Pascal was only thirty-nine years old.
(Pascal’s “Night of Fire” parchment)
Also discovered after his death: twenty-seven bundles of notes for a major work defending the Christian faith. These notes were published posthumously and titled Pensees, or Thoughts. It became a classic of Christian thinking.
Pascal’s truth-gems include:
“The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason.”
“Happiness is neither without us nor within us. It is in God, both without us and within us.”
“If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy.”
“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
Perhaps his most famous statement in the Pensees is a short essay titled “The Wager.” Here are a few excerpts:
“Either God exists, or He does not. Which will you gamble on? If God exists, you win everything. If He does not exist, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate, then: gamble on His existence!”
In other words:
Thank You, Father, for wise men and women such as Blaise Pascal, who express themselves in such rare and beautiful ways. Their words stretch our intellects and stir our hearts.
Yet Your greatest joy would be for their words to touch our lives so that tomorrow we are nearer Your best for us–words such as that quote about virtue not being measured by special efforts but by ordinary doing. Help me to remember that it is in the ordinary that I can reflect You most brilliantly.
Photo and graphics credits: http://www.smallactsofkindness.wordpress.com ; http://www.wikipedia.com ; http://www.famousquotesabout.com ; http://www.manifestpropensity.wordpress.com ; http://www.conflicted collegechristians.wordpress.com.