Pascal's Knowledge of the Heart

by Mamdouh Riad on January 14, 2012


The Knowledge of The Heart


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a well known 17th century scientist. He was a brilliant French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher. He was also a follower of Christ. Undoubtedly, it was God who endowed him with such tremondous wisdom. 

"I have given you a wise and understanding heart..." 1 Kings 3:11 

"God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom..." Daniel 1:17 

Having lived during Europe's enlightenment period with the rise of rationalism, Pascal spoke of two faculties of knowledge: "The knowledge of reason" and "the knowledge of the heart." Having been an exceptionally intelligent scientist and mathematician, he was schooled in the power of reason, but he recognized, and emphasized the centrality of heart knowledge of God and things of God. 

From the article below: "One of his famous quotes is: "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know."In other words, there are times that we know something is true, but we did not come to that knowledge through logical reasoning, neither can we give a logical argument to support that belief."


The intellect is a great gift from God. The Lord granted the apostle Paul a brilliant mind with which he articulated much of our New Testament theology, yet he also affirmed the same concept, and wrote extensively in his epistles of the centrality of heart knowledge of God:


“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but theSpirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” 1Cor 2:10-15


"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” Ephesians 1:16.17


When skeptics and scoffers exalt their own minds above the knowledge of God, their intellect becomes a hindrance to their apprehension of the truth.


" ..Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God"

2 Cor 10:5.


The Lord gifted many of His people with great minds that were illuminated by the Holy Spirit and became great tools for them to articulate, argue for, and defend the Christian faith. Among them are Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, more recently G.K. Chesterton, C.S Lewis, and countless others both classical and contemporary.


Yet even for believers as well, when it comes to the knowledge of God, understanding His Word, and hearing His voice, our intellect serves us best when submitted to the Holy Spirit and is sensitive to His leadings. When we exalt our minds, they lose that sensitivity and become a hindrance to our knowledge and understanding of God and His Word. If we make our minds the final arbiter through which we filter what the Holy Spirit deposits in our hearts it can impair our ability to hear His voice, discern His will, and follow His leading.


Though God bestowed unprecedented wisdom on Solomon, he affirmed that concept, and wrote of heart knowledge as well:


"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding...Do not be wise in your own eyes.." Proverbs 3:5,7


Jesus said the same thing:


"I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudentand have revealed them to babes." Matthew 11:25


May we all learn to trust the Lord, submit our minds to the Holy Spirit,follow His leadings, and grow in discerment.


"For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousnes, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses excercised to discern good and evil." Hebrews 5:13,14



For more info on Pascal's "knowledge of the heart", please see the article below by Rick Wade from Probe Ministries.






Knowledge of the Heart


Pascal lived in the age of the rise of rationalism. Revelation had fallen on hard times; man's reason was now the final source for truth. In the realm of religious belief many people exalted reason and adopted a deistic view of God. Some, however, became skeptics. They doubted the competence of both revelation and reason.


Although Pascal couldn't side with the skeptics, neither would he go the way of the rationalists. Instead of arguing that revelation was a better source of truth than reason, he focused on the limitations of reason itself. (I should stop here to note that by reason Pascal meant the reasoning process. He did not deny the true powers of reason; he was, after all, a scientist and mathematician.) Although the advances in science increased man's knowledge, it also made people aware of how little they knew. Thus, through our reason we realize that reason itself has limits. "Reason's last step," Pascal said, "is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it."{12} Our knowledge is somewhere between certainty and complete ignorance, Pascal believed.{13} The bottom line is that we need to know when to affirm something as true, when to doubt, and when to submit to authority.{14}


Besides the problem of our limited knowledge, Pascal also noted how our reason is easily distracted by our senses and hindered by our passions.{15} "The two so-called principles of truth*reason and the senses*are not only not genuine but are engaged in mutual deception. Through false appearances the senses deceive reason. And just as they trick the soul, they are in turn tricked by it. It takes its revenge. The senses are influenced by the passions which produce false impressions."{16} Things sometimes appear to our senses other than they really are, such as the way a stick appears bent when put in water. Our emotions or passions also influence how we think about things. And our imagination, which Pascal says is our dominant faculty{17}, often has precedence over our reason. A bridge suspended high over a ravine might be wide enough and sturdy enough, but our imagination sees us surely falling off.


So, our finiteness, our senses, our passions, and our imagination can adversely influence our powers of reason. But Pascal believed that people really do know some things to be true even if they cannot account for it rationally. Such knowledge comes through another channel, namely, the heart.


This brings us to what is perhaps the best known quotation of Pascal: "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know."{18} In other words, there are times that we know something is true but we did not come to that knowledge through logical reasoning, neither can we give a logical argument to support that belief.


For Pascal, the heart is "the `intuitive' mind" rather than "the `geometrical' (calculating, reasoning) mind."{19} For example, we know when we aren't dreaming. But we can't prove it rationally. However, this only proves that our reason has weaknesses; it does not prove that our knowledge is completely uncertain. Furthermore, our knowledge of such first principles as space, time, motion, and number is certain even though known by the heart and not arrived at by reason. In fact, reason bases its arguments on such knowledge.{20} Knowledge of the heart and knowledge of reason might be arrived at in different ways, but they are both valid. And neither can demand that knowledge coming through the other should submit to its own dictates.


The Knowledge of God


If reason is limited in its understanding of the natural order, knowledge of God can be especially troublesome. "If natural things are beyond [reason]," Pascal said, "what are we to say about supernatural things?"{21}


There are several factors which hinder our knowledge of God. As noted before, we are limited by our finitude. How can the finite understand the infinite?{22} Another problem is that we cannot see clearly because we are in the darkness of sin. Our will is turned away from God, and our reasoning abilities are also adversely affected.


There is another significant limitation on our knowledge of God. Referring to Isaiah 8:17 and 45:15{23}, Pascal says that as a result of our sin God deliberately hides Himself ("hides" in the sense that He doesn't speak}. One reason He does this is to test our will. Pascal says, "God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will." God wants to "humble [our] pride."{24}


But God doesn't remain completely hidden; He is both hidden and revealed. "If there were no obscurity," Pascal says, "man would not feel his corruption: if there were no light man could not hope for a cure."{25}


God not only hides Himself to test our will; He also does it so that we can only come to Him through Christ, not by working through some logical proofs. "God is a hidden God," says Pascal, " and . . . since nature was corrupted [God] has left men to their blindness, from which they can escape only through Jesus Christ, without whom all communication with God is broken off. Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whosoever the Son will reveal him."{26} Pascal's apologetic is decidedly Christocentric. True knowledge of God isn't mere intellectual assent to the reality of a divine being. It must include a knowledge of Christ through whom God revealed Himself. He says:


All who have claimed to know God and to prove his existence without Jesus Christ have done so ineffectively. . . . Apart from him, and without Scripture, without original sin, without the necessary Mediator who was promised and who came, it is impossible to prove absolutely that God exists, or to teach sound doctrine and sound morality. But through and in Jesus Christ we can prove God's existence, and teach both doctrine and morality.{27}


If we do not know Christ, we cannot understand God as the judge and the redeemer of sinners. It is a limited knowledge that doesn't do any good. As Pascal says, "That is why I am not trying to prove naturally the existence of God, or indeed the Trinity, or the immortality of the soul or anything of that kind. This is not just because I do not feel competent to find natural arguments that will convince obdurate atheists, but because such knowledge, without Christ, is useless and empty." A person with this knowledge has not "made much progress toward his salvation."{28} What Pascal wants to avoid is proclaiming a deistic God who stands remote and expects from us only that we live good, moral lives. Deism needs no redeemer.


But even in Christ, God has not revealed Himself so overwhelmingly that people cannot refuse to believe. In the last days God will be revealed in a way that everyone will have to acknowledge Him. In Christ, however, God was still hidden enough that people who didn't want what was good would not have it forced upon them. Thus, "there is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition."{29}


There is still one more issue which is central to Pascal's thinking about the knowledge of God. He says that no one can come to know God apart from faith. This is a theme of central importance for Pascal; it clearly sets him apart from other apologists of his day. Faith is the knowledge of the heart that only God gives. "It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason," says Pascal. "That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason."{30} "By faith we know he exists," he says.{31} "Faith is different from proof. One is human and the other a gift of God. . . . This is the faith that God himself puts into our hearts. . . ."{32} Pascal continues, "We shall never believe with an effective belief and faith unless God inclines our hearts. Then we shall believe as soon as he inclines them."{33}


To emphasize the centrality of heart knowledge in Pascal's thinking, I deliberately left off the end of one of the sentences above. Describing the faith God gives, Pascal said, "This is the faith that God himself puts into our hearts, often using proof as the instrument."{34}


This is rather confusing. Pascal says non-believers are in darkness, so proofs will only find obscurity.{35} He notes that "no writer within the canon [of Scripture] has ever used nature to prove the existence of God. They all try to help people believe in him."{36} He also expresses astonishment at Christians who begin their defense by making a case for the existence of God.


Their enterprise would cause me no surprise if they were addressing the arguments to the faithful, for those with living faith in their hearts can certainly see at once that everything which exists is entirely the work of the God they worship. But for those in whom this light has gone out and in who we are trying to rekindle it, people deprived of faith and grace, . . . to tell them, I say, that they have only to look at the least thing around them and they will see in it God plainly revealed; to give them no other proof of this great and weighty matter than the course of the moon and the planets; to claim to have completed the proof with such an argument; this is giving them cause to think that the proofs of our religion are indeed feeble. . . . This is not how Scripture speaks, with its better knowledge of the things of God.{37}


But now Pascal says that God often uses proofs as the instrument of faith. He also says in one place, "The way of God, who disposes all things with gentleness, is to instil [sic] religion into our minds with reasoned arguments and into our hearts with grace. . . ."{38}


The explanation for this tension can perhaps be seen in the types of proofs Pascal uses. Pascal won't argue from nature. Rather he'll point to evidences such as the marks of divinity within man, and those which affirm Christ's claims, such as prophecies and miracles, the most important being prophecies.{39} He also speaks of Christian doctrine "which gives a reason for everything," the establishment of Christianity despite its being so contrary to nature, and the testimony of the apostles who could have been neither deceivers nor deceived.{40} So Pascal does believe there are positive evidences for belief. Although he does not intend to give reasons for everything, neither does he expect people to agree without having a reason.{41}


Nonetheless, even evidences such as these do not produce saving faith. He says, "The prophecies of Scripture, even the miracles and proofs of our faith, are not the kind of evidence that are absolutely convincing. . . . There is . . . enough evidence to condemn and yet not enough to convince. . . ." People who believe do so by grace; those who reject the faith do so because of their lusts. Reason isn't the key.{42}


Pascal says that, while our faith has the strongest of evidences in favor of it, "it is not for these reasons that people adhere to it. . . . What makes them believe," he says, " is the cross." At which point he quotes 1 Corinthians 1:17: "Lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."{43}