Imbach’s Wager – Brad Jersak
Pascal was a genius mathematician and a brilliant philosopher/theologian. He is known in popular apologetics for what we call “Pascal’s Wager.” For a very precise discussion, I would refer readers to this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A simplistic summary of the wager might say:
It is in our best interest to believe in God because if God does exist, the benefits are infinite—and even if God does not exist, our mistaken belief does no harm. But if any possibility exists that not believing leads to eternal punishment, the risk of unbelief far outweighs any of its advantages. I.e. Pascal’s Wager is that your best bet (most rational and most pragmatic) is on faith God, even if we cannot prove his existence.
Since the time of Pascal conceived of his wager in his classic tome, Pensées, numerous counter-arguments have developed. While I could present my own critical analysis, that’s not my point. I only mention it to present an alternative wager that goes “all in” on faith in the goodness of God and represents the real-life leap of my spiritual director, Stephen Imbach.
Stephen Imbach was raised by God-fearing parents in a fundamentalist Christian environment where he internalized a shame-based conservative gospel. He eventually bottomed out in the presence of his spiritual director, who saw the torment Stephen endured by clinging to that old system of fear, condemnation and moralism. The spiritual director suggested a risky proposition: denounce God as you have come to conceive God.
Denounce is a strong word. It means to formally declare that we are abandoning something—in this case, every conception Steve ever assumed or adopted concerning the “faith of his fathers.” Stephen tells me that after pondering this challenge, he embarked on what I’m calling “Imbach’s Wager.” He said to God,
- “I am letting go of everything I have ever learned about God. God, if you want, you now have a chance to work and you can come to me however you want to.”
That was it. He was not calculating the odds of reward or punishment based in rationalist or pragmatic faith. He had already found transactional, performance-based religiosity bankrupt. There was nothing left to lose. He would simply pin all his hopes on the possibility that God is good.
That’s Imbach’s Wager: with nothing left to lose, what if we let go and found out that God is good—good enough to come find us.
I asked Stephen how God came to him. It isn’t the same for everyone. Even though the Christian community might have judged him as a backslider and equated restoration with returning to the fold, God’s had his own path for Stephen. How did God come to him? In Stephen’s words,
- A genuine peace came over me. Peace that everything is going to be okay. That God was saying, “I am not letting you go” and peace because, “Finally, you are being honest with me.”
- When you let God come to you, it will be in a way that is most significant to you. I needed God to come in peace because my life is generally inner turmoil.
- The peace that came I could not find for myself. It was peace with my own sense of self and peace that I’m really okay with and before God. And so eventually, I let him find me.
I wonder: for those who have undergone some measure of deconstruction, rather than clinging by a final fingernail to a faith that requires clinging to, what if we took the huge risk of letting go (so different than walking away) and said, “I will not manufacture pseudo-belief for even one more step. But I will consent to watching for and welcome Divine Love’s approach, wherever and however She chooses.” I wonder.